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How to Navigate Grief During the Holidays

For some, the holiday season is filled with fun festivities like gift exchanges, work parties, cookie-making, or fancy cocktail extravaganzas. The narrative shouted across our communities is– “Drink and be merry,” “Tis the season to be jolly,” or “The most wonderful time of year.” For those who know grief deeply, this broadcasted seasonal message feels like a stark contrast to our loss and is a frequent reminder of the empty seat(s) at the table.

No matter how much time has passed, it is completely okay and normal if you are not excited about this holiday. The weeks leading up to the holidays may be especially hard for you. The first step in managing grief is to accept that the emotional waves may hit you extra hard this season.

While there are no rules for surviving holiday grief, we are sharing some tips to help you cope ahead and ground yourself during this season.

Give yourself permission to grieve

During the holidays, there are many quiet moments that leave space for the raw power of your loss. It is felt in all parts of your being, and coping mechanisms that may have brought you peace along various points in your grief journey often don't bring you the same comfort. Because grief shape-shifts over time, accepting that your coping mechanisms during the holidays may need to evolve can be fundamental. Accept that these waves will come and there are new coping strategies you can try to implement as you move through this pain instead of suppressing or rejecting it.

Listen to your body

The mind-body connection is a powerful link and speaks to the truth of how the stress of grief can manifest in the body as chronic inflammation or headaches. It's crucial to tune into your body when grieving and ask it for what it needs. Maybe your body needs extra sleep during the week leading up to the holiday. Getting 8-9 hours of quality sleep or incorporating some anti-inflammatory foods can be rejuvenating. Your body needs self-care during this time so it can rest and digest, this allows you to spend less time in the fight-or-flight stress response cycle when grieving.

Explore a calming space

Changing up your scenery whether it's getting out in nature or trying a new yoga studio may help revitalize your spirit. Maybe challenge yourself to a gentle walk and explore a beautiful nature preserve or open space. You can also look into wellness studios.

Try new self-care or grief-healing rituals

Music can also be a healing grief ritual. Listening to music provides a safe space to feel the emotions of loss. Songs have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so they provide a naturally contained space for moving through our emotions. Sometimes knowing you have three minutes until the song ends is a comfort. When we listen to music that moves us, it’s hard to avoid our feelings, which can help us move through this new wave of grief. If you are feeling up to it we suggest picking a song and listening, crying, or doing whatever you need to do, and know that in about three minutes, the song will be over.

Another form of self-care is journaling your thoughts and feelings in the moments when the grief feels unbearable. Journaling is a form of self-expression and self-exploration. It can be cathartic, as you tune into what your grief brings up for you. Is it sadness, loneliness, anger, jealousy, denial, heaviness, guilt, or every feeling in between? Naming these unexpected emotions that lie underneath your grief, can help you to speak your truth without judgment and process this wide range of emotions. If it feels right to you, you can have a conversation with your loved one in your journal. While your relationship with your loved one may have changed, the relationship you have never goes away. Maybe it could be turning towards your spirituality and belief system. This may bring you some comfort as you move through this particularly challenging holiday grief.

Need extra support?

If you are having difficulty managing your grief this holiday season, the psychologists at North Berkeley Counseling are here to offer a supportive environment for healing. We see clients in our office in Berkeley, California, as well as online throughout California, Florida, Virginia, and Hawaii. Book your first session today!


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