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Making Good Holiday Choices

By Dave Balch

Here we go again with all the usual phrases and observations: “Where did the time go?” and “Holidays are stressful” and on and on and on.

Holidays stressful? Gee, ya think? And they’re especially stressful when you have serious health challenges. So, here are my suggestions for this year:

Just Say “No”. It’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting invitations to holiday festivities that you don’t really want to attend. You don’t want to disappoint people, or you’re afraid they will think you are weenies, or the party has become a tradition, or you are ‘expected’ to be there. Here’s my tip: DON’T GO! I know it’s easy to say and hard to do, but do it anyway: say, “No, thank you.” If you have to play the cancer card (“I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling up to it because of my cancer.”) then play it. Protect yourself from expending energy that you don’t have.

Remember that there is more to accepting an invitation than simply showing up. You have to get dressed up, perhaps shop for a gift, wrap the gift, maybe you’ll have to cook something, and get there in uncertain weather (it IS winter, you know).

A corollary to this situation is accepting an invitation but, at the last minute, feeling too lousy to go. You have to stand up for yourself, take a deep breath, and do what’s best for you. Call your host and tell them that you can’t go. Maybe you will disappoint someone; they’ll get over it. Protect yourself.

Let Someone Else Do It. Maybe you want to have a party and invite your friends and family. Sending invitations, cleaning, shopping, cooking,… that’s a lot of work; are you sure you’re up to it? Even more important, are you sure you’ll be up to it when the time comes? You may feel great today and send out the invites, but are you sure you’ll be able to deliver? Don’t put yourself under so much pressure. I suggest that you either a) let someone else host this year’s party, b) get A LOT of help to put on the party you simply must have, c) invite fewer people to reduce the amount of work, or d) both b) and c). Protect yourself. People will understand; if they don’t then it’s their problem. Again, they’ll get over it.

Steer the Conversation. When people do get together, they seem to always want to talk about your condition. “How are you?” and “How are you REALLY?” and “I know someone…” – it seems that you are suddenly defined by your illness and it can be very stressful. My wife and I both got sick of talking about it. Chris came up with the perfect answer, “I’m fine, let’s talk about something else.” Does that seem rude? Maybe… TOUGH. Protect yourself. (Do you see a theme emerging here?) People will understand.

Simplify Your Holiday Shopping. Some people love holiday shopping and seeing all of the decorations and goodies and the kids with Santa Claus, but talk about sucking energy! I’m not going to suggest that you pass on getting gifts, but I am going to suggest that you get gifts that are easier to buy. For example, you can get gift cards for just about anything and you can get them just about anywhere. Our supermarket has an entire rack of them: home improvement stores, restaurant chains, movies, etc. If you haven’t seen them they look, feel, and work just like credit cards. They are “pre-loaded” with a certain amount of money and they can be used just like cash. And, there is no extra cost for the convenience because a gift card, for example, will cost you and can be used just like cash to buy of goods and services. How easy is that? You can do all of your holiday shopping when you’re buying your canned sardines!

Don’t like the gift card idea? Shop on the Internet. Most major retailers have web sites that allow you to shop, order and pay for your gifts right from home. And they’ll ship them directly to the recipient and even gift wrap them for you. Many people think that it isn’t safe – they are simply wrong. If you shop at a reputable web site your credit card information will be perfectly secure, probably even safer than it is when a restaurant server disappears with your card and then comes back with the charge slip for you to sign!

Make Good Food Choices. The holiday season, as a whole, is similar to a cruise ship buffet – unlimited amounts of food, much of which isn’t good for you. If you are really feeling sick then this won’t be much of a problem because the mere sight of it will get you retching, but if you are able, remember that your system is compromised and may not be able to tolerate what it could in the past. When I’m faced with holiday treats I often say to myself, “This is really bad to eat but it’s only one time a year and, besides, it will be worth it!” Don’t do what I do! You’ll save yourself a lot of discomfort by controlling yourself at the feed trough.

Here’s the main thing to remember: you have choices. You CAN choose not to do something or to do something differently than before. Make good choices to protect yourself.

I wish each and every one of you a happy holiday season, and a wonderful 2012!

How do you handle holiday stress and obligations? Share your tips in the comments below or in the WebMD Cancer Community.

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