No one wants to rain on the holiday parade. But it can be hard to join the fun when cancer’s made you sick, scared, financially challenged — or all three. Here are some suggestions for taking the sting out of illness-induced misery — and perhaps even finding some holiday happiness.
Don’t kick yourself when you’re down
Recognize and accept that you have every reason in the world to be unhappy. You’re facing a life-threatening illness accompanied by treatment that can be both physically and emotionally devastating. Don’t add a guilt trip to what’s already a difficult journey; you’ve “earned” every bit of your current misery!
Eliminate ‘should’ from your vocabulary
“It’s Christmas, I should be happy.” “I should be able to handle this.” There’s no better way to bring yourself down than to think of everything you “should” be, do, or feel. Validate your present difficulties; they’re real, and they’re affecting you. Then move forward, doing the best you can.
Try guided meditation
Online apps make it easier than ever to relax and forget your troubles, if even temporarily, via meditation. Ten or 15 minutes closing your eyes and listening to your breath helps you live in the moment — and stop worrying. Looking for a place to start? Try Headspace or Calm.
‘And then what?’
Unhappiness often springs from fear of the unknown. Try this exercise: Break down something you fear into parts, then after each part ask yourself, “And then what?” I’m going to have chemo. And then what? I’ll lose my hair. And then what? I’ll feel embarrassed. And then what? Well… I guess I’ll get over it and my hair will grow back!
Force a smile
Research has shown that the simple act of smiling reduces stress. When you’re at your most anxious, crack a smile and hold it as long as you can. Not only will you feel your stress lessen — people will probably smile back. See? You just helped make someone’s day!
It’s true: the physical act of moving around can make you feel better. According to the National Institute on Aging, exercise “perk[s] up your mood and reduce[s] depression.” Endorphins, chemicals released by your body during exercise, reduce your perception of pain, stress, and anxiety. Take a walk and relax!
Replace envy with empathy
See that family strolling through the park, sipping cocoa and laughing? Instead of envying them their happiness, try putting yourself in their shoes. Feel the warm cup in your hands, and smell the tempting aroma of chocolate. Remember what it’s like to be a child at Christmas. Believe that someday that family’s happiness will once again be yours.
Live in the moment
What’s done is in the past. The future is unknown. You can choose to regret what’s happened, and fear what might be coming down the road. Or you can choose to fully experience the present moment. Even if that “moment” is painful, at least you’re not also imagining a stressful future, or reliving old injuries.
Tell a joke (or two, or three)
Here are a few to get you started:
Q: How does Santa tend his garden?
A: Ho ho ho!
Q: How much does Santa’s sleigh cost?
A: Nothing, it’s on the house.
Q. What do you get when you combine a Christmas tree with an iPad?
A: A pineapple.
There are many ways to cope with unhappiness. And one of the best is to choose to be happy. There’s not much about this cancer experience you can control; but you can choose your attitude. Choose to see the good in your life: caring nurses, loving friends, a piece of chocolate. Focus on those positives, and there’ll be less room in your heart for fear, stress, and unhappiness.
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning authorPJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.