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Managing Grief During the Holidays

Published on Dec. 12, 2023

Man at holiday table, resting chin on hands

How to Manage Grief During the Holidays

What has been coined “the most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t always feel that way for many. The holiday season is especially difficult for people grieving the loss or absence of a loved one. The void can feel even more intense during a season that pressures us to have heightened expectations. But there are ways to honor your grief during the holiday season and even find a sense of peace.

Mental Health Support Resources

Types of grief

Grief is often associated with the heart-wrenching process of mourning the death of a spouse, close family member, or dear friend. Feelings of intense loss can be felt for other reasons too, including:

Man coping with grief

  • separation or divorce
  • conflict with family
  • miscarriage
  • job loss
  • loss of a pet
  • loneliness 

However you have experienced loss, it’s important to acknowledge your grief and give yourself some extra breathing space and self-care during the holidays. 

The symptoms of grief

While grief is a universal experience, how we wear our grief varies from person to person. Some may express their feelings outwardly through bouts of crying or anger. Others might grieve on the inside, appearing "fine" to the outside world while inwardly experiencing feelings of deep sadness or depression. Other symptoms of grief can include:

  • mood swings
  • sleep disturbances
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • loss of appetite
  • extreme fatigue
  • difficulty getting through everyday tasks
  • the desire to be alone

Delayed grief and numbness are also very common.

Michael Lucido"Delayed grief is perfectly normal and part of one of several stages of grief," explains Dr. Michael Lucido, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Munson Healthcare Charlevoix Hospital.”

The five stages of grief  first popularized by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying – include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. “These stages are not sequential nor is there a set time for each,” Dr. Lucido says.

"Grief has no time limit," adds Bonnie Cleland-Olsen, LMSW, a counselor with Women’s and Children’s services. “It’s okay to be gentle on ourselves and allow ourselves to go through the process of grieving."

Coping with grief during the holidays

The holidays tend to amplify feelings of loss and sorrow for people experiencing grief. Reminders of family, joy, and togetherness all around you can feel overwhelming. But there are many ways to get through it with self-compassion and maybe even better peace of mind.

Support groupAcknowledge your feelings.

Whether you feel sad, angry, or numb, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Acknowledging whatever you are feeling in the moment is key to feeling better in the long term. Avoiding your emotions is tempting because facing them can feel uncomfortable.  Remember that giving yourself space to experience your feelings helps you to move through your grief, so you can begin to heal.

Accept your new reality.

This holiday season may feel different this year, and that’s okay. If decorating, attending a holiday party, or shopping feels like too much, it's okay to say no this year.  Give yourself permission to decide how you'll celebrate the season, even if that means no plans at all. 

If you're experiencing loneliness, turn to a loved one and express your needs. This doesn't mean you have to share with everyone, but leaning on a trusted person to help get you through is an important part of the grieving process. "Sometimes the hardest words to say are, 'I need help.' Practice saying them first, then with someone you trust,” says Cleland-Olsen.

Join a grief group or seek support through counseling.

Find a trusted therapist you can talk to or squeeze in some extra sessions with your therapist if you are already seeing one.

Consider joining a support group as well. The most invaluable support often comes directly from people who are going through a similar experience. Connect with others through one of our Munson Healthcare Hospice Support Groups.

Help others.

Acknowledging feelings and expressing your needs are key steps to getting through this time, but healthy distractions are still a welcome way to get through the day. Consider signing up to volunteer. Purchase a gift for someone in need or help out a neighbor who could use a shoveled walkway, a few grocery items, or even a friendly wave.

Being of service to others gives us a sense of connectedness, which sparks feelings of fulfillment or even joy – the same feelings that can feel impossible to achieve in isolation.

Start a new tradition.

Person walking outdoors in winter

If you are feeling up to it, why not try out something new? Turn on a comedy you haven't seen in years rather than the holiday tearjerker. Find a great podcast or audiobook that helps you avoid holiday songs. Instead of holiday dishes, treat yourself to a favorite meal that you enjoy no matter the season. Go for a walk and take in the winter landscape. Make a date with a friend. 

Remember that grief is incredibly common – and magnified – during the holidays. You are not alone! If you need extra help, many options are available.

Our Stress Relief Guide can also help guide you through difficult emotions. Included in the toolkit:

  • Vocabulary to help identify your real feelings
  • A worksheet to help build your personal stress-reduction plan
  • Ideas for healthy coping strategies that you can practice anywhere
  • Tips for building long-term resilience (aka inner strength)

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