Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Stress -

I wrote this for the Palliative Care Clinic where I work. And as I wrote, from experience, I realized how relevant so many of these pointers are. So I'm sharing.

‘Tis the Season – Facing the Holidays and Illness – for You and Your Caregiver

The holiday season is upon us – but with a diagnosis that does not allow for “normal,” what can be done to celebrate the holidays, rather than just existing through them? Traditions and memories of holidays can underscore the confusion related to loss and make the holidays overwhelming and unbearable.

First and foremost – Don’t forget the holidays!!! Taking time off to enjoy life, wanting a little bit of normalcy and routine in life is a good thing. Wanting to continue with some traditions and celebrations is just fine, if you know how to make this happen. Think about how you want to manage your symptoms and how they coincide with this time of the year.

1. Forget about perfection. It isn’t going to happen, and it doesn’t need to happen.

·         Ask yourself, ‘How much energy is this going to take, and how willing am I to pay for this after it’s finished,’ before undertaking anything strenuous (emotionally or physically).  Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.

·         Simplify. Delegate (or delete) and don’t micro-manage. Think, ‘Does it need to be done by me, or does it just need to be done?’

2.  Stay rested. One of the biggest holiday stressors is lack of sleep.

·         If you must push yourself, then give yourself a day off or a couple of naps the following day. Plan for time on and time off.

·         The strain of shopping, social demands (both are public areas with unwanted germs just waiting for you), can wipe you out. Being exhausted increases your stress level as well. This can become a vicious cycle. Enjoy the holiday moments rather than the holiday bustle.

·         Shop online or consider donating your Christmas budget to a local or national not-for-profit organization, and acknowledge this to your friends in a card.

·         If your finances cannot handle this strain, how about a letter sharing your love for those around you, written by you, or a piece of poetry, or a story?

·         Stop! Don’t push yourself.

3. Eat and stay hydrated. Doing anything can be difficult, so plan on taking care of yourself so you can enjoy others.

·         This means healthy foods and liquids!

·         Treats are good. However, be careful when eating home-made goodies. That peanut brittle or fudge might be very enticing; do you know where it came from; do you know the giver?

 4. Holidays seem to bring out the best and the worst in people. Know your limits.

·         Family trauma is as toxic for your health as too much sugar. Play the ‘I am too sick to be involved’ card if you’d like. No apologies necessary. But do not isolate yourself!

·         Get creative. If the doctor says your counts are low and to stay away from visitors, then think of how you can enjoy visitors without their germs. Devise a schedule for visitors and keep those visits short and sweet.

·        Consider online face time with friends and family – Skype and other conference and face time programs and apps are readily available.

·         Hand Sanitizer – keep a bottle with you, and by the front and back doors at all times. Even if you don’t see the guests who enter your home, germs travel. If you do venture outdoors – stay in open spaces and keep cuddled up. If you must go to an event that is held inside, keep your hands covered and your nose and mouth covered. Give shoulder or elbow bumps, don’t shake hands (even in gloves), and no hugs or kisses. Use a caregiver as a buffer from contact with others. Think of them as your body guards.

5.  Emotions are heavy during times of crisis – and holidays.

·         Feelings of sorrow, sadness, anger, and melancholy are normal. Allow yourself to go wherever these emotions take you. Use this time to process your feelings and memories surrounding the holidays. Watch movies or listen to music that share in those emotions. Writing these feelings down is good, it takes the mind rushing and racing around emotions and calms your heart and mind down. Think of it as a race car going around and around on a track, with no pit stop. Writing and/or talking about these things gives your car/mind that pit stop/break.

·         Practice gratitude. Count your blessings when you wake in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. Write these down – where they are visible to you or to all. Perhaps this could be an exercise where all in your home could be involved.

·         Minimize the time you spend with “don’t have/can’t do.”

·         With no expectations, anything accomplished is a success - and a brilliant one at that!
6. Surround yourself with “lovelies.”

·         Be gentle with yourself. Live in the present. Be grateful for today. Enjoy the beauty of life and the power of love. Practice joy – find it in even the every day moments.

·         If there are scents, sounds, sights that bring you peace and bring you positive light, then for sure, get them around you. Candles, flowers, lights, music are all sterile ways of giving you warmth.

·         Start new traditions. Rather than going out to a Messiah Sing-along, watch a televised version and sing your loudest. Rather than wandering the mall looking for the perfect gift, send kind words instead. Rather than decorating your home, take a drive to look at the lights and decorations. Rather than baking like crazy, watch a movie with the fake fire burning while drinking instant cocoa and eating store-bought gingersnaps. Revel in the simplicity.

Think about why this season is important to you. Make a conscious effort to focus on what you do have. Follow your heart and your doctor. And be happy – one moment, one day, one holiday at a time. 

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