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Cancer and the Holiday Blues

Maybe the holidays have always been your favorite time of year, but now you just can't get in the mood. There is a detachment from the holiday cheer -- it's not in sync with how we feel. The disconnect between the joyous time of year and the sad feelings inside leave can leave us feeling that this holiday isn't how it is "supposed to be."
12/26/2015 09:07am ET | Updated December 26, 2016
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Pensive sad girl with a warming drink looking out the window in the winter forest

For people diagnosed with cancer and those dealing with its emotional aftermath, the holidays can bring the blues. These times with friends and family are exactly the ones we want to cherish even more than before cancer, but in reality they leave many of us feeling overwhelmed. So why do the holidays trigger such anxiety and sadness?

Maybe the holidays have always been your favorite time of year, but now you just can't get in the mood. There is a detachment from the holiday cheer -- it's not in sync with how we feel. The disconnect between the joyous time of year and the sad feelings inside leave can leave us feeling that this holiday isn't how it is "supposed to be."

Then there is the frenzy of the holidays. When going through treatment or navigating survivorship the smallest thing can be overwhelming. The holidays pack on extra stress. There is the house to decorate, the tree to trim, the gifts to buy, the cookies to bake. We celebrate at work and at home, there are houseguests, we travel... it really is a lot. Combine all of this with not feeling well physically or emotionally and it's just too much.

The end of the year is a time of reflection, and when you have experienced trauma this can be painful. We try to process all that has happened in the last 12 months. Maybe it was our own diagnosis or perhaps we lost a friend that we met along the way. Thinking back over the struggles of 2015 may cause sadness, confusion and grief.

Lastly, the season is a time to look forward, but thinking about the future can be scary. Maybe you are wondering if you will be here next year; if you will experience the holiday again. Cancer is filled with so much uncertainty. For people in active treatment there is the unclear outcome, while for those navigating their "new normal" there is the fear of reoccurrence. There is a desperate grasping for each moment that leads to enormous pressure to make this holiday perfect.

If you are dealing with cancer and the holiday blues here are five tips that may help:
  1. Reach out if you are feeling alone. Many friends and family don't know how to be supportive and may feel like they are being bothersome. It's not fair, but sometimes we have to be the ones to make the first move.
  2. Don't beat yourself up about not being in the holiday spirit. It's okay to not be jolly all the time.
  3. Don't overschedule yourself. Say no to some invitations, cut down on commitments, and give yourself permission to stay put this year.
  4. Remind yourself that the day won't be perfect. You may not have as much energy normal, you may not have an appetite for the fruitcake, and you may have to face awkward family conversations. Perfection is in the imperfect.
  5. Be here now. Looking at the whole picture can be overwhelming. Take it moment by moment.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.