Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., November 16, 2022 –The holiday season, while considered a joyous time of year, can be a stressful and hectic time for many people. For those facing cancer, the holidays can trigger a cascade of negative emotions including anxiety and depression. One effective way to cope with holiday stress is to slow down and take time to cultivate and practice mindfulness.

Gabrielle Stander, MSW, LSW, MAS, outpatient oncology social worker at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer program and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health shares more on mindfulness to help cancer patients and their families manage stress during the holiday season.

How Mindfulness can Ease Holiday Stress

Through the holidays, we often lose connection with the present moment. Mindfulness is awareness of your present moment experience, a practice with Buddhist and eastern roots. American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn was influential in popularizing the practice in the western world. Mindfulness is accessible to all. When we become aware of how we’re feeling, we’re able to be equally present with joy and discomfort. According to the American Cancer Society, practicing mindfulness can help calm the mind, reduce anxiety and depression, improve relationships and more.

Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness

Mindful breathing: Connecting with our breath is a powerful way to reduce stress. Start with just 5 minutes a day to simply focus on breathing in and out. Close your eyes if comfortable and it is safe to do so. Observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. If you notice your mind wandering, know that this is normal; acknowledge that it is happening and gently bring yourself back to your breath. Fully accept any thoughts and feelings that come up without judgement.

Mindful eating: Instead of looking on your phone or watching TV, savor every moment of your meal by slowing down your eating and focusing on all of your senses (sight, sound, taste, smell and touch).

Mindful conversation: Listen carefully, giving your full attention to the people who are speaking to you. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, tune into your internal dialogue and emotions during the conversation to build self-awareness and support healthy communication. If conversation gets tense, consider taking a mindful walk.

Take a mindful walk: Be fully present as you slowly take each step. Pay attention to the sensations in your body. How do your feet feel? How do your muscles feel? Note how your arms swing as you walk. What are you taking in through your five senses?

Be Compassionate with yourself: Remember that the true purpose of the holidays is to spend time with those you love, including yourself, and try not to get caught up in perfectionism. Nobody is perfect.

Keep it Simple: Let go of what you think the holiday season “should” be and focus on what truly brings you joy. Consider what is most important to you about the holidays without judgement. Maybe it’s the spiritual/religious aspect, or spending time with family and friends, or spending quality time by yourself to recharge. Then, design your holidays around your top priority.

When to Practice Mindfulness: Every moment we have is a new opportunity for mindfulness. Our peaceful center is always there, even in life’s most difficult moments. We just need to remember to connect to the power that is already within us.

Rutgers Cancer Institute offers support services for cancer patients and families, including stress management. Learn about our Patient Support Services program.  

Goldstein, E., & Stahl, B. (2019). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (2nd ed.). New Harbinger Publications


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