Grief during the holidays can seem as if pain and suffering are ten times more difficult than they are normally. The holiday season may be the hardest time of the year for them, as they may feel lonely and missing a loved one while everyone else rejoices in holiday cheer.
In that sense, it may not be surprising that those suffering from grief tend to grow more reclusive and despondent especially if it’s their first holiday without their loved ones.
However, even with the fact that studies show that loneliness increases and suicide rates soar this time of year, you can manage your grief if you have a few coping mechanisms at the ready.
1. Pull Yourself Out of Bed
Getting yourself out of bed and getting dressed each morning is probably one of the most difficult things you can accomplish on any given day during the holiday season when you are suffering from grief. It can be emotionally heavy, as you are operating with a different mindset and you may feel like no one sees your pain and suffering from the outside.
With all this distance between you and the rest of the world, try to help ground yourself by pulling yourself out of bed, getting dressed, and prepared for whatever the day brings ahead. Motivate yourself to get out. If you can accomplish this one thing, it is all downhill from here.
2. Create New Rules for the Season
The holidays can be like tough medicine to swallow, especially when you have suffered the loss of someone whom you love.
For example, if this is your first Christmas without mom, what do you do? You loved having her over to help you bake cookies for the grandchildren. Why should you bother to celebrate when that tradition is now broken?
Perhaps it’s time to put on the apron yourself, and find a new holiday dessert to whip up for the family. Or do something else entirely. Consider making new traditions with your family. The remedy to this new reality is to create new memories with your family, and find ways to honor the memory of your loved one who has died.
3. Celebrate the True Meaning of the Season
This can be a tough one for those who are suffering deeply from grief due to the loss of a spouse, a father, a child, or a close friend. It can be difficult to remember the true meaning of the holiday season.
Whatever your religious or spiritual background is, almost the entire world celebrates the holidays in much the same ways. What are your beliefs about why we celebrate the holidays?
Have you taught your children your family’s reason for the season? If you haven’t yet done so, this can be a great time to start teaching and passing down your family’s traditions, beliefs, and celebrations. Honor the lives of your loved ones who have died, and impart in your children those traditions.
4. Get Out There and Take in the Sights
Going outdoors and enjoying the sunlight and fresh air can do wonders for your mental health. Rays of sunshine release "feel good" endorphins and serotonin, which are hormones that help boost your mood and ease your pain.
Take a short walk around the block if that is all that you can muster. No one is keeping score. If you are up for a more challenging task, bundle yourself up to take in a longer walk.
Walk around your neighborhood and say hello to your neighbors. Go to the town square and check out the pretty lights. Ask for permission to pet someone's dog. You’ll give some love to a furry companion and it will make you feel better, even in that little moment.
5. Meet a Friend for a Hot Cocoa
Who doesn’t like hot cocoa and a warm smile from a friend on a cold frigid day? All of these small steps that you take to help you cope with your grief during the holidays, add up to a happier, healthier you.
If cocoa is not your thing, grab a cup of coffee or hot tea. It’s not in your choice of beverage but in the choice of taking a proactive approach to managing your grief during this time of year. Spending time with a close friend or acquaintance can lift your mood and help you through another day.
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6. Take in a Holiday Play
Being out among other people even when you don’t feel like socializing is one way to help you cope through this time.
Taking in a play keeps you from having to engage with anyone much like when seeing a movie or film, and yet you are surrounded by people who are generally happy and out enjoying life.
If this is not a mood lifter, then what is for you? Find what that is, and go out and do it.
7. Visit a Museum
There are so many things that you can do during the holidays that are inexpensive or free of charge that would help you get out of your head for a little bit. Take in a museum on a Saturday afternoon or even on a Tuesday morning. Check your local listings to see if any of the local museums offer free or discounted admission.
Even if you can afford to pay a full-price admission, your goal is to save on the ticket cost so that you can donate that money to the shelter you will be volunteering at down below.
8. Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter
If going to a play or a museum is not your thing, perhaps volunteering can be. Homeless shelters and other shelters often look for extra ways to support those in need during the holiday season.
Coping with your own grief and loss is oftentimes made better by alleviating the suffering of others. Participating in the season of giving can take you out of your head and help you acknowledge that suffering is universal.
We all suffer and grieve at any given point in our lives. Some to a greater extent than others, but we all will experience grief, loss, and suffering. When you help others through their grief, you help yourself heal your own.
9. Read Stories to Children at the Library
Another way to add joy to your holiday season is to volunteer to read stories to children at your local library. Many children still have an innocent wonder about the world around them. They still believe in stories, Santa Claus, or dream of a perfect world where everyone is happy and no one gets hurt.
There can be something relentlessly cheery about reading to children and helping them tap into their imagination. By giving up time to read to young kids, you can also help get your head out of your own dreary mindset.
While you are there, you can benefit from checking out the library's books on grief.
10. Help Decorate an Elderly Neighbor’s Tree
It might not feel great to put up your own decorations during this season, given your loss. Consider helping others create joy in their own homes by helping any differently-abled neighbors with their decorations.
If you’re close to your neighbor, call them up and see if they need help putting up a Christmas tree or lighting a Hanukkah menorah. Or you can offer to help hang some nice lights outside. It’s safe to assume that no one wants their house to end up like the one in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Finding the time to help an elderly or differently-abled neighbor in need can be uplifting and rewarding. Simple acts of kindness go a long way in helping you to heal your grief.
11. Go on a Walk Along Seasonally Lighted Streets
Exercise, much like sunlight, releases endorphins that help to elevate your mood. A short brisk walk around the block or your neighborhood can shake out any mental cobwebs or offer a change in scenery.
You can take this time to reflect on the source of your grief. You can walk in silence, or you may choose to talk out loud to your loved one who has died, to god, or no one in particular. You may even decide that this is a good time to cry it all out.
No matter what, take in the beauty of your town decorated for the season and let your emotions flow.
12. Join a Support Group
Joining a support group is not for everybody. But you should try it at least once to see if it’s for you. Having a network of individuals to call on when things get rough is a great thing to have.
You may want to consider joining such a group if you live alone or are living far away from your friends and family. The good thing about a support group is that you’ll have a group of folks that will not only understand you but also suffer with you.
Read our guide on grief support groups to find one near you.
Grief and Coping During the Holiday Season
The holidays can be brutal for many, even those not suffering from grief and loss. Coping only gets worse as we experience grief. The holiday season seems to make it worse, but in reality, there is no difference.
It can take a lot to offer up a smile when you’re suffering internally, but recognize that this is just another season. The holidays can bring out the best and the worst of everyone, and sometimes it's best to just remember that they are normal days like the rest on the calendar.
We suffer through it the same, no matter what day it is. Keeping the tips above handy may help you cope, one holiday season at a time
If you're looking for more on how to get through the holiday season, read our guides on when the holidays feel hard and how to say "Merry Christmas" to someone who's grieving.