The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of year for some, but for others, the stress and emotions during this time can be overwhelming.
If you’re going through cancer treatment, experiencing side effects, or maybe even experiencing your first holiday after losing a loved one, you may not be up for celebrating the holidays the way you normally would. That may be even more true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The holidays can be a hard time for a lot of different reasons,” says social work counselor Malory Lee. “But there are things you can do to make this time of year a bit easier.”
Here, she shares four ideas to help you cope with the holiday blues.
1. Focus on your own needs
Despite increased demands from work, family, and maybe even pressure from social media, it’s important to put your own needs first.
Lee suggests creating a self-care plan, which starts with identifying your own emotional, social and physical needs. “Think of things that bring you joy so when you feel down you can seek out those opportunities to feel better,” she says.
If you find yourself feeling lonely, make time to call a friend or family member to maintain that connection.
Self-care also means taking care of your physical health. You may be more tempted to indulge with food and alcohol this time of year, so Lee recommends planning healthy meals and limiting or avoiding alcohol.
Physical activity can also help improve your mood, so Lee suggests scheduling time to get active, even if it’s just a 10 minute walk each day. “Getting active, eating well, and getting enough sleep are very important to your overall well-being,” Lee says.
Finally, she recommends setting boundaries to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. While you may worry that saying “no” to things could hurt someone else’s feelings, setting boundaries will help you protect your mental health. “You're not responsible for other people's feelings,” she adds.
2. Give yourself permission to feel your own emotions
“It’s OK if you’re not in the holiday spirit,” Lee says. She encourages you to honor those feelings – whether you’re the one experiencing them or you’re supporting a loved one who is.
“There’s a notion of ‘toxic positivity’ that can be harmful,” she adds. Instead of trying to force someone into a festive mood, try validating what you’re feeling and looking for healthy ways to cope.
3. Let go of holiday expectations
Let go of the expectations of how your holiday “should” look. By being flexible and getting creative, you can build new traditions that can be just as meaningful as the ones you used to enjoy.
“There’s no right or wrong way to spend the holidays,” Lee says. In fact, you don’t have to celebrate them at all if you’re not feeling up to it.
“Take a trip, try a new hobby, or look into volunteer opportunities,” Lee suggests.
And remember, it’s OK not to engage in holiday celebrations. “Do what works for you,” Lee says.
4. Reach out for support if you’re struggling
There are plenty of support resources available to help you through the holiday season and beyond. “Support groups are a really great option for people who are struggling,” Lee says. You may even be able to find a virtual group so you can participate from home. In fact, MD Anderson offers many virtual support groups for cancer patients and caregivers.
Sometimes, feelings of sadness can be more serious and might require professional help. “If you're noticing that you're withdrawing, or your emotions are interfering with your day-to-day tasks, you may be experiencing clinical depression or anxiety,” Lee says.
Reach out to your care team for help if you’re experiencing these feelings, or if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re struggling,” Lee says. “It’s OK not to be OK.”