FEATURE | Posted Dec. 4, 2013

Tips to manage holidays during illness

Turning holiday blues into season's smiles

Cancer patient and her husband
Even if you don’t have the energy or you aren’t in the right mental space for a big holiday gathering, you can still connect with people important in your life.

The holidays are often fun and exciting, but they can also be exhausting and stressful. For anyone struggling with a chronic or newly diagnosed disease such as cancer, a big concern may be — “how will I have enough energy for events, gift-buying, socializing and planning?”  Angela Usher, a UC Davis licensed clinical social worker, explains that if you are feeling overwhelmed with too much pressure to be involved during the family celebrations, you may have the “holiday blues.” She offers some practical advice for anyone feeling blue this holiday season.

Accept that things will be different. No matter what stage you are with regards to your illness, your holidays will be affected. It is important to realize that things will be different from the past and adjust your expectations accordingly. Understand your limitations and accept that you may not be as able, willing or interested in participating in the holidays as you were in previous years.

Talk about what you are going through. Open up the discussion with your loved ones about how this season feels different. This will help you take care of yourself, state your needs and clear up expectations as early as possible. Your loved ones need to know what it is like for you this time of year, what you want to do and what feels like too much. Even if you do not have a lot of specific information about your condition, just let them know, “This time of year feels different to me than it has before. I want to celebrate the holidays, at the same time I want to acknowledge that I need to slow down, too. I am going to let you know that what works best for me and let you know what I can and cannot handle which will depend on how I feel each day.”

Try a new tradition. You may be able to come up with some festive activities that do not require a good deal of preparation or energy. Instead of shopping for gifts for each important person in your life, perhaps exchange gift cards or create a certificate of a future event you and that person can share together. Also remember that the holidays are a great time to express love and appreciation for the blessings in your life. The people who help you and provide you love and care will enjoy knowing that you appreciate them. Words of love and gratitude are a meaningful gift.

Angela Usher © UC Regents
Angela Usher, UC Davis licensed clinical social worker

Think of some activities you can do with family and friends that don’t require a lot of energy or preparation. Perhaps watch a holiday movie together, drive around and look at holiday lights or order a yummy "to go" meal from a favorite restaurant.

Celebrate what is important to you. Be careful not to isolate yourself, even if you don’t have the energy or you aren’t in the right mental space for a big holiday gathering. You can still connect with people important in your life, and celebrate the year together in a way that is more tailored to your needs.

There is a risk of depression over the holidays. It is important to recognize the difference between the “holiday blues” and clinical depression. If you are worried that you may have a serious depression, please seek help from a health-care or mental health professional without delay.

The holidays can be stressful for all of us. These feelings may increase for those with a serious illness and those who love them. To manage fatigue and stress through the holidays, discuss expectations and limitations and open those lines of communication early. Finding creative — and less stressful — ways to celebrate the holidays may build new traditions that you continue to enjoy.