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Navigating Grief During the "Happiest Time of the Year"

grief and the holidays

We tend to view the holiday season as a time of festivity and good cheer. While it may be this more broadly, though, the truth is that many experience grief during the holidays –– and in fact, it can be made all the worse by the constant expectation of cheeriness.

If you happen to face grief this time of year, it's important to recognize that you're not alone and that you don't need to force good cheer. Instead, you should look to navigate your feelings openly and directly. Here, we’ll give you some tips on how to do so.

Set Boundaries for Holiday Events

A Northern Illinois professor of Counseling and Higher Education wrote about boundaries for Psychology Today and explained that personal boundaries could change your life for the better. This applies at any point in your life, but especially when you're feeling dark or down. It's wise to keep this in mind during a difficult holiday when you can often feel pressured to participate in events and gatherings you might just not be up for.

If a family member or loved one expects you to host or attend an event that you don’t feel 100% comfortable with, it’s absolutely okay, and even recommended, to say “no." You may also accept to host or attend, but set boundaries for certain activities or topics you want to avoid. Make sure that everyone who needs to be aware of these boundaries is, as well.

Address Old Traditions

While some who are grieving prefer to completely avoid topics, memories, or activities related to their grief, others find healing in carrying out old traditions and customs. It may be out of fear of “forgetting” a loved one, or out of a desire to keep their memory alive, or even to gain a sense of closure. Whatever the case, it’s a healthy way to cope for those who feel comfortable with it. But it also doesn't mean everything has to stay the same!

More and more people are finding different coping mechanisms that work for them. Some find comfort in traditions that remind them of lost loved ones; some find relief in moving on or changing things up. What's clear though, is that you should make an effort to figure out how traditions affect you and adjust accordingly as best you can.

Use Self-Care Coping Techniques

Coping techniques are among the best, most immediate forms of help when emotions overwhelm you. Sometimes they get you through the crisis completely; sometimes, they hold you over until you can get help.

The first step of self-care coping is to listen to your body and mind. Avoid trying to brush away feelings; rather, embrace them, understand them, and work to put yourself at ease. You might be helped in this process by some of the actions suggested in our own past piece on "Coping Skills To Deal With Anxiety".


Specifically, consider the following practices:

• Relax your muscles and concentrate on breathing
• Massage your hand, which release oxytocin
• Breathe slowly for 3 minutes
• Take a bath
• Cuddle a baby or a pet (we recommend a purring cat!)

getting help with grief


Seek Professional Help if Needed

You should never be afraid to ask for help if you need it. And the good news is that it's actually become easier to do so, in part because more people in the health industry are being taught how to address mental health concerns. Case in point, Maryville University’s post-masters nurse practitioner write-up points out that professionals in this branch of healthcare are also now trained, in some cases, in psychiatric mental healthcare.

Nurses and nurse practitioners trained in psychiatric mental healthcare are in turn prepared to deal with the kinds of difficulties we're discussing, meaning you don't necessarily have to start a traditional course of psychiatric care in order to get help. You can start by confiding in a trained medical professional and move forward constructively from there.

Find the Positives

You may feel like you've given your all, plus more just to endure the onset of the holiday season. And unfortunately, we tend to let negative thoughts like this link to grief, such as resentment or sadness –– such that the bad thoughts compound. Sometimes the emotions end up overwhelming us and causing a sense of hopelessness.

Well, one of the best ways to combat this is to transform those feelings into positive ones: A piece on grief and motivation at Forbes conveyed convincingly that gratefulness, inspiration, and love can all be spun out of feelings of grief. When you know why you're grieving and how it makes you feel, you can also identify the things in your life that would make you grateful or that might inspire you. You can then work toward embracing those feelings instead and becoming a happier "you" during the holidays.

Grief is never an easy thing to navigate, and during the holidays, it truly can sting a little worse. Luckily, there are ways to cope with this grief and find comfort. And if you ever feel like it’s too overwhelming, please do not hesitate to seek help.

This article was written by guest contributor,  Becky Jameson.