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6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

If you're dealing with cancer, or have a loved one who is, the holidays can bring about some unexpected challenges. You may not feel up to visiting or being around noise and lots of activity, yet your family and loved ones may really want to be with you.

Christmas and New Year’s are right around the corner. When dealing with cancer it’s so important to keep our stress levels as low as possible, so how do we manage holiday stressors on top of the inherent challenges of our diagnosis?

Below are 6 tips for managing holiday stress, gleaned from my personal experience when I was in the throes of my cancer adventure five years ago. They may not be quite what you’d expect, and I hope you find them useful.

tips for managing holiday stress

It’s so easy to minimize stress in our lives, isn't it? “I can handle this,” we say. After all, we’re highly adaptable beings, and we’ve become used to pushing ourselves through many stressful situations that crop up regularly.

Yet, when we’re dealing with cancer, it’s absolutely essential to reframe our relationship with stress and do our best to honor ourselves. How? By putting some self-care strategies in place, making our health and our well-being priority number one.

That can be challenging with the pressure of well-meaning loved ones who want to include us in family get-togethers when we may not feeling up to it.

You may feel that by taking care of your needs first it makes you out to be “selfish.” Well, believe me, what I learned through my cancer journey is that if there was ever a time to put myself first, this was it. I had to learn that taking care of myself is an act of self-love and that I’m worth it.

If there’s anything positive to glean from your cancer journey – and there’s actually a lot – this one concept would be at the top.

So, during the holidays, and from this moment forward, please learn to reframe what “putting yourself first” means. It’s not selfish; it’s a beautiful, loving act that will have many positive ramifications in your life. You’re worth it, and this is the perfect time to put it into practice, yes?


Dealing with cancer often changes our perspective and our priorities. It’s something other people don’t fully understand unless they’ve experienced it.

While a friend or relative may be having a meltdown over the oven not working and now dinner’s going to be late, those issues can seem so minor in comparison to some of the thoughts that may be crossing our minds, like

“I wonder if I’ll be here next Christmas.” (Yes, you will...)

Huge shift in perspective, right? Everything changes. Our values shift from a very deep place inside of us, in a way that others can’t possibly relate to.

Dealing with cancer involves addressing many layers from a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and even relational perspective. It’s so essential to love our selves in the process; to be gentle and kind, to respect where we’re at and honor our feelings, whatever they may be.


Stress can trigger a series of biochemical changes in our body that can create a fertile terrain in which cancer can grow. It can negatively affect our nervous system function and negatively alter our immunological responses.

A key component of combatting cancer is keeping our immune system in top shape. Everyone has cancer cells in their body, and our immune system normally keeps those rogue cells at bay, without us ever knowing about it.

Yet, for many reasons our immune system can become overburdened and simply can’t function as it should; then those rogue cells begin to multiply, take hold and suddenly… we have a tumor. That process can likely unfold for months or even years, under the radar.

Keeping our immune system in check is vital to healing. I’ll talk in more detail about this essential component of healing cancer in an upcoming blog post. For now, know that learning to manage stress is a key strategy for getting well and staying that way.

Of several factors that may come into play, stress may be one of the most cancer promoting. So let’s say bye-bye to it, shall we? Especially during the holidays.


1. Learn to say No. I use a short phrase as a filter that helps me become really clear about what to become involved in. I ask myself this question: “Does this activity, person or event feed my soul?” If the answer is No, regardless of a sense of duty or responsibility, I listen to my inner voice as much as possible.

Will other people be disappointed, or hurt? Maybe. Yet, if you lovingly express to them that you’re really needing to honor your quiet time right now, people usually understand. And if not, it’s okay. They’ll get over it.

Every time I say "No" in order to take care of myself, something inside me shifts. I imagine my immune system kicking it up a notch in agreement.

2. Ask for help. This was a huge one for me. I pride myself in finding solutions to problems by myself. It was very humbling to learn to ask for help. Yet, when I realized that if someone I love was in my situation and asked me for help or support, of course I would gladly do it! So, why not me? Again, a matter of knowing I’m worth it. (At first it may seem uncomfortable. You'll soon get the hang of it.)

If anyone you love asks "What can I do?" I encourage you let them know. You can ask for help with cooking, with cleaning, with taking you to the doctor, with coming over to watch a movie. Whatever it is. Often allowing others to help us gives them a sense of purpose during this challenging time.

My guess is that you may be the type of person who gladly would help someone you love in the same situation, yes? So, give them that gift.

3. Bring your own food. If you’re on a restricted diet, like I was, it’s perfectly fine to bring your yummy, healthy food in some glass containers for yourself. I used to bring extra as, invariably, some adventurers would want to try some of my healthy food, and even tell me how delicious it was. So, feel free to bring your food and enjoy being with everyone else at the table.

If you're uncomfortable with that, or if you really feel like having a taste of something not on your diet at the table, let yourself, and enjoy it. Then do your best to get back on track the following day. Obviously, do your best to minimize sugar, pastries and alcohol.

4. Spend time with people you love. This one may seem logical, yet we often say yes to invitations to places we really don’t want to go to, out of a sense of duty. How about creating a gathering of your favorite people? And laugh, laugh, laugh as much as you can. Sometimes a small gathering of quality folks can do wonders for your spirit.

5. Set clear boundaries. This one is a natural segue from the last point. It’s so important to be clear with people in our lives about what we may need during this challenging time. If you want to have a night off from talking about cancer, let them know. If you'd rather not discuss problems during dinner, say something like “Hey, can we keep conversation light and easy during dinner?” If certain people ask to many questions and you'd rather have quiet company without talking, let them know.

Get in touch with what you need, and communicate it clearly and lovingly. If they don't get it, maybe it's time to set a stronger boundary and take a break for a while until you're feeling stronger.

6. Tell it to your Journal. There’s a lot to deal with during our cancer journey; lots of doubts, fears, concerns. It’s important to let it out and not let it fester inside of you. Sometimes, these things are hard to talk about as it may trigger other people’s fears and anxieties as well. So it really helps to write them down.

Just pour your heart out. Put it all out, cry, yell, be angry. Then allow peace to come in afterwards. Allow hope to fill you, even for a few moments. Let it all out, if you keep that inside of you it becomes toxic. It’s a great way to de-stress and a beautiful morning practice to get into as a new habit. It's something that I resisted for a while, and once I began, I cherish it dearly. I still journal to this day and get a lot from the process.

There are other scientifically proven stress-management techniques you can incorporate, including:

  • Meditation (focus on your breath with your eyes closed. )

  • Mindfulness (being aware of the present moment, vs. futurizing.)

  • Visualization (see yourself healed, calm and happy in the near future.)

  • Common-sense strategies like getting rest, good sleep, gentle exercise.

  • Listening to calming music.

  • Cuddling with a loved one and physical intimacy.

  • Supplements like ashwaganda, lemon balm, valerian and kava kava.

The Bottom Line

You deserve to have a life that’s filled with love, and joy and abundant health that’s stress-free and kind and connected.

You’re worth it and YOU are in control of what you allow in and what you put out. Listen to your inner voice and learn to lovingly honor what you hear.

Enjoy time with family and friends, and know that you can create the kind and loving experience you desire by communicating clearly and honoring your needs.

If you want to chat about some of this, or any other tools you can incorporate to make your cancer journey more bearable, I’m here for you.

I’d love to know, in the COMMENTS below, which of these stress-reducing tools you'd be willing to try, or which others have worked for you. Would love to get a conversation going.

Thanks for reading!

Big hug, Eli


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