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Coping with Grief & Loss During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a joyous time when we celebrate with our friends and family; however, for many who have lost loved ones, it can bring up memories that cause sadness and feelings of loss. This can make the holidays challenging and difficult. It’s important to find positive ways to cope with grief and loss that can better facilitate our healing process. The following coping skills and suggestions can help with healing as well as be useful any time of the year.

Engage in Activities:

Find an activity that you enjoy and be sure to stay active and occupied with this during the holidays. Activities can often serve as a positive distraction and help us to engage in something fun that we enjoy, which is important during difficult and challenging times. Many people shut down when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and forget to engage in activities that they enjoy. It’s this time in particular when it’s most important to engage in these activities as they serve as positive coping skills. Some examples include activities such as: getting a massage, practicing meditation or mindfulness, going to the beach, engaging in outdoor activities, talking to a friend, reading a book, going to the movies, soaking in the bathtub, etc.

Build Positive Social Support:

Be sure to surround yourself with people who provide support and encouragement. Having a positive support system is really important. Our friends, family and social network can serve as a great outlet to discuss and process our feelings and give us much needed support. Be sure to pick your social support wisely, as they should have your back, encourage and empower you. If you do not currently have a positive support system, there are many group social groups that build connections as well as provide support specifically for grief and loss. Many local community centers, hospitals, and churches often have grief and loss support groups where you may find individuals who are experiencing similar issues and can provide support and guidance.

Create New Traditions:

Create something new and different for yourself, your family, and/or a way to remember your loved one. It can be very healing and symbolic to do something in memory of a loved one who has passed away. This may be something such as lighting a candle during the holidays as a symbol that they are there with you in spirit or lighting a candle on the anniversary of their death. It may also be helpful to write them a letter and tie it to a balloon and set it free. Activities such as this can help with saying goodbye and releasing of feelings. During the holidays, you could also cook their favorite meal, look through old photos, or simply take a walk to be alone and think about all the wonderful memories you had with that person. The important thing is to do something special, different or new that can create a special tradition that will be helpful for you in processing feelings of loss.

Eat Well and Make Healthy Food Choices:

Maintaining a healthy diet and eating nutritious food is also important, especially during the holidays. Many people may not realize, but they can use food as an unhealthy way to deal with difficult emotions. This is often referred to as “emotional eating.” It can be particularly common during the holidays because the holiday season can bring on higher levels of stress as well as these feelings of grief and loss. This challenging emotions combined with decadent food and endless holiday parties sets one up for overeating. So be aware of your food choices and the amount of food that you are consuming.

Reduce Alcohol Consumption:

Similar to eating well and making healthy food choices, it is also important that we remain aware of alcohol consumption. With alcohol being a depressant, it can contribute and sometimes increase feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression. This is especially true during the holidays as this season can evoke many different emotions and memories. Therefore, monitor your alcohol consumption or don’t drink at all. You could instead bring along an interesting non-alcoholic beverage to enjoy at a party.

Volunteer or Help Others:

Another helpful coping mechanism is to engage in an activity that is helpful for others. The research shows that showing gratitude, kindness, and compassion to others, can also increase our own happiness. You may consider engaging in a volunteer organization that is related to your loved one’s memory. For example, if your loved one passed away of cancer, you may consider helping out a local cancer organization or make a donation in their honor. Some other ideas to help others might include: sending cards or care packages to deployed military members, visiting a children’s center or nursing home, serving lunch at a homeless shelter, entering a 5k run/walk benefiting an organization, or anything else you can find that may be beneficial and helpful to others.


Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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