The Ellie Blog

Mental health tips and insights

Woman sitting with head on hands experiencing grief on the holidays

How To Cope With Grief and Loss During the Holidays

The holiday season is a time for joy, giving, and is usually spent visiting or celebrating with family. But if you’ve recently lost a loved one, this can dampen the holiday spirit and cause an otherwise joyous time to seem cold and lifeless.

Coping with loss and dealing with grief during the holidays is never a fun experience. And when you’re missing one of your loved ones who would normally be sitting across the table from you, this can cause any family plenty of heartache and sadness.

Here, we’ll explore how to better cope with grief during the holidays and point out a few ways that you can still make the holidays a time to remember.

Are you dealing with the loss of a loved one? Reach out to Ellie Mental Health and talk to a professional for support during the holidays.

Honoring Old Traditions and Creating Something New

Maybe the act of gathering around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts is a timeless tradition that has been in your family for generations. Well, the good news is that this tradition doesn’t need to change. However, it may be essential to plan an additional activity during this time to honor the memory of a loved one.

Old traditions should be something that everyone (including the little ones) looks forward to each year. And even if your Uncle Joe has recently passed on, now is the perfect time to do something to honor his memory and bring some much-needed joy and love to the season.

Maybe Uncle Joe was a jokester. Or maybe there was something special he did each year that everyone looked forward to. Maybe he fell asleep on the couch after too much eggnog. Whatever the memory is, finding a way to celebrate the memory of your loved one can often ease the pain of their absence during the holidays.

A few ways you can celebrate the memory of a loved one during the holidays are:

  • Set an extra seat at the table in honor of your loved one
  • Ask everyone to share their favorite holiday memory of the departed
  • Take time to inwardly reflect when the family has gathered
  • Play a holiday video of the departed that everyone can watch

Remembering the good times may seem tough – especially during the holidays. But doing so will bring their memory back into the present. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing your love for the departed during the holidays no matter what form you choose – even if it’s telling those corny dad jokes that make everyone roll their eyes.

Set Boundaries During the Holidays

Participation during the holidays isn’t required of anyone. And if your loss is very recent, it may be a wiser decision to only participate in what you can emotionally handle. In this respect, finding a balance between what you can handle and what you can’t is very important in the early stages of grief.

A method that you may want to try is to commit to any holiday event that sounds fun and engaging. Just remind yourself that your attendance isn’t mandatory. Likely, everyone will understand if you decide to opt out of Christmas caroling for one season, or if you happen to pass on carving ice sculptures with a chainsaw – probably a wise decision anyway! Just remember, you get to decide.

Embrace Your Emotions

The fact is, grief is often magnified during the holiday season. And as much as we’d like for our grief to take a backseat, it will likely be riding alongside you as the holidays unfold. This is why it’s best to acknowledge and embrace the emotions surrounding your loss.

When we can embrace what we feel, we can better control and manage our feelings in a healthier way. It’s perfectly fine to accept and speak about loss. And simply by affirming that you feel sad and you miss the presence of your loved one may make it easier to cope.

Keep in mind that bottling emotions only works for a short period of time. Eventually, the top will burst and those emotions will become louder until you acknowledge them. So go ahead, give your grief a hug and allow it to be there.

In addition, it may seem easier to numb your mind with alcohol during the holidays as an attempt to cope with grief. But this is a dangerous place to be. It’s best to avoid alcohol altogether when dealing with grief, because as a depressant, alcohol can intensify your emotions.

Grief Coping Skills

6 Skills You Should Learn Grief Coping Skills Infographic

Coping skills are valuable tools that you can use to help cheer yourself up, acknowledge what triggers your grief, and reengage with life. These are designed to allow you to center yourself and feel connected. And any skill that brings you back to the present moment will be extremely helpful in trying to implement balance as you deal with loss during the holidays.

A few coping skills that you may want to try include:

  • Journaling
  • Walking meditations
  • Breathing meditations
  • Becoming attuned to your senses
  • Saying positive affirmations
  • Practicing Yoga, Tai Chi, or martial arts

If you know you’ll be attending a holiday event, planning on utilizing your coping skills can help allow you to engage with others and be present during this difficult time – even if it is to go try your hand at those giant ice sculptures with a chainsaw. Still a bad idea btw.

Ask for Help

Nobody is going to fault you for being human. Remember, life is tough and none of us have been given a manual to navigate life with. And dealing with emotions can be literally exhausting.

If you need help with managing your grief, you should reach out for support. After all, the holidays can bring a surge of emotions, even if you weren’t that close with the person you’ve recently lost.

A few ways you can ask for help include reaching out to:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Coworkers
  • Colleagues
  • Professional therapists

Managing your feelings during the holidays is going to be tough. And professional counseling may be the best solution for your mental health if you feel that you’ve exhausted all options when it comes to coping with grief.

Professional therapists can guide you through your emotions and help you to become more present and accept your loss. You’ll learn new coping skills, how to be present in the moment, and how to feel your emotions and acknowledge them as they arise.

No matter what you have planned for the holidays, whether it’s gathering with family and friends, bobsledding, exchanging gifts, or singing holiday songs around the fireplace, grief is going to be there with you. But it doesn’t have to become the defining part of the holiday season.

Asking for help to cope with grief can make a huge difference in your ability to enjoy the holidays – and to finish that ridiculous ice sculpture.

Is grief keeping you from enjoying the holiday season? Reach out to Ellie Mental Health and talk to a professional for support during the holidays.