Self-help

Holiday Survival Guide: For the Person Dealing With Grief

For anyone coping with loss and going through the grieving process, the holiday season can feel pretty blue. Maybe someone you love just recently passed away, or maybe it’s one of your first major holidays without your loved one. Holiday traditions and celebrations may serve as painful reminders of loved ones who are no longer […]

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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For anyone coping with loss and going through the grieving process, the holiday season can feel pretty blue. Maybe someone you love just recently passed away, or maybe it’s one of your first major holidays without your loved one. Holiday traditions and celebrations may serve as painful reminders of loved ones who are no longer with you. 

All the societal pressure to be merry and bright can amplify the already super-heavy weight of grief, taking a toll on your mental health.

If you’re grieving this holiday season, here are seven tips to get you by: 

1. Take the pressure off yourself to be happy

“There’s a lot of pressure during the holidays to be in a place of joy, merriment, and togetherness, so it can feel weird to be in a place of grief,” says Marti Moron, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. 

“But understand that grief is normal, and it’s completely acceptable. You don’t have to be dismissive of your grief just to present a ‘happy for the holidays’ vibe.”

Putting on a happy face and pretending everything’s fine when you’re grieving is exhausting and can push you further into a dark place, so be kind and gentle with yourself. Take off that pressure and feel the weight lift off your shoulders. 

Even though it may not be fun, “It’s totally OK to not be happy during the holidays,” Moron says. 

2. Allow yourself to feel

In line with taking pressure off yourself to be happy, it’s crucial to truly allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. “An important part of processing grief and loss is to allow the feelings to flow,” says Stacy Thiry, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy. “Let them be expressed through tears, movement, journaling, laughing, whatever feels right, so they can dissolve.”

Of course, be patient with yourself during the process. Grieving takes time. 

Let your feelings be expressed through tears, movement, journaling, laughing, whatever feels right, so they can dissolve.

- Stacy Thiry, LMHC

3. Find a balance between solo time and socializing 

When you’re feeling sad from grief, you may have a strong desire to isolate yourself. Moron says grief is like the ocean, and it’s going to come in waves. “Sometimes you’re going to be able to function and feel like everything’s fine, and sometimes storms are going to be rough, and you need that time to just be by yourself.” Understand that it’s going to ebb and flow.

Don’t feel obligated to go to every holiday party you’re invited to and maintain a social calendar like you did last holiday season. But at the same time, you want to make sure you aren’t always locking yourself away in your room by yourself. 

4. Use an ‘anchor’ item 

You may want to wear a piece of jewelry or carry another tangible item that serves as an “anchor” that reminds you that your loved one is close to you, Thiry says. This anchor item can act as a source of comfort and connection, a reminder of the presence and cherished memories of the person you lost. It can bring you peace during moments when grief feels particularly heavy.

5. Honor their memory

The holidays are an opportunity for all kinds of celebrations, and you absolutely can celebrate by honoring your departed loved one’s memory. “Perhaps take a few moments to share a story about your loved one, have their special dish prepared, or light a candle in honor of their memory,” Thiry suggests. If multiple people at the gathering knew the person who passed away, you can all take turns sharing stories or doing something else that feels right. 

Perhaps take a few moments to share a story about your loved one, have their special dish prepared, or light a candle in honor of their memory.

- Stacy Thiry, LMHC

6. Have a safe person

When you’re going into a family gathering or other holiday party, Moron suggests identifying someone who’s a safe person that you feel comfortable opening up to if you feel like you need a shoulder to cry on.  

“It doesn’t even have to be a huge outpouring of emotions. It can just simply be something like, ‘I’m really sad right now. I really miss them. Do you mind just sitting here with me?” she says.

7. Get additional support with therapy 

Grief can be immensely difficult to navigate on your own, no matter the time of year. Consider seeking therapy to work on coping strategies for handling your emotions. With Grow Therapy, you can find an online therapist who accepts your insurance and specializes in grief.

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About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience. He specializes in anxiety, trauma, PTSD, depression, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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