Why Grief Can Feel Worse During the Holidays (& 5 Ways to Cope)
The holidays are often celebrated as the most wonderful time to get together and celebrate with your loved ones.
There’s no shortage of holiday movies celebrating the importance of love, friendships, and family - and you’re bombarded by messages about being grateful for the people you have in your life.
So when your loved ones are no longer with you, it’s easy to feel isolated, angry, and alone when you’re feeling suffocated by holiday cheer.
Dealing with grief is hard enough during any time of the year - but it can feel even worse during the holiday season. Here at KMA Therapy, our team of therapists is here to listen and help you navigate the complex feelings you might be experiencing at this time of the year.
After reading this article, you’ll know why grief can intensify during the holidays and five ways to get through the holidays while grieving.
Why Can Grief Seem Worse During the Holidays?
The holidays can often intensify feelings of grief because of the overwhelming messaging about spending time with your loved ones.
During the rest of the year, it can feel like the person you’ve lost is just away - you can imagine they’re just at work, or they’ve gone on a vacation.
When the holidays roll around, and the rest of your loved ones are together, their absence becomes that much more glaring.
Grief can feel worse during the holidays due to:
- Altered holiday rituals and traditions
- Constant reminders of the people you’ve lost
- The pressure to be in a good mood and celebrate
The holiday season can make you feel like you’re expected to “put on a happy face.”
Whether you want to make the season magical for your kids or you just don’t want to drag down the mood at your friend’s holiday party, you might feel pressured to push down your own feelings.
Your holiday traditions can also look and feel different after someone dies. There’s one less place setting at your dinner table, and one less voice singing holiday songs with you.
Even when these traditions bring you fond memories of the person you lost, it’s normal for there to also be sadness surrounding these experiences.
Is it Okay to Feel Grief During the Holidays?
Yes, it’s okay and normal to feel grief during the holidays.
It’s also okay to have complex feelings - you might feel grief, joy, anger, and happiness all at once. You don’t need to justify how you’re feeling.
Odds are, the people around you are grieving too. Giving yourself permission to grieve can create a space where they feel like they can share their feelings, too.
5 Ways to Cope with Holiday Grief
These coping strategies aren’t meant to erase or ignore your grief - it’s valid to feel how you feel.
But exploring different ways to navigate grief can help you honour the people you’ve lost while holding space for grief and joy to exist together.
1. Create space to put the holidays on “pause”
Yes, it can be one of the busiest times of the year. It can feel impossible to carve out a moment of time for yourself - but even five minutes can make a world of difference.
Taking a quick pause to do something for yourself, like taking a walk around the block or watching funny videos, can be a great way to relax your mind and body.
Take a break from gift-wrapping, hosting duties, and whatever else is on your schedule. It’s okay to take a moment to release all the stress you’re holding and relax.
2. Honour old traditions and create new ones
Your holiday traditions will look different, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them up.
If there was something specific they did every season, you can continue it to honour them.
You can also create new traditions to keep their presence close to you.
Maybe there was a specific charity they were passionate about, and you can create a tradition of donating to their favourite cause during the holidays. Maybe you decide to watch their favourite holiday movie with your family.
3. Talk to the person you’ve lost
The holidays are full of funny and heartwarming moments. When something funny happens, you can feel like you want to share this moment with the person you’re missing, and you might even find yourself turning your head to tell them.
Make time to communicate with your loved one, either through journaling or speaking out loud. This can be a great outlet for the emotions you’re feeling, both happy and sad ones.
You’re feeling this much grief because you also experienced that much love. Your relationship with the person you lost doesn’t have to end, it just changes.
Whether you want to visit their grave, write them a letter, or simply have a conversation out loud with them right where you are, it’s okay to still celebrate the holidays with them.
4. Connect with other people who understand
One of the most difficult parts of grief is isolation. Other people might not understand what you’re going through, and that can make it even harder to handle.
Connecting with other people who loved the person you lost can be helpful. It’s nice to share memories and stories about them.
But your relationship with them was different than anyone else’s - and if you’re in a unique position, it can be helpful to find others who are in the same position as you.
Finding support groups for your specific experience, like support groups for widows or for people who have lost a parent, can be helpful. It can mean a lot to connect with others who can relate to what you’re going through.
5. Speak to a grief counsellor or therapist
Sometimes, you just want to speak to someone whose only job is to listen to you and understand.
When you go to therapy, all the focus is on supporting you and helping you navigate the changes and feelings you’re experiencing.
You can tell your therapist the things you’re worried to burden others with, and you can count on them to provide you with an attentive and compassionate ear.
Your therapist will be able to get an in-depth perspective on your situation and help you come up with unique strategies and coping skills to help you get through the holidays (and the rest of the year.)
Next Steps for Navigating the Holidays
After reading this article, you know why grief can be intensified during the holidays and five ways to get through it.
Here at KMA Therapy, our grief counsellors are here to support you. No matter what emotions you’re experiencing, we’re here to help you navigate and understand what you’re feeling. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and you don’t have to figure it out alone.
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