5 Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays
The end of the year brings us holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Years.
While these holidays can be a time of joy and family, they can also feel isolating when you've lost a loved one.
Here at KMA, we know how hard it can be to navigate the holidays after losing a loved one. Our experienced team of therapists has spent over 14 years helping clients navigate the overwhelming anger, confusion, and sadness that accompany grief after loss.
We’re here to help you learn some strategies to manage grief during the holidays and learn how to create new traditions while honouring the old ones.
After reading this article, you’ll know why grief can feel heavier during the holidays and five ways to cope.
Why is Grief Worse During the Holidays?
Grief can feel worse during the holidays because they often hold constant reminders of the person you lost.
It can be difficult to watch others be with their loved ones and see them do activities that you can't do with your loved one anymore.
Even while being surrounded by others, you can often feel even more alone.
You can be left feeling distant from those who seem to be experiencing so much joy at a time when you're in so much pain, and feeling frustrated that a time of year you used to enjoy is forever changed.
If your grief feels more overwhelming than usual during the holidays, you're not alone.
But following these 5 tips can help you make it through the holiday season.
How Do You Deal with Grief During the Holidays?
Everyone deals with grief differently – it’s okay to cope however you need to without judging yourself.
Still, it can be helpful to have guidance on where to start. We’ve gathered five simple tips to help you navigate grief during the holiday season.
5 Ways to Manage Grief During the Holidays
1. Don’t cancel the holidays
2. Create a new tradition
3. Do something to honour your loved one
4. Let yourself feel all of your emotions
5. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally
1. Don’t Cancel the Holidays
When you’re grieving, you may feel like shutting the whole world out. It may be tempting to isolate yourself and call off the holidays altogether.
The pressure to "get into the holiday spirit" can feel suffocating, especially if the holidays were a time you cherished with the person you lost.
You don't have to pretend like everything's okay when you know it's not. But being around the people who care about you can be helpful – and is ultimately better for you than suffering alone.
Take up loved ones on their offers to support you during the holidays, whether they want to help you cook holiday meals or wrap up presents that feel too overwhelming to tackle.
It’s okay if your holidays look different, but try not to call them off entirely.
2. Begin a New Tradition
When we lose a loved one, we also lose the traditions we held with them.
It may be too difficult to watch their favourite holiday movie or listen to the cheesy song they used to sing off-pitch.
You may be able to look back on those traditions one day and associate them with happy memories, but it's okay if your old traditions are too difficult to manage right now.
Starting a new tradition can be a helpful way to move forward and begin to shape your holidays in a new way.
Maybe you've always wanted to go ice-skating outdoors or stay up until midnight baking holiday cookies.
Beginning a new tradition doesn't mean you have to forget your old ones, but it can be a helpful reminder that there are new days ahead of you.
3. Do Something to Honour your Loved One
The holidays are often a time to give back to others and honour our generosity.
Involving the memory of your loved one while giving back can be a great way to make a positive change while honouring their legacy.
If they loved sports, consider donating to a local community sports program. If they were passionate about their pets, explore volunteering at an animal shelter.
Contributing to causes your loved one was passionate about can be a reminder of all the ways they're still with you and how their memory continues to have a positive impact on the world around you.
4. Let Yourself Feel All of Your Emotions
We can often feel pressured to “put on a happy face” during the holidays and pretend like we’re okay when we’re not.
We often associate grief with sadness, but it can encompass a much broader spectrum of emotions.
Grief can feel like:
Let yourself feel all of your emotions during the holidays without judging yourself for feeling them.
It’s okay to be sad when you’re missing your loved one, and it’s okay to be happy when creating new memories.
It's okay to be jealous of your neighbours who are dressing up in ugly holiday sweaters together, and it's okay to be infuriated by the Hallmark-perfect couples arguing over stupid things on tv.
You’re allowed to feel your whole range of emotions all at once.
5. Take Care of Yourself Physically and Emotionally
The holidays can be a stressful time of year, so it’s important to set yourself up to feel as good as possible.
It can be tough to find the motivation to take care of yourself when you may want to lie in bed all day and shut out the world.
But having a tangible way to support yourself through the holidays can provide guidance and structure during uncertain times.
Try caring for your physical health by:
- Moving your body, whether through a quick walk or a gentle stretching routine
- Eating nourishing foods alongside your favourite holiday treats
- Getting as much sleep as you can and taking time to rest
Try caring for your emotional health by:
- Connecting with a trusted friend or family member to talk about how you’re feeling
- Scheduling out time to be alone and acknowledging how you’re feeling
- Speaking with a mental health professional, like a therapist
Next Steps for Coping with Grief During the Holidays
After reading this article, you understand why grief can feel worse during the holidays and five ways to help manage it.
Here at KMA Therapy, our experienced team of therapists offers Grief, Loss, and Bereavement Counselling tailored to fit your needs.
If you could use some extra support this holiday season, we’re here for you.
If you aren’t ready to book an appointment, explore these resources for additional support: