Coping with Grief During the Holidays

Coping with Grief During the Holidays
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For several of us, the holiday season offers a much-needed break from our chaotic lives at work, school, family activities, etc. It’s a time to enjoy old family traditions and start new ones. But for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, the two-month-long holiday season can be difficult or bittersweet. 

Emotions are intense for the holidays which can deepen the pain of a loss, it can be especially tough for the first year of grieving. However, it is just as common to have an overall feeling of a sense of loss many years later.

Challenges for the Bereaved:

grief in holiday hug

The holiday season can be filled with unwelcome reminders of the loss. For example, the celebrations don’t feel the same when grandma isn’t there to help make the apple pie or your brother isn’t there to put ornaments on the tree. Additionally, our culture’s emphasis on joy and being together can spark both painful and pleasant memories of holidays past. 

Spending time with friends and family can be an important source of happiness and support, but it can also add stress. People who are grieving may feel like they have to put on a facade to be upbeat for the sake of others when inside we feel anything but happy. Death is not an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people and some try to minimize the grieving person’s pain or can even avoid mentioning the loss at all. 

The demands of the holidays can also be overwhelming for those grieving and bereavement takes an incredible toll on your mental energy. It’s hard to navigate shopping, entertaining others, decorating your home, and making all the food when your mind is already somewhere else. The most important thing to remember is everyone grieves differently and there are no rules.

Tips on Coping with Grief During the Holidays:

grief therapy options
  1. Take charge of the day and season. Don’t put on a show that you are not thinking about your loved one, rather than trying to mask your pain and loss, plan something in their honor. It could be a memory corner near the table, a special reading of a poem or prayer, or a donation to something they cared for. Take charge of how you want to honor them rather than letting the holidays creep up and control you. 

  2. Assume others mean well. It may appear that others may be forgetting your loved one and what you may be experiencing during this time, but that’s not often the case. They may just grieve differently and are unsure if bringing up the loved one will make them feel worse or they could be dealing with their own unresolved grief or confusion. Just because family and friends don’t say the right things doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care. Gently ask about the needs of your loved one and how you might help and support them during their time as you would want for yourself. 

  3. Take care of YOURSELF! Remember your essentials of self-care, even if you are feeling down in the dumps or dealing with trauma. Try to maintain your routine of self-care that you implement for yourself when times are stressful or you need to decompress. Eating healthy, sleeping if you can, getting some Vitamin D on some walks or exercising, and socializing with those you care about, even if you don’t feel like it. These small things will impact your energy to heal or seek help during these times. 

  4. Journaling or drawing. Many clients have found it healing to write down their thoughts whether in first person or as a storyline they have created to get down emotions and let them out. Drawing what they see or what reminds them of that loved one is also a way to purge their feelings. This isn’t an assignment you are turning in to someone, it’s for you so don’t critique yourself on spelling or if you drew outside the lines, the important thing is to get out your anger, memories, pain, and anything else that comes to mind instead of keeping it in. Writing has been shown to be an effective tool in managing and treating depression symptoms (1).

  5. Seek professional help. If you are struggling with shame, blocking out memories, anxiety, depression, thoughts of harming yourself, or you feel like you are stuck in limbo, you might need some help in your grieving process. These can be symptoms of a type of post-traumatic stress many people face following an unexpected death of a loved one. We can’t do it all and sometimes we need a little push to make sense of what happened so that we can eventually get to the loving, fond memories of our loved one. There are therapists who specifically deal with trauma and traumatic grief due to a disturbing loss of a loved one. 

By: Alexia Eller, LMSW

And if you are wanting to learn more about grief therapy services and how a trained therapist may be able to equip you to manage anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and more this holiday season, we are here to help! Let our team partner with you in reaching your goals of health this holiday season. We offer online therapy services as well as in-person therapy options at our Arlington, TX-based therapy office

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