Coping with Grief During the Holidays

Mary Ann Andrade-Bekker, PsyD, LCPC
Mary Ann Andrade-Bekker, PsyD, LCPC
November 30, 2021
Coping with Grief During the Holidays

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never any easy process. There are a wide range of feelings you are bound to experience: sadness, yearning, guilt, anger, denial and so many more. You might also not be fully prepared for the intensity of these emotions or how swiftly your moods can shift.

While the typical grieving process is already a difficult one, it can feel even more overwhelming during the holidays.

No matter what traditions you have, feeling the absence of someone you once celebrated with can be painful—particularly the first holiday season following their passing. There are a few ways you can cope with your grief while still experiencing joy with your other loved ones. Keep reading to discover some helpful advice when trying to balance your grief with the holiday season.

Tips for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

Set realistic expectations for yourself

With all of the hustle and bustle that comes with the holidays, it can be difficult to remind yourself that this year is different. Traditions might be changing and you might be handling more responsibilities than you should. That is why it is so important to take a step back to reevaluate the expectations you are setting for yourself.

Begin by looking at the normal holiday tasks you are usually in charge of (i.e. hosting Christmas dinner, cooking, gift shopping). Then, determine what you can handle, where others can help out and if there are factors that might be triggering your emotions, such as large crowds. This will help relieve some of your stress, allow you to process all of your emotions and make the celebrations a little more enjoyable.

Avoid canceling your celebrations

Following the death of a loved one, it can be incredibly tempting to avoid the number of social gatherings that occur during the holiday season. From office parties to annual gingerbread house decorating contests, it is perfectly normal to opt out of certain situations, especially if there are a lot of them, that you might not feel ready for. However, you should try to avoid canceling your holiday celebrations altogether.

While it is incredibly important to take time for yourself and not overwhelm yourself with a hefty number of commitments, maintaining your usual holiday traditions (i.e. Christmas Day dinner) will prevent you from becoming completely consumed by your grief. Attend the events that you know are good for you and would genuinely enjoy. This way you are still surrounding yourself with those closest to you but aren’t so busy that your are bound to stress yourself out.

Surround yourself with support and love

The holidays are about spending time with those you cherish and mean the most to you. When the first holiday season rolls around after losing someone close to you, your grief and sadness can cause you to withdraw and isolate yourself—which is the worst thing you can do.

Whether you and your family are experiencing a loss together or you’re experiencing it on your own, it’s important to stay connected and let those around you know how you’re feeling, no matter how hard it might be. Your friends and family are there to support you and provide you with comfort during your grieving process.

Introduce new holiday traditions

After the death of a loved one it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that the holidays will never be the same. Many of those experiencing this type of grief find themselves clinging to old traditions as a way to maintain some sense of normalcy. However, it’s actually the opposite of what you and your family should be doing.

By forming new traditions and rituals, you have the opportunity to find joy in other ways that can last for years to come. From switching up the usual cuisine to moving your celebrations to a different location, there are a variety of ways to still be festive while remembering those who have passed away.

Allow yourself to experience every emotion

It is no secret that with the grieving process comes a variety of emotions and no one grieves in the same way. From sadness to anger to guilt to confusion, you’re bound to find yourself on a rollercoaster of overwhelming feelings. The best way to cope with these emotions is to allow yourself to feel them and not suppress them.

For example, many feel a sense of guilt when they are experiencing joy and laughter during their celebrations following the death of a loved one. When this happens, they often try to remember that their loved one is gone and they should not be enjoying themselves. Having moments of happiness is nothing to feel ashamed of and it isn’t a sign you are forgetting the one you have lost. Allowing yourself to go through all of the feelings is all part of the healing process.

Always know that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one. The grieving process takes time and it should never be rushed—even during this hectic time of year. Take the time to focus on yourself and those around you. While nothing can guarantee you won’t experience moments of heartache or have a pain-free holiday, you can remove stressful activities, lean on your support system and acknowledge what you’re going through.

Honor your loved ones

One way to manage grief symptoms is to honor your loved one in a special way. When you are cooking holiday dinners, set a plate aside for your loved one. Place items that he/she/they would have enjoyed in life and reminisce with others about their favorite memories of their loved one. Talking about special moments that you hold in your heart also keeps your loved one’s memory alive. Another suggestion is to make a place in the home that has your loved one’s pictures and objects, and go to this place if you need to speak to them about your life events. We can continue to foster a relationship with our loved ones in different ways that feel special to us—even when they are no longer with us.

Utilize mindfulness and meditation

Sometimes we need to take a moment and ride the waves of grief. The more we tend to ignore what we feel, the harder and longer it takes for us to heal. By engaging in mindfulness, we accept the feelings and thoughts we experience in the moment but recognize that these hard moments will pass to another new moment. Utilizing grounding techniques can remind us we are living in the present. One way to do this is to be fully present when we are doing day-to-day responsibilities, such as household chores, taking a walk, listening to music, etc. Some people find solace in engaging in meditation to help them process their grief in a self-compassionate manner. Apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer are especially helpful if you are looking to integrate meditation into your grief healing.

Know that it’s okay to seek help

Despite your efforts, if you find yourself struggling with sleep, poor appetite, isolation, or excessive tearfulness or irritability, it may be beneficial to seek guidance from a professional. Trained and certified psychologists can provide you with plenty of support and advice on how to handle the grieving process during the holiday season.

The therapists and counselors are Konick and Associates have expertise in grief counseling and can help you navigate the holidays and beyond. Contact us for more information about our counseling services or to schedule an appointment with one of our certified psychology experts.

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