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7 Tips for Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

Grief During the Holidays

sad woman next to lit up Christmas Tree, coping with grief during the holidays.Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! But for those suffering with grief and loss, it can be very tough to feel happy or merry during this time of year. No matter if you’re dealing with a recent loss… or if it’s the first time celebrating the holiday season without a loved one… it can be a daunting time.

Why can the holidays be particularly challenging? If you’re suffering from loss, you can often feel conflicted. Part of you wants to enjoy the season – but the other part may feel guilty for celebrating. It can be made even more difficult when other loved ones—especially children—are involved. You may feel pressured to “put on a happy face” for them because the expectation is that holidays are joyous occasions… even if you’re not feeling festive. The conflict is often rooted in what is expected (i.e., joy) and what is actually experienced internally (i.e., grief). Guilt can set in when you beat yourself up for not being able meet all those external expectations.

Additionally, holidays also often center around traditions. When the loved one that used to be a part of your holiday customs is missing, it can make you more aware and further amplify the fact that your world has forever changed.

Here are a few tips for coping with grief through the holiday season:

  1. Find Your Support System

    Throughout the grieving process you’ll need a lot of emotional support—but even more so during the holiday season when you may dwell more on the memory of your loved one and the happy times of the past. Family and friends, grief support groups, community organizations or mental health professionals can all help to be part of your support system. No matter who you choose—just be sure you don’t try to deal with your grief alone.

  2. Find Your Way to Cope

    All situations are unique, and everyone grieves differently. So, don’t compare yourself because there is no one right way to grieve. However, research does suggest that there can be a wrong way—which is when you try to avoid the feelings of grief entirely.

  3. It’s okay—and in fact, very important—to feel lots of emotions when grieving. Grief is also about a back-and-forth between feeling the sense of loss and despair with a return to a possibly new normalcy. This can feel odd that one minute you can feel okay and the next be lost again.
    Dr. Katherine Lamparyk, PsyD, Director of Clinical Training and Development, OhioGuidestone

    During the holiday season, feelings of grief are often amplified because there are more opportunities to have strong feelings of joy that are then an even starker contrast with the sadness you may feel in the next moment. The key to remember is that BOTH of these general emotions are good and a healthy part of the natural grieving process. And no matter what you are feeling, it’s okay.

  4. Handling Holiday Hosts

    Parties and the holidays go hand in hand but when coping with grief the festivities can feel much more forced than fun. While it might sound easier to send your regrets and stay home, it’s important that you don’t “cancel” the holidays all together, as being around your support system can be a great help. Do what works for you, don’t let others pressure you but still attempt to enjoy the holidays in your own ways.

    When deciding how to respond to an invitation, ask yourself a few questions:
    – Would you normally have been excited to attend the gathering?
    – Will the party be attended by others that can provide support?

    If your answer to these questions is “yes”, it could be a good idea to attend. Remember, just because you commit to the event, doesn’t mean you need to commit to staying the entire time – especially if it ends up being more difficult than you expected.

  5. Limit the Libations

    Research shows that most people drink more during the holidays—and unfortunately not all the drinking is due to celebration. For many, using drugs and alcohol to help numb emotions is a coping mechanism to stressors.

    When we are emotional, it is much easier to over-do the spiked cider or eggnog, and once we start drinking, it is much more difficult to regulate our emotions. If you are concerned that you may have a hard time controlling when to stop at a party, it may be better to decide not to begin drinking on the occasion at all.
    Dr. Lamparyk

    If alcohol or other substance use starts to get out of control—especially if it starts interfering with your other obligations or your ability to work through the emotions of grief, OhioGuidestone offers a variety of substance abuse services for both alcohol and drug recovery.

  6. Take a Time-Out from Traditions

    Just because your loved one is gone doesn’t mean you won’t remember your loved one or that holiday traditions need to end. Annual events may just need to be tweaked or placed on a temporary time-out. One thing that COVID-19 taught us is that it’s okay to take a break from a tradition for a year (or even two) without entirely losing its significance. So, if your grief is too strong and you don’t have it in you to host Christmas Eve dinner this year like you usually do—it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you will never host it again. Don’t pressure yourself. Do what works and is needed for you now. Who knows, this temporary tradition detour could be an opportunity to create new traditions!

  7. Get Physical

    When it comes to mental health, one basic thing many overlook while grieving is that you need to focus on physically taking care of yourself. Activity, no matter how big (working out) or small (showering and getting dressed), can produce feel-good endorphins to help you feel better physically and mentally. Get out and walk, go shopping, spend time with a family member, meditate, eat healthy. Every one of these basic activities can help uplift your spirits and set you on the path to feeling more “yourself”.

  8. Turn to the Pros If Needed

    The research on grief and therapy is that, generally, most people can work through the grief process without professional help. It’s hard and it’s not fun, but humans are resilient. However, an estimated 1 in 10 people will struggle and develop what is called Prolonged Grief Disorder, which is when you continue to struggle with significant grief symptoms after one year (6 months for kids). For those in this group, getting treatment from a mental health professional is often essential. While this diagnosis is somewhat newly recognized, OhioGuidestone staff are specifically trained to help individuals struggling with Prolonged Grief.

Handling grief during the holidays can be manageable. Just remember to take it one day at a time and keep moving forward. Honor your loved one you’ve lost – but don’t forget to take care of yourself physically and mentally. There will be good days and bad – but better days are soon to come.