Caregivers: How to Handle the Holidays
Article date: December 16, 2009
The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, but this time of year can be stressful, too. That may be especially true if you're caring for someone with cancer. Feelings of sadness, loss, and fearfulness may be mixed in among happier emotions.
Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Many people who are unaffected by cancer or any other serious disease are often highly emotional during the holidays.
As a caregiver, you may also be feeling overloaded during the holiday season. You likely have many new things on your to-do list on top of your normal responsibilities. Try to include your loved one in the holiday meal planning and preparation, decorating, gift buying and wrapping. Most importantly, be sure to take time for yourself and appreciate the little things that make life special.
The list of Do's and Don'ts below can help you through this busy time of year.
- Give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whether of joy, fear, sadness, or pain.
- Express your feelings. Let yourself laugh or cry.
- Accept yourself as you experience your emotions. Respect your own timetable.
- Be patient with yourself and others.
- Take care of yourself: eat balanced meals and get your usual exercise. Physical activity is a good way to release the tension that builds around this time of year.
- Allow yourself simple pleasures -- like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods -- that will help lift your mood.
- Give yourself a break from cancer. You don’t need to constantly focus on it. Find healthy distractions like going to a movie, dinner, or a ball game; reading a good book; listening to music; getting a massage or manicure.
- Try to maintain normalcy. Keep up daily routines as much as possible.
- Try to anticipate your hot-button issues for the holidays so they don’t interfere with your enjoyment of them.
- Prepare for the holidays. Decide if you want to continue certain traditions or create new ones. Plan in advance how you want to spend your time, with whom, and for how long.
- Enlist support for organizing holiday gatherings, meal preparation, and cleanup.
- Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and pressure, too.
- Learn to say no. You don't have to participate in everything. Believe it or not, people will understand if you can't do certain activities.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself.
- Don't pressure yourself with unrealistic expectations.
- Don't overindulge in alcohol. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can “bring out” or heighten bad feelings.
- Don't try to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Don't expect the holidays to be just like they were when you were little. They never are and never will be.
- Don't worry about next year’s holidays and instead focus on this year’s – enjoy the here and now for all its simple pleasures and beauty.
- Don't shop ‘til you drop. Stick to a budget if you are going shopping. Buying things will not make up for any negative feelings you are having. Decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then stick to your budget.
- Don't plan too much per day. Plan ahead, setting aside specific days for specific tasks.
- Don't abandon healthy habits. Eat and drink in moderation. Get plenty of sleep.
For more tips on coping with a caregiving role, see our document Caregiving: How to Care for a Loved One with Cancer, and Yourself. To share your experiences with other caregivers, join our Cancer Survivors Network.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.
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