Grief During the Holidays: 9 Coping Strategies That Help

Updated September 11, 2019
A man pays his respects

Coping with grief during the holiday season can feel debilitating and overwhelming. Holidays tend to bring up cherished memories and may make you miss your loved ones that much more. The symptoms of grief that you experience, especially at this time of year, can become even more painful and difficult to move through.

Grief During the Holiday Season

The grieving process is incredibly personal and unique to each individual. Your time experiencing symptoms of grief will depend on many factors. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and you are entitled to take as much time to process and heal as you need. In general, grief will come in waves meaning one day you may feel fine, or numb, or completely destroyed, and that's okay. The holidays may bring up strong feelings of grief and pain for many individuals as it tends to be a time to focus on family and togetherness. This can feel excruciating and may cause symptoms of anxiety and depression as the holidays approach.

Be Open to Holiday Help

Sometimes asking for help can feel deflating especially if you were the one who threw holiday parties or tended to cook. Prioritize taking care of yourself and think about whether it is the emotionally healthiest choice to go through with prior to agreeing to take anything major on. If you end up feeling like you need some time for yourself and don't want to or are unable to do what you planned on doing, reach out to loved ones for help. Chances are your friends and family members will understand and know that it is okay to put your mental health first.

Honor Deceased Loved Ones With New Holiday Traditions

You can create a new special tradition that encompasses your loved one's memory. This can be done by lighting a candle in his or her memory, by saying a poem, by buying a commemorative ornament or trinket to be placed on the tree or left out, by having each one around the dinner table share a short story, by looking at photo albums and reminiscing, or by visiting the cemetery and decorating the headstone.

A middle-aged woman at home by her self at Christmas

Do Something Different for the Holidays

If you're not quite up to your typical holiday traditions, think about starting new ones. You can give a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. You can invite a new guest to your dinner table. You can adopt a family in need. You can even just go to the movies for a change of pace during the holiday season. You can also travel, plan an at home vacation, or visit family members or friends who you don't get to see often.

Process With a Therapist Before the Holiday Season

Speaking with a counselor or therapist who specializes in grief can help you process your grief and better understand your unique process. This can be especially helpful during the holidays when emotions tend to run high. Chances are someone may comment or check in with you during a holiday party. It can be helpful to speak with a therapist beforehand to help you process what that might feel like and prepare you so you aren't caught off guard at an event. There are tons of options when it comes to finding the right therapist for you so take your time looking for the right fit.

Psychologist interviewing his depressed patient during a therapy

Practice Mindfulness to Ground Yourself During the Holidays

If you can, begin practicing mindfulness a bit before the holiday season so you can add it to your tool kit of ways to check in with and ground yourself during extra triggering times. Mindfulness is a great way to better connect with yourself and understand your emotional process. Although it can take some time to learn, it can be an incredibly helpful skill to have. Practicing a mindfulness exercise can come in handy if you're feeling overwhelmed or triggered at a holiday event and want to reground yourself.

Join a Support Group During the Holiday Season

There are tons of choices when it comes to support groups. This can be a great option for anyone who isn't interested or ready for one-on-one therapy and is looking for support throughout the holiday season. It may feel overwhelming at first to find one that fits your needs. Be sure that whoever is leading the group is a professional clinician and has experience working with those who are in the thick of the grieving process. This ensures that you will be receiving the highest level of care while also giving you the opportunity to process with individuals going through a somewhat similar experience. Joining a support group may help you move through the especially difficult aspects of the holiday season.

Write a Letter to Your Loved One and Honor Their Favorite Holiday

During your loved ones favorite holiday it may feel good to write them a letter letting them know how much you miss them and what it's been like without them. Even though this may feel like an emotionally intense process to go through, it can feel like a weight has been lifted once you get out your thoughts and feelings. You can destroy your letter afterwards, read it aloud, or keep it in a journal as a way to remember them. Take time to do something special for them during their favorite holiday after you've written the letter.

Holiday Parties When You're Grieving

No matter what holiday is being celebrated, you're probably going to be invited to a few parties or get-togethers. Have a self care and exit plan ready before you go out, whether this is your first holiday after your loved one has passed or your fifth, so you can continue to prioritize your well being.

Sad woman celebrating Christmas

Confide in Someone Before Attending

If you have a friend or family member you can talk to, reach out when you feel ready. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can feel a bit relieving and can help you process your emotions. It may be helpful to do so prior to attending a holiday event so you don't feel like you're holding any aspect of your emotional process back. Sometimes when individuals hold in emotions, when they see a familiar face, it's almost as if the emotional floodgates open. Keep this in mind if you plan on attending or hosting holiday parties. It's totally okay to share your feelings with friends and family, and bubble ups may happen, but it may be nice to try to enjoy a small moment with your loved ones during the holiday parties.

Check in With Yourself During the Party

Think about how you will feel at a certain party or gathering prior to going. Know that someone close to you (or not) may ask about your loved one who passed away. Come up with a few prepared responses so you aren't caught off guard and keep in mind that it is okay to say you'd rather not talk about something. Check in with yourself throughout the night and notice if you feel any sadness, anxiety, or discomfort. If you feel like you need some alone time and aren't up to staying, make sure you have a few excuses lined up so you can leave quickly. You can also let the host or hostess know ahead of time that you may need to leave early just so they are prepared.

Comfort During the Holidays

The holiday season can put a lot of pressure on you to be okay and push through carrying on how you would have if your loved one was still with you. Be gentle with yourself and know that it's okay to take as much time as you need to process and heal. Reach out for help and support from loved ones and consider speaking with a professional therapist if you feel uncomfortably overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself and enjoy small moments with friends and loved ones if possible.

Grief During the Holidays: 9 Coping Strategies That Help