Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself During the Season

The holidays will soon be here with messages of family and love as prominent as candy canes and hot cocoa. But if you’ve lost a loved one, those themes can be painful reminders of who is missing at seasonal celebrations. With some self-care and attention to your feelings, you can successfully navigate the season and maybe even find joy in it, too.


While nothing can eliminate the pain of loss, these suggestions may help or provide some comfort.



Acknowledge your feelings

When you lose a loved one, it is normal to miss their presence at holiday events and gatherings. Don’t push down the sense of loss, but rather acknowledge what you’re missing. It’s normal to be sad and to be grieving. But suppressing those emotions will not make them go away. It’s OK to cry. As the Mayo Clinic advises, you can’t force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.


Marilyn Mendoza, a Ph.D., a clinical instructor in the psychiatry department at Tulane University Medical Center, says you have to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. You don’t have to put on a “happy face” for others.


Don’t go it alone

If your sense of loss runs deep during the season, the best thing you can do for yourself is reach out to your support network. Friends and family can be great sources of comfort and support. It is important to let others know what you need from them. Often those who care for us don’t know how to help and are afraid to ask. So rather than staying silent, tell them how they can help, whether that is allowing you talk about your grief or just providing a shoulder on which to cry.


Try not to isolate yourself, but instead seek out community, religious or other social events, which can be sources of support and companionship. It also suggests volunteering, since helping others can help lift your spirits and help you make new friendships.


Make a plan

The hustle and bustle of the season can be stressful even when you’re not coping with loss. Instead of letting it overwhelm you, make a plan for what you will do and when. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities.

Similarly, allow yourself to say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation or attend every event. Those who care for you will understand if you can’t attend and you will be all the better for not overextending yourself.

Keep expectations realistic

It is important to remember that the holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. If you’re grieving, keeping every family tradition alive might be more painful than beneficial. Instead, its experts say find a few traditions to carry forward and give yourself permission to let go of others.

Decide what is important and accept your limitations at this time. Limitations won’t last forever, so if something feels like too much for you to do, simply don’t do it and don’t feel guilty about it.

Include your lost loved one

“Just because your loved one is not with you physically, you do not have to pretend as though they never existed,” Mendoza writes. Rather, you can include those you’ve lost in your celebrations by sharing cherished memories and funny stories of them, which is a great way to honor their memory.


Don’t forget self-care

There is so much to do in the holiday season, it can seem like you don’t even have 15 minutes for yourself, but don’t fall into that way of thinking. One of the most important things you can do when you’re coping with grief is to make sure you don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle. Take time for yourself, even if it’s just 15 minutes to be alone. A brief respite from distractions and demands can reduce stress. Talk a walk, listen to relaxing music, take a bubble bath, get a massage, read a book. Do something that puts you at ease and helps clear your mind and restores your inner calm.

Mayo also advises that sticking to healthy habits -- eating right, exercising, getting enough rest -- is crucial during the holidays.

Self-care also can include allowing yourself to enjoy the season. In the throes of grief, we often feel like we’ll never be happy again. But holidays can elicit joyous memories and it is important to embrace them. The season itself presents many reasons to laugh and smile, and it is important to allow yourself some pleasure when they do.

Be kind to yourself

The best thing you can do is to treat yourself with the same kindness and patience as you would a loved one. Do what you need to do to get through the season.

If you are struggling with giving yourself permission to let go of expectations or with coping with your grief, a professional -- such as one of the many caring and compassionate counselors at Foundations Counseling -- can be a valuable source of support and comfort. Learn more about our Grief Counseling services, or contact us today.