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How to Cope with Grief and Loss at the Holidays

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

“I hate the holidays because it's the quietest; it's the most deafening sound in my apartment." - Questlove

Does the sound of holiday music make you cringe? Are you dreading the holidays? Do you just want to go to sleep and wake up in January? Holidays can be some of the most difficult times to navigate when you have had a loss and it can leave you feeling:

  • Sad/depressed

  • Irritable/angry

  • Numb

  • Guilt

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue/low energy

  • Loneliness

  • Shock

  • Helplessness

  • Restlessness

Common Behaviors When We Are Grieving

Grief can feel all consuming and like we are in a very dark hole that we cannot get out of. It can also hit us in waves – where we have times we seem to be “doing okay” and then we are overcome with the emotions and feel a loss of control. Sometimes we may wonder, “how long will I feel this way?” There is no easy answer to this question as the grieving process is a very individual experience and no one can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve. Some of the common behaviors we experience when we are grieving are:

  • Frequent crying

  • Forgetfulness or confusion

  • Withdrawal from family and friends

  • Dreaming of our loved one

  • Constant preoccupation with the loss

  • Feelings of regret

  • Sleeping excessively or not sleeping enough

Coping Tips For the Holidays

Here are some helpful tips to help you cope as the holidays approach:

Be kind to yourself. Oftentimes we can be our worst critic and constantly judging what we think we should or should not be doing. There are no “shoulds” that apply when you are navigating grief and loss during the holidays. If you find yourself being critical of you – ask yourself, “what advice would I give to a good friend if they were saying these things to themselves?” My guess is that you would offer a supportive and kind word to them. Try to practice being kind to yourself.

Practice self-care. Think about things that soothe and comfort you, and give yourself permission to do these things. It can be anything that you experience through your 5 senses - touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. From a hot shower, to a brisk run, to the warmth of a fire, to watching the sun rise or set, to soft music or comforting smells. Using our 5 senses helps to ground us in the present moment and shift our brains from thinking to being.

Plan ahead if possible and be intentional about your location. Is it helpful for you to stay at home? Would it be helpful to be away somewhere? Do you want/need to be with others? Do you prefer to be alone? Having a Plan A and a Plan B may be necessary, so that you can gauge how you feel on the holiday and have a contingency plan in case you do not have the “emotional bandwidth” to follow through with what you initially thought you might like to do.

Say “no” or “maybe” and ask others to be patient with your difficulty committing to plans. Part of being kind to yourself means not overcommitting because you feel obligated to be somewhere or do something with others on the actual holiday. You also have permission to “cancel” the holiday all together if that is what you need.

Let go of guilt. Sometimes we can feel as though we are betraying our loved one by continuing on or allowing ourselves to enjoy parts of the holiday. Understand that guilt is common when dealing with a loss – it’s important to talk through those thoughts and feelings with someone to gain some perspective and understanding of where it is coming from. It’s helpful to determine if these thoughts/feelings are rational or irrational. If your thoughts are irrational, try replacing them with more realistic thoughts. You can write these out and read them or practice saying them out loud to yourself.

Honor old traditions and memories. If it is important and feels right to you to maintain old traditions that honor your loss, then do it. Spending time during the holidays remembering previous experiences with your loved one can be extremely helpful. You may wish to consider creating a memorial activity as a part of honoring their memory.

Volunteer and find a way to make a difference. Helping others during the holidays can give us perspective and create positive feelings even when we are feeling sad and missing someone during this time of the year. It can also help us cope with feelings of loneliness by connecting with other people who may be in need of support themselves.

Make new traditions. It is completely okay and acceptable to create new traditions during the holidays. Consider something new you might wish to do moving forward. This may change over time and that is also okay. Do not feel as though you must maintain all of the same traditions you had before this loss.

Set time aside to cry and “lean into your sadness.” It may be counterintuitive to set time aside to just feel sad, but it can be important to consider your calendar during the holidays and actually schedule some specific time to allow your feelings to just be what they are. It could be an hour, a half of a day, a whole day, or even a couple of days that you simply block off to feel those feelings.

Join a support group. There are many grief support groups available in most communities. Often through a local church group or other community resource. A simple web search of “grief/bereavement groups near me” can help you locate a group that may be a good fit for you.

Schedule time to meet with a therapist. Seeing a therapist does not mean there is something wrong with you. One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to ask for and allow yourself to receive support following a loss, especially as you are facing the holidays. If you are struggling to cope during the holidays, please consider reaching out to Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates so that we may provide support and guidance to you during this challenging time.


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