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How to Handle (Non-Death) Grief During the Holidays

It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.” Festive lights and trees are everywhere you look, and cheerful music resounds everywhere you go. Many of us look forward to spending more time with family and friends to celebrate and carry out family traditions.

But the holiday season may not be so holly and jolly for some.

Perhaps you’re dreading holiday events, because this will be the first one you’ll spend alone after a divorce. You may dread the holidays because you’ve recently lost your job. You may be waiting to be blessed with a child as you struggle with infertility. Maybe your partner was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you cling to the goodness of the past.

For many, the word “grief” is often associated with death. But if you’re going through difficult circumstances in your life, you too may be experiencing grief.

Grief isn’t always about death

“What sometimes we don’t realize is that grief isn’t always associated with death; loss can come in many forms and death just happens to be one of them,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. “Regardless of the loss you’ve experienced, your grief is real, and it often brings feelings that are confusing. You may ask yourself, ‘why am I having these types of feelings or thoughts?’”

Some of the most common reactions to loss are:

  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Guilt or remorse
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Loss of control
  • Feeling tired or generally exhausted

Coping with grief can become overwhelming, particularly during the holidays. It may seem to even amplify it. When you’re experiencing loss or feel any of the above, it’s important to remember that these are normal reactions to grieving.

“Grief is unique to the individual who experiences it,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s critical that you are patient with yourself as the recovery process can differ from person to person and situation to situation.”

If you’re searching for some guidance as to how you can best navigate your grief during the holidays, Dr. Fox shared a few recommended strategies that can help you cope.

Acknowledge your grief

The holidays can be stressful, even in the best of times, but it can be especially demanding if you’re navigating loss. Don’t put on a “brave face” or feel like you have to be or act a certain way. If you feel sad, allow yourself to cry. If you’re angry, allow yourself to vent.

“Feeling your grief is critical to the process, however painful it may be,” Dr. Fox said. “By opening up, you will be better able to work through the changes you’re going through.”

Find balance

It’s often good to take time to relax and be with yourself in situations of loss but not to isolate and not go out at all. If you need some time alone, honor that need. If you crave the company of others, reach out to family and friends. Do what feels right in the moment.

Start a new tradition

Not being able to share in holiday traditions and rituals of years’ past can make the season much harder to bear. While change can be hard, explore creating new traditions or opportunities to make new positive memories. Maybe it’s volunteering your time at a nursing home or shelter or baking a new cookie recipe. Any of these things can help you through your grief process.

Put yourself at the top of your list

The holidays are often a time where many people throw healthy eating and even proper sleep out the window, but it’s important to take care of your mind and body during the holidays and give them proper care and support.

“Grief can take a toll on your body, energy and strength,” Dr. Fox said.

Pay attention to the foods you’re eating and make sure you are getting plenty of rest and relaxation. Exercise regularly, read a good book and get outside and enjoy nature.

[Read “6 Self-Care Tips to Sneak into Your Busy Life”]

Give yourself some grace

The journey through grief isn’t linear—it has no definitive finish line. Allow yourself time and space to recover your way and give yourself room to feel your feelings. You’ll have some good days and not so good days. Give yourself space for your feelings to ebb and flow. If you’re in need of a hug or a good listener, don’t hesitate to reach out with a trusted friend or family member.

Ask for help

If daily functioning (i.e., work, routines, family life) is interrupted due to your grief or loss, reach out to your health care provider or a licensed behavioral health specialist. Don’t suffer alone. A trained professional can help you deal with your grief in a productive manner.

Final Word

Contrary to popular belief, grief is a good thing. It’s a healing process that can help you cope with and recover from emotional change.

“Learning to accept and cope with that emotional damage allows us to better navigate life and go through pain moving forward,” Dr. Fox said. “Not to say that it’ll make life easier, but it can equip you to cope with other life stressors in a much easier way.”

If you don’t face your grief, you may ultimately intensify or prolong your suffering. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider or a licensed behavioral health specialist.

To find a Banner Behavioral Health specialist near you, visit

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