Combating Holiday Blues

Posted 4 years ago

Combating the Holiday Blues

November starts the kCombating the Holiday Bluesickoff of the holiday season which is a time we associate with the joy of family, friends, and festivities.  But for many individuals, especially those that have been dealing with a cancer diagnosis, this can be a difficult time which brings on feelings of sadness, loneliness, isolation, and loss.  These feelings have been termed the holiday blues and they can make it a challenge to get through the months of November and December.

This year, the challenges and life changes brought on by the COVID1-19 pandemic are carried into the holiday season which can make this time more challenging than ever.  Many people facing a cancer diagnosis have already felt isolated during the pandemic not being able to tap into the support and connections from family and friends that can be so helpful in navigating cancer treatment.  With the holidays upon us, this isolation can really be hard-hitting.

I think the first thing for cancer patients to understand is that it is not uncommon to have these feelings and to prepare ahead of time with strategies to make it through the holidays.  The following are strategies that can be helpful:

Connect with Family and Friends:

Although it may not be possible to gather with your loved ones during the holidays, it is important to find other ways to connect.  Now in the world of virtual connections – scheduling family Zoom sessions or Facetime calls can give you something to look forward to and still give you a feeling of connection.  If you are part of a church or other spiritual community connecting with their services and groups can be another way to connect with support. Combating Holiday Blues

Connect with Support Groups:

Cancer support groups can help combat some of the isolation and help you deal with some of the emotions that are brought on by the holidays.  These groups allow you to connect with others who are facing similar challenges.  Ironwood Cancer and Research Centers have a variety of support groups that can be found on our website.

Combating the Holiday BluesGratitude Journaling:

The holidays are a time for reflection and a good time to take inventory of the blessings that you have in your life.  Creating a daily practice of jotting down a few things that you are grateful for can get your brain programmed to focus on searching for the good things in your day.

This practice has been shown to improve mood and help generate a more positive outlook on life.   For persons dealing with cancer, developing a gratitude practice can be a way to cultivate resilience and feelings of hope.

Exercise Your Way to a Better Mood:

Exercise is a great way to improve your mood and outlook on life.  Studies have shown that moderate exercise can improve mood chemicals in your brain, help you lower your stress, and improve your energy.  In fact, moderate-intensity exercise was shown to be as effective for mood as some antidepressants.  Now that the weather is cooling down, it is a great time to get outdoors and be active.  If you find yourself feeling down and blue, push yourself to get off the couch and get moving, chances are, you will feel better after doing so.

 Healthy Foods Can Lift Your Mood:

Combating Holiday BluesWhen feeling down and blue, many people look to eat sugary, salty junk foods to help themselves feel better.  These foods may give a short boost to your mood but then quickly end up making you feel worse.   So instead of going for junk food, look to include foods in your diet that have been shown to support your mental health.

Eating healthy fats like salmon, avocadoes and nuts have been associated with lower rates of depression and have been shown to improve brain health.  Colorful fruits and vegetables are also great choices because they high in many mood-boosting nutrients. 

Most people will be happy to hear that coffee and chocolate are also mood-boosting foods.   Both regular and decaffeinated coffee has been shown in studies to significantly improve mood.

Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa) also has mood benefits as long as eaten in moderation.  The holidays can be a particularly challenging time to avoid junk foods.  One of the best ways to keep yourself from overindulging in junk foods is to clear them out of your home and only allow yourselves to have them for an occasional treat.

When to Get Help:

If your feelings of sadness are overwhelming or leave you with recurrent thoughts of hurting yourself, it is time to get help.   Also, if you find that your feelings of sadness are persisting well beyond the holidays, make sure to seek help.  If you are in a crisis, contact the Crisis Response Network at 1-800-631-1314.  They have trained counselor’s that can help connect you with the care that you need.  The social workers at Ironwood Cancer and Research Centers are also here to help you with individual counseling and can connect with community resources.

The presence of the COVID-19 pandemic during this holiday season means that, more than ever, people are going to struggle with the Holiday Blues.  Being prepared for these feelings and connecting with supportive resources can help make this difficult time a little easier.


Dr. Heidi Rula Integrative Oncologist Ironwood Cancer & Research CentersAbout Heidi Rula, M.D.

Medical Director of the Supportive Care Services Department

Dr. Heidi Rula joined Ironwood in 2018 to launch the Integrative Oncology program. She is board certified in family medicine and fellowship-trained in Integrative Medicine. Dr. Rula has been a practicing physician in the Phoenix area for approximately 20 years and has been recognized by her colleagues as one of Phoenix’s “Top Doctors” on multiple occasions.

Dr. Rula has played a key role in bringing integrative medicine to the Valley. She served as the medical director of the University of Arizona Integrative Health Center where she leads a team of physicians and complementary practitioners in a unique model of integrative primary care that she helped to develop along with Dr. Weil and the UA Center for Integrative Medicine.

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About Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers

Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers (ICRC) is the largest multi-specialty oncology network in the Greater Metro Phoenix area. They have over 100 medical providers, a robust Integrative Services program, and a dedicated clinical research department. Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers has 15 valley locations and five comprehensive cancer care centers that offer a multi-disciplinary approach for expedited personalized patient care. For more information, please visit