It is the time of the year to feel happy…time to be generous…time to spend time with loved ones… and sing festively? Are you not in the mood this season? Don’t worry; you are not alone. Many people find the holidays very stressful and sometimes even sad. Social engagements and family gatherings add another time commitment to already busy days. Gift giving puts pressure on already strapped budgets. Expectations of how you should be enjoying this time of year only make you feel worse. All of these feelings are magnified and complicated by cancer treatment during the holidays.
There are things you can do to help yourself get through the holidays and maybe even enjoy them a bit. Self care is important throughout the year, but during a stressful period it must be a priority.
1) Get Adequate Rest
Making sure you get adequate sleep nightly is key!
- Adults need 7-9 hours every night and children need 10 – 12 hours of sleep each night.
- Set a bedtime, and get out of bed every morning at the same time.
- Don’t drink caffeine after lunch.
- Limit alcohol to one drink at dinner.
- Avoid stressful conversations after dinner.
- Enjoy a relaxation routine in the hour before bed.
Relaxation routines depend on what works best for you, but consider stretching, breathing slowly, writing in a gratitude journal or listening to gentle music. For more information on the importance of adequate sleep and rest, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website.
2) Pay Close Attention To Your Diet
Another key aspect of self-care is attention to diet and exercise.
- Fill your plate with colorful foods, mostly fruits and vegetables.
- Eat only one plate of food at each meal.
- Enjoy a holiday dessert, but a small serving is enough.
- Cook with family, enjoy the conversation in the kitchen, but wait to put food in your mouth until you sit down to the meal.
- Instead of soda, drink warm tea or cider.
- After the meal, take a walk. Take a walk 3 times a day. Bring someone on the walk whose company you enjoy.
3) Listen To Music You Like
If elevator carols make you crazy, actively search for music you actually like, maybe Celtic tunes, old country or Jamaican steel drums, and turn that on whenever you can.
4) Try Alternative Gifts This Year
- If your budget is tight, make gifts this year. Paint on canvas, write a poem, organize a scrapbook of old pictures, and cook a new dish. Or offer a service, such as walking a dog, watching children, delivering meals, organizing a closet.
- If wrapping presents makes you grumpy, spend time finding wrapping paper you like. Design your own paper. Make your own cloth bags that can be reused. Wrap in plain paper and finger paint it.
5) Turn Your Hospital Experience Around
If going to the hospital or clinic during the holidays brings you down, try to turn the experience around. The staff is always asking you questions, how about you ask them a couple? Ask the front desk, the valet, the nurse what they like about the holidays, what music they like, and what time of year they prefer.
6) Take Time Out Each Day to Be Positive, Relax and Breathe!
- Every day, take time to breathe. Turn off the TV and computer. Sit down, stretch your head to the sky, softly close your eyes, relax your shoulders, breath in through your nose slowly and out slowly through your mouth. Say to yourself “I can breathe, I can do it.”
- Every day remind yourself, “I am here today, I am going to find one thing I like today to make this day worthwhile.” Small things count. Notice a tree, feel the cool air, smile at someone.
7) Treat Yourself to an Alternative Therapy
Get a massage, try a Tai Chi or yoga class, consider acupuncture, drink green tea, or add turmeric to your favorite vegetable stir-fry. Many health benefits of alternative and complementary medicine are described at http://nccam.nih.gov. Be sure to check with your physician before you begin any new exercise programs, and let your physician know about any supplements you take.
To truly make a difference in the way you feel, daily make the effort to do some of the things mentioned above. You don’t need to do them all, but pick three things and make the commitment to do them every day!
Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!
Wendy Baer, MD
About Wendy Baer, MD
Wendy Baer, MD, is Medical Director of Psychiatric Oncology with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute.
Clinical Specialties In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a Psychiatrist she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with patients’ doctors, nurses and social workers.
Education Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania where she completed her residency in Psychiatry and served as the Chief Resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr Baer worked in with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.