Five Tips For Coping With Grief During The Holidays

By Sarah Strumeier
The holiday season is quickly approaching this year and for many people who have lost a loved one, this time of the year can be particularly difficult and challenging. The holidays may also not feel quite the same anymore. It is not just during the year of the “firsts” that holidays can be hard, but can be difficult for years to come during the holiday season. It is normal to feel and experience a huge void during this time of the year that can exacerbate feelings of grief and loss. Below are ways to cope with feelings of grief as you navigate the upcoming holiday season:
Tip #1: Decide how you will spend your time
While mentally preparing for the holiday season, it is important to plan how you will spend your time. Do not let any family member or friend tell you how you should be spending the holidays. This can be extremely triggering and can increase feelings of grief and loss. For some, creating a simple plan may be helpful in order to not dread the holidays in the weeks and months to come. A simple plan may include choosing to stay home, cooking your favorite meal, watching movies with a friend, etc. For others, creating an initial plan and backup plans may be helpful. For example, maybe your Plan A will include going to another loved one’s home for the holidays where you know you will feel safe. Maybe Plan B will include if you’re not feeling up to it come the day of or a few days prior, that you will stay home engaging in activities that you know you will enjoy, such as baking. Just remember, you are in full control of how you want to spend the holidays and don’t let anyone make you think differently.
Tip #2: Allow yourself to feel
Pretending you are not grieving or experiencing other emotions during the holidays will just hurt even more. It is important to allow yourself to feel and lean into the grief in order to cope with it no matter how hard that may be. Let yourself be sad and cry. Do not let anyone tell you how you should or should not be feeling. There will be many ups, downs, and waves of grief, but just know you will in fact get through the holidays in one piece.
Tip #3: Continue a tradition or create a new one in honor of your loved one
When you reflect back on your memories with your loved one during the holidays, you can probably think of a ton of different traditions you used to do with them. Some of these traditions may have included baking a certain dish for Thanksgiving dinner or singing songs as you decorate the Christmas tree. Just because your loved one passed away does not mean to stop these traditions. If anything, your loved one would probably want you to continue these traditions to keep their memory alive since it was something special you once did together. Maybe continuing traditions is too painful. That is okay too. Maybe think of creating a new tradition in honor of your loved one, such as lighting a candle for them or buying an ornament for the Christmas tree each year that you know they would love.
Tip #4: Practice self-care
Since the holiday season is difficult for so many people, it is important to practice self-care to cope with feelings of grief and loss. If you already have a self-care routine, don’t just stop it because of the holidays. Many people experience increased mental health symptoms forgoing their self-care and that will not help when grieving during the holidays. Examples of self-care activities can include journaling, meditating, walking, exercising, baking, cooking, and reading. Self-care can also include traveling or going to grab a cup of hot cocoa with a friend who understands your grief.
Tip #5: Seek social support
Social support is absolutely crucial during the holiday season. Social support can include your partner, family, friends, and a therapist. When seeking support from a family member or friend, be mindful of who has supported you through your grief journey and can talk to you about your loved one. Talking to others who may have also lost a loved one and can understand the grief you are experiencing during the holidays can be helpful as well.
The holidays are not an easy time for a lot of people and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve during the holidays. Take it one day at a time and do what feels right to you. The holidays can cause a rollercoaster of emotions and seeking help from a therapist to process these feelings can help tremendously and make all the difference. You do not have to go through this alone. A therapist who provides grief counseling can help you develop a more in depth plan of how to cope and survive during the holiday season.