A woman comforts her senior father as he tries to cope with grief during the holidays.

4 Tips to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

Bethesda Health | December 3, 2019

After losing a loved one it is often hard to imagine how your grief might feel more painful than it currently does, but sometimes the holiday season can do just that. We know that the death of a loved one affects us emotionally, physically, behaviorally, and cognitively. Some of the most common grief experiences are feelings of sadness, relief, guilt, anger, loneliness, confusion, shock, numbness, and fatigue. Physically, it can affect your sleep, appetite, and energy levels. To add to this, we often experience many of these feelings each day, which can leave us feeling overloaded. With all of this going on, it can be hard to even think about how to cope with grief during the holidays.

Most of us recognize the holiday season typically as a time of year when people are cheery and festive; surrounding themselves with family togetherness, sharing meals and gifts and giving thanks to one another. When we are grieving, these events can be particularly challenging. With the holidays upon us, below are 4 helpful tips that can help you get through the holiday season.

4 Tips to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

1. Be Mindful

The anticipation of special days, events, or holidays can actually increase our anxiety and stress levels. Often people may start thinking about the approaching holiday meal that their loved one will not be present at and may worry about how they will be able to deal with the pain of their absence. Acknowledging that these holidays can bring additional stress is the first step in being mindful of ourselves and the level of tolerance we may have for holiday activities this year.

2. Make your Plans

A great way to decrease this anticipation and anxiety over the approaching holiday season is to make a plan for what you will be doing. The most important thing to know is that it is OK for you to celebrate the holidays differently than you have historically. It is also OK not participate at all.

Think about your family traditions, meal plans, activities, and family members involved and make your decision to participate or not to participate based on how you are feeling. If you feel extremely overwhelmed because you were always the host of large family gatherings and did a majority of the cooking, ask another family member if they wouldn’t mind hosting this year. If you typically send out Christmas cards every year but just do not have the energy to complete them this year, then do not send them.

Sometimes it is hard for people who are grieving to give themselves permission to say “NO” to others. However, this is a very important part of the grief process because we have to give ourselves adequate time to heal. Pinpointing the activities you feel comfortable participating in for the holidays may alleviate some of the anxiety and stress that anticipating these days can bring.

3. Remember your Loved One

Incorporating a special ritual or remembrance activity during the holidays can bring comfort to grievers. Continuous bonds are formed with our loved ones who have died when we find our own unique way to remember and honor them. There are many ways to stay connected to our loved ones. Some examples are by looking through old pictures and reminiscing about old stories, preparing their favorite meal for the holiday, saying a special prayer for them, lighting a candle, playing their favorite song or music, planting flowers or tree/making a memorial garden, visiting the burial place, or doing something that you know they would want you to do after they are gone.

4. Lean on Others

Surrounding yourself with supportive, loving people can be one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s OK to tell them that you are missing your loved one this year. It’s OK to shed tears in front of these family members or friends. Often people may try to not bring up the name of your loved one who died because they may be afraid they will upset you. But remembering your loved one and talking openly about them often makes people feel better.

Although we know that the holiday season can be more painful after the loss of a loved one, we hope by using the tips above you can decrease holiday stress, cope with grief during the holidays, and stay on a path towards peace and healing.

For tips on a happy holiday season, visit our blog.

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