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Looking after yourself at Christmas

The festive season can be an exciting time of year but it’s important to make sure you pace yourself, and get the support you need for you and your loved ones. Here are some tips from our community for looking after yourself over the festive period.

The festive season can be an exciting, yet busy, time of year – family and friends to see, and presents and food to buy… But when you’re living with a brain tumour, or caring for someone who is, planning and entertaining can be tiring – and bring with it a mix of emotions. So make sure you pace yourself, and get the support you need for you and your loved one. Here are some tips from our community on coping over the Christmas period.

Making plans

Every year, it feels as if plans for Christmas start even earlier.

We’re all under pressure to have a wonderful time. But whether you’re living with a brain tumour, or caring for someone who is, you may find some aspects of Christmas, as well as the build-up, overwhelming and stressful. And seeing other people seeming to enjoy making plans, while you’re already dealing with a lot, may leave you feeling alone and isolated.

Taking time to plan in advance will help you keep on top of all of this. Having a calendar to put important dates in can help you stay on track. The most important thing is to ask for help if you need it. It’s much easier to sit down with someone and go through all of this to keep it feeling manageable.

Dr Rebecca Mulholland, Senior Clinical Psychologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Asking for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need with planning. If there was ever a time of year to ask for additional help, this is it. Friends and family will be more than happy to lend a hand, so that you can be as much a part of the festive celebrations as you feel able.

And delegate where you can – trading the traditional role you might have previously had, for more manageable tasks. Remember, not everything has to be done in a particular way.

BRIAN is a great way to track how you’re feeling each day as you get ready for Christmas. You can also use BRIAN to share this information with your loved ones and let them know when you need a hand.

Talk to your medical team

They may have some suggestions or advice to help you cope, and may also be able to be flexible about treatment or medical appointments, helping you to plan your Christmas period. They can also give you information about any out-of-hours services or contact details you might need at this time.

Breaking with tradition

It’s important to recognise that you’ve been through a lot and while it can feel frustrating not being able to do things how you used to, be gentle on yourself.

Whether it’s decorating the tree, going present shopping, or cooking up some festive treats, you could look at doing things differently. Buy presents online if you can’t face the crowds or aren’t feeling up to hitting the shops this year. Get help putting up the decorations and doing any Christmas catering. Sharing tasks like these are just as special and an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones as you work through your Christmas to-do list.

If there are any, acknowledge any sad or difficult feelings you have about how Christmas might not be how you wanted it to be, how you may feel different from the people around you and the difficult challenges you may face.

Dr Rebecca Mulholland, Senior Clinical Psychologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Scaling things back

Your diary can get pretty hectic in the lead up to Christmas and New Year. So rather than spread yourself too thin, pace yourself and arrange to see some of your friends and family in January instead. That way, you’ll have some dates to look forward to in the new year, which will also serve as the perfect antidote to that post-Christmas feeling.

And give yourself permission to take a step back and make what you do to mark this year more manageable. It’s okay to do as much or as little as you want – those close to you will understand. If you do decide to spend quality time with a select few, or opt to skip the celebrations altogether, that’s also okay. Explain how you’re feeling to your loved ones – you can always arrange a different day to spend time with smaller groups of people.

Keep things low key

Christmas always brings huge pressures of living up to the dream of perfect family happiness. Even when healthy, it’s stressful as life is rarely like that. 

22 December is the two-year anniversary of Brian’s brain surgery, which adds to our tumultuous mix of emotions. So,we choose to have a nice quiet Christmas ­- just me and him (and four cats).

Francesca Johnson

Getting from A to B

Regardless of the Christmas build-up, everyday life goes on. You may have medical appointments and treatment to fit in. So, if you do need help from friends or family to get to them and take you home afterwards, don’t feel guilty about asking them for a lift.

Take care of yourself

If you’re caring for someone living with a brain tumour, you already have a lot to juggle, so it’s really important that you look after yourself, too. As well as the tips above, to help lighten the festive load, try to have some time to yourself – going out for a few hours’ respite, if you can. See if friends or family can help you do this.

Having some time out, and having the chance to talk about how you’re feeling, are important ways of making sure that you look after yourself. It’s well known, but often forgotten, that you can only care well if you care for yourself.

And make sure you have alternative arrangements in place for the festive holiday season if you have paid carers to help you look after your loved one.

Social situations

If you or a loved one is coping with speech or language difficulties (or both), or struggles understanding what’s being said, spending time with lots of people may be more challenging and leave you feeling anxious in social situations.

Give your friends and family the heads-up about how you or your loved one is coping with these difficulties, as well as ways they can help put you at ease, such as creating a relaxed environment, reducing background noise and distractions, including TV and radio, speaking clearly and at a steady pace, using short sentences, and using all forms of communications – drawing, writing, facial expressions and miming, if that helps.

Consider dietary restrictions and be careful with alcohol

We know that lots of people might enjoy an alcoholic drink at Christmas. Generally, the odd tipple isn’t a problem, but it’s really important to make sure you check with your medical team beforehand, so you can understand how it might affect you. 

Alcohol can sometimes interfere with how some medicines or drugs work, or it might make you feel sick. You could limit yourself to a drink with dinner, or just to toast with.

There’s a lot to consider over the Christmas period, and hopefully these tips will be helpful this year. But you might still struggle. Remember: that’s okay. 

If you want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, you can contact our Information and Support Line by email, starting a live chat or calling us on 0808 800 0004.

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