The Challenge of Self Care during the Holidays

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

With Christmas and the holiday season quickly upon us, demands on our time and resources – physical, mental and financial – seem to increase. At the best of times when a person is young and healthy, it can be a challenge to manage our self-care. When a person is going through cancer and/or healing even years later, the importance of making sure we take time to look after ourselves is so important.
 
Practicing the NO word helps. That seems to be the most difficult, especially when we would really like to go to an event, but just know that we can’t manage it and be well. The other situation is when we feel obliged – that SHOULD word.  Other people have expectations of us or there are habits/traditions that are part of family history. Are you the one that has always made and hosted the Christmas dinner? Are their functions at work or your spouse’s work that you feel obligated to attend? Do you traditionally go away for Christmas? Are you the one who buys all the gifts and items for stockings?
 
It’s hard to make changes – not only within us but creating change that affects other people.  Whenever change happens, there is always pushback.  Someone who wants things to be the way they have always been.  After cancer, life is different – for you.  I recall comments such as ‘I’m waiting for you to go back to who you were’.  Well, that wasn’t happening.  That person wasn’t coming back.  A new person had taken her place.
 
This is hard on other people, especially those who are closest to you.  They aren’t too sure how to deal with the new you.  And this shows up most noticeably at times, like Christmas, when there are traditions that are established.  They may have to be altered.]
 
This may be the time when you can delegate some of the To Do’s. If you have younger children at home who may be old enough to help with food preparation.  It gives them something they can do to help and can be a learning experience.  The result may not be exactly as you would have done it but it gets done.  Relax and just enjoy being cared for.
 
A spouse can pick up some of the slack – gift buying, grocery shopping, cleaning – all things that have to be done when entertaining. Maybe a family member can host the Christmas dinner. Could be it’s time for adult children to take up that role.
 
This doesn’t mean its forever. What it means is you need to determine what you can manage and stay within the bounds of your own capacity for stress and involvement.  Each year, this will vary. When you are in treatment, your capacity is definitely diminished.  As you heal, you may be able to pick up some of those pieces again. But be careful. I found that after cancer, my capacity for stress was greatly diminished and although I have expanded that somewhat in the 23 years hence, it is still an area I have to watch. It doesn’t take long to get over-committed and then find myself in trouble.
 
One good thing that has come out of this awareness is finding the true meaning of the Christmas spirit.  It’s not about all the commercialism around Christmas.  What emerges is the meaning behind the holiday as dictated by your religion and/or belief system.
 
I always enjoy Christmas for the joy of the season – the carols, the church service, the awareness to help others who may be struggling, to extend love, to spend quality time with family, to relax and just be present with myself.   What brings you joy and the feeling of Christmas?  Embrace it.
 
Gifts are great – but the ones I enjoy most are the gifts made by others or made by myself. I knew there was love and time in the creating and giving on both sides.  I’d plan ahead. Right now, I’m in the midst of knitting sweaters for my grandchildren. I still remember the sweaters my mother knit for me and for my children. In fact, I have kept some that are no longer in style, but I can’t part with them. They represent the love of my mother who has passed away.
 
And as a family, we’ve cut down on the amount of the gift and have a gift draw for the adults instead.  Gifts are still bought for each of the children.  However, there is still the fun of gift giving without the financial stress not to mention the time involved to find that ‘perfect’ gift.
 
We potluck our dinner so it’s not a burden on any one member of the family.  It’s being hosted at my son’s home because they have the most space and it is familiar ground for the young grandchildren, ages 2 and 4.  It’s the gathering and sharing that is the focus – just being together.
 
Depending on your situation, it may be time to make a complete change. The first Christmas after my cancer diagnosis, I found myself a single mom with a teenage son. I knew I had to do something to create a ‘new’ Christmas experience so we wouldn’t dwell on the past. So, I flew us back home to my folks and spent a wonderful Christmas there with my family. It certainly was the right move.
 
What is happening in your life? Do you need to make a change? Do you need to make some minor adjustments?  We are all unique, have different values, different circumstances, and at various stages of healing.  But we have all been changed by our cancer experience.  Life takes on new meaning.  How are you managing?
 
And, how we manage holiday times is a good indicator of how we may want to look at how we manage our lives in general.  It can be a benchmark for self care, change, and improved awareness of all that is important in life.
 
I truly hope that you take time to:
 
1. Read a good book – sit in your PJ’s all day and just enjoy
2. Have a spa day
3. Have coffee with a friend or friends and laugh yourself silly
4. Cuddle up with your loved ones – just spend time together – and listen
5. Take long walks and just be
6. Spend time on a hobby of yours – get lost in time
 
And if you are alone for Christmas, gather up other alone souls and celebrate together.  Or if you have the energy and are not immune compromised, help out at a shelter who offer meals on Christmas Day.  There are always options for giving and sharing.  You don’t have to be alone by circumstance, only by choice – and that may be your choice.  That’s okay too.
 
Life is so precious, as we’ve all discovered when the word cancer is directed at us.  When we stop long enough to be able to hear our inner self speaking, it may be surprising what shows up.  Usually the things that are most important – the rest is just stuff – stuff we can’t take with us.  What will you leave behind as memories to be shared for many lifetimes – memories that often surface when family gathers at Christmas?
 
May you find your own way with great healing and love,
 
Barbara

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