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Holidays, Stress, and Cancer

Posted on December 6, 2021 in Blog

Content written by Jessica Antal, MSSW, LCSW

Holidays are stressful for many people. If you are undergoing cancer treatment or caring for a family member or friend who has cancer, the holiday season can be an especially difficult time. There are steps you can take to decrease the stress and find opportunities to enjoy the season. 

Here are some practical tips to help deal with the stress that the holidays may bring.

For Patients:

Prepare yourself.

     Take time to recognize the physical and emotional stress attending gatherings or events may cause you. Give yourself permission to do things differently. It is perfectly acceptable and appropriate to modify your plans.  List events and activities that are important to you and allow yourself to say “no” to everything else. 

Ask yourself, do I really enjoy doing this?

Do other family members enjoy doing this? If the answer is no mark it from the list this year but remember you may be able to add these things back next year if you desire.

Be willing to share tasks and chores with family. Honestly consider: Can this task be shared by other family members? If so, ask for help.

Care for yourself.

     Self-care is an essential part of maintaining well-being and managing stress. Allow and schedule time for self-care activities or things that you enjoy.  Make time for relaxation each day.  Focus on balanced meals and make time for light exercise each day to help reduce stress.  Also, remember to focus on your spiritual needs.  Last, don’t fill your calendar with appointments that can wait until after the holidays.

Fight perfectionism.

     Anxiety about having a “perfect holiday” can distress you and create unrealistic expectations. Enjoy the imperfections and try to find humor in things that don’t go exactly right.

Be kind to yourself.

     Remember, it is normal to experience feelings of sadness over how cancer may have changed your holiday season. Be patient, compassionate, and gentle with yourself.

Don’t suffer in silence.

     If you are stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed, share the burden with family, friends, or a mental health professional.

For families and friends of cancer patients:

Volunteer to assist with activities, like holiday shopping, cooking, decorating, or wrapping gifts, for your loved ones. Instead of saying what can I help you with, be specific with what you can do to help. For example:

  • I’d like to bring dinner and help wrap presents on Thursday. Would that be ok?
  • I’m going shopping this weekend, can I pick up anything on your list while I’m at the mall?

Don’t make decisions about what your loved one with cancer can or cannot do. Discuss it with them first and give them the option. Don’t take away any more control than your loved one has already had to give up due to their diagnosis and treatments.

Instead of focusing on losses and what you and/or your loved one aren’t able to do this year, focus on what they can do or even try doing something new. Help them find a new tradition or create different opportunities to make memories together.

Practice self-care too. Caregiving is hard. You need to take time for yourself to focus on what you enjoy doing. Taking time for yourself can give you the break that may be needed and you not even realize it. Your self-care can even make you an even better caregiver to others. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family members/friends.

Most importantly, be there to listen to and support your loved one. Don’t be afraid to share your worries/concerns with your loved one. Often, you may both be struggling with similar concerns, and talking openly about them can bring you both comfort.


If you are struggling with your mental health this holiday season, tell your care team and they can help connect you with resources.

Thompson Cancer Survival Center offers free counseling services to patients during treatment. If you are a patient and would like to speak with a counselor, visit to learn how to schedule an appointment.


Other Resources:

American Cancer Society. Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes. Maintaining Good Mental Health When Coping With a Cancer Diagnosis.