When the Holiday Season Feels Hard: 12 Tips for Coping


The holidays are hard to get through, especially if you are reminded of your loved one who’s died or of a relationship that’s ended. Grief can generally intensify over the holidays and manifests around Thanksgiving. Being prepared for the waves of emotions that will come and go during this time of year may save you from a lot of agony during the last few weeks of the year.

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Grief during the holidays can hit incredibly hard when the Christmas carols and decorations remind you of all the good times once shared with your loved one. Whether you’ve just had a breakup or experienced a divorce, the pain of that loss can make you feel all of the emotions associated with grief.

It’s normal to grieve over the loss of your relationship, your family, and all of the work and effort that went into making a marriage or relationship work. 

If They Feel Hard After a Breakup or Divorce

List of way to cope when the holidays feels hard over an image of trees and snow

Unfortunately, not every relationship works out, and people break up or get divorced.  People move on from the life they had to try and start a new one. The person who did the breaking up may feel just as much pain and sorrow as the person who wasn’t ready to end the relationship. 

So why do the holidays feel so bad after a breakup or divorce? To begin with, there is never a good time for grief or to experience a loss of any kind. So with any traumatic loss, you can expect grief to work its way in. Grief is the response to any type of loss you’ve suffered. So although you may have wanted to break up with your partner or get a divorce, a failed relationship can and does cause hurt regardless of who initiated the process.

The following tips will help you get through the holiday season when things feel too hard to go on. 

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1. Focus on the positives

The holidays are an especially difficult time to try and move through the pain of your grief. Painful reminders of your loss are everywhere, from the department stores blaring festive music to the families shopping together for holiday decorations. 

You can expect to go through the stages of grief even when you’ve gone through a breakup or divorce. Grief is a part of healing from that loss. In time, your heart will heal. In the meantime, try focusing on the positive outcomes of your breakup or divorce. Although it may seem nearly impossible to find the good in a situation like this, there are always reasons why relationships end. 

Make a list of how your life has improved since or because of your breakup. Focusing on the positives doesn’t mean you’re happy about the outcome. Sometimes, these things are inevitable, and you must find a way to move forward in life. 

2. Embrace your grief

Hiding or running away from your grief won’t make it any better. It may be challenging to face your grief when all you feel like doing is hiding under a rock when the holidays come around. Trying to escape the way you think or numbing your feelings with drugs or alcohol won’t make it go away. 

Avoiding the pain of your loss only serves to prolong your agony. The longer you put off dealing with the pain and sorrow associated with your divorce or breakup, the harder it will be dealing with the holidays.

3. Set healthy boundaries

For many people whose relationships have ended, it’s challenging figuring out how to move forward during the holidays, especially when there are children involved. There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, sharing your ideas with your ex, and setting healthy boundaries for everyone involved. 

For example, if you’re new to splitting holiday schedules with your ex, discuss where and when you’ll meet to exchange the children. You may also place limits on the value of gifts you may be purchasing for the children. Ask your ex to respect these limitations so that there’ll be less stress and no surprises around the holidays. 

4. Have a plan

Always have a plan of action if things aren’t going as planned. You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way, especially those extended by friends common to both you and your ex. When you plan to attend a holiday event such as a party or dinner, always have an exit strategy in mind.

You never know when grief will hit you, and you’ll want to be prepared with an excuse to leave. There’s also nothing wrong with letting the host know that you aren’t feeling your most festive self and that it’d be best if you called it a night. 

5. Find new ways of celebrating

Loss of a relationship or marriage is just as painful as losing someone to death. The time you shared with your spouse or partner was a meaningful part of your life. Whenever holidays are shared with someone you love, and then they’re no longer there, it can be painful facing special moments without them. 

To ease your pain and suffering, try finding new traditions and ways of celebrating the holidays. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or doing other charity work like delivering meals to the elderly or helping build homes for the needy.

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6. Ask for help

Feeling overwhelmed and an increased sense of loss is to be expected during the holiday season. Many people struggle with coping and may not know how to move forward through their pain and sorrow. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support group and ask them to help you get through this incredibly challenging time of the year. You can also look for online support groups where you can talk about what you’re going through and share in your losses. 

If They Feel Hard After a Death or Another Loss

List of ways to cope when the holidays feels hard over an image of candles

The pain associated with the death of your loved one or any other type of significant loss will feel compounded during the holidays when it’s easier to feel isolated. It may be hard picking up the pieces and getting through yet another holiday season after suffering a loss. 

You can find ways of coping with your loss even at times when all else seems hopeless. Below are some ways to consider getting through the days ahead. 

7. Don’t compare your life to what it was

Being around others during the holidays may make you think back to how your life was before your loss. Whenever you find yourself thinking about what was and how much you miss that life, bring yourself back to the present. Comparing your old life to what it’s like now only serves to hold you back from healing from your grief. 

8. It’s okay to turn down invitations

Don’t feel obligated to accept every invitation that comes your way during the holidays. It’s okay to say no whenever you don’t feel like attending or celebrating. If you’re worried about hurting a friend’s or relative’s feelings, consider declining the invitation by letting them in on how you’re feeling.

Try saying something like:

  • Thank you for thinking of me and inviting me to your holiday party, but I’m not in a very festive mood this year since my spouse’s death. I hope you understand.
  • It’s very kind of you to invite me. You may not know this, but I just suffered a miscarriage, and I’m still learning how to cope with my loss. I’m going to skip out on the celebrations this year. I hope you think of me the next time you host one of your great parties.

9. Give yourself room to grieve

When grieving, you may experience unexpected waves of profound sorrow where it’s difficult to control your emotions.

Allow yourself the time and space to let it all out. Find yourself a special place to go to that’s away from everyone so you can have some alone time with your grief. 

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10. Honor your loved one

Honoring your loved one during the holidays can mean including them in your new holiday traditions or continuing the old in their memory. The holidays won’t always be so hard to get through. Remind yourself that things do and will get easier as time goes on.

In the meantime, if all you feel like doing is staying home on the couch watching old movies of your loved one, then do that until you feel better. 

11. Try being understanding

Many people don’t know how to say “Merry Christmas” to someone who’s grieving. During the holidays, they might ignore you because they don’t know what else to do.

Try not to take it personally and understand that most people in this situation opt not to say anything at all versus risking saying the wrong thing. Try reaching out to those whom you think may be avoiding you for this very reason. 

12. Consider counseling

Consider getting online therapy or counseling to get you through your grief and the holidays. There are many counselors available to you online with varying degrees of knowledge and expertise.

Look for counselors who advertise bereavement or grief counseling, as they’re trained to deal with death and loss.

If you are looking for music suitable for your grieving process over the holidays, consider our list of Christmas songs about death and grief.

Getting Through the Holidays

As difficult as it seems right now, allowing you to experience the pain of your suffering will ultimately lead to your healing. The passing of time is not what heals your pain and suffering. It’s the processing of your grief that allows you to heal. Eventually, the holidays will get easier, and you will have found joy in your life once again. 

If you're looking for more ways to deal with the holidays this year, read our guides on holiday card etiquette after a death in the family or how to cope with grief during the holidays.

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