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Strategies For a Tough Time of Year

Barb shares coping techniques to get through winter and the holidays.
PUBLISHED November 21, 2017
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
The nights grow longer and the days grow shorter. The weather is chilly. The road conditions, depending on where you live, may worsen. The holidays approach. Even without cancer in the picture, this is a difficult time of year for many people. It is a difficult time of year for me—my first holiday season without Mom. How can we cope? What have you learned through life and cancer? Here are some of my thoughts.

Add light. Improve your lighting. Try flameless candles—the quality and technology of these have greatly improved. Turn on lamps. Deliberately use lighting to cozy-up your home. Some also suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If you suspect you or someone you love does, investigate the natural light lamps that are made to help this. There is definitive research that shows these lights can help.

Add color. We just hung pictures in a dreary gray bathroom—art made by one of our daughters. Add pictures, colorful throw blankets or pillows to rooms. Choose colors that make you feel good and art that is meaningful to you personally, and then add them to your rooms.

Try scent. Yardley’s English Lavender soap is something I will always associate with Mom. Improve room ambiance with aromatherapy, essential oils or room sprays. Choose scents that provide comfort to you. I like cinnamon, personally.

Explore music. Some music soothes me, like light jazz. Some depresses me! Missing Mom, I am not sure how Christmas music will go for me this season. If the silence is pounding in on you or the television is just blaring, try music that soothes and comforts you. Check out Google for a list of radio stations in your area, try something new, and put the music on.

Clear clutter. Consider a limited number of large decorations rather than lots of knick-knacks on horizontal surfaces to dust and arrange. An uncluttered but still homey space is soothing to many of us in difficult times. The activity of de-cluttering may also keep thoughts from straying to unhappy places.

Literally add warmth. Build a fire or flip a switch or adjust that thermostat or dig out, wash and use that cozy blanket. I have a chenille green blanket and my “spot” is on the end of the couch. It was actually my “safe place” during active treatment. I find myself gravitating there in the fall and winter, too.

Try joyful movement. Dance or march in place, or do whatever movement helps you feel better in your skin and reduce your anxiety. Try movement for as little as 10 minutes at a time to warm up and to feel better. Get up and move! It helps. Honest.

Eat mindfully. Eat slowly and pay attention to what you are eating. If sugar whacks you out, be judicious. Notice what foods sooth and energize you and which ones drain you and make you feel bad afterwards. Stay hydrated. When you feel weary, try a glass of water. I am still amazed how often I continue to confuse fatigue or weariness in myself with dehydration.

When nothing works, try distraction. Keep hands busy with a project. It doesn’t matter what kind—whatever you like to do. It could be crochet, cooking, knitting or even dusting. Keep your mind occupied in a happier place—a comedy on television or a good book. Choose to steer your mind to happier places when things get difficult.

Hugs. Above all, remember hugs. Humans need each other. We need physical contact. Don’t be afraid to give them or request them. Hugs are free and totally transferable. I send you all big hugs as we head into this holiday season.
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