14 Tips For Coping With Grief, Especially Around The Holidays

#4: Don’t be afraid to say no.

by Natalia Lusinski and JR Thorpe
Originally Published: 
A woman with a shaved head looks out the window at christmas time, coping with grief during the holi...

Holiday cheer is in the air these days, but it’s not a happy time of year for everyone, especially if certain loved ones are no longer in your life. Grief can be a response to a death in the family, but also to a breakup or another change in life circumstances. When it comes to coping with grief during the holidays, the way you do so may differ from how somebody else does.

Mary Potter Kenyon, a grief counselor, experienced several losses in a row. “I lost my mother on my 51st birthday in November 2010, my husband in 2012, and an eight-year-old grandson in 2013,” she tells Bustle. “The last thing I wanted to think about was the ho-ho-ho joyful holidays.” She recommends doing whatever it takes to get through the holidays, especially the first ones without your loved one.

“If it means doing everything the same, or everything differently, find what works for you,” she says. “I know a widower who hired someone to do everything his wife had done that first year, yet I had to do things differently.”

Below, Kenyon and other grief experts weigh in on how to cope with grief, especially around the holidays.


Give Yourself Time & Space To Process Your Emotions

After a loss, you may wish you’d feel better immediately, but it’ll likely take time. “If you’ve just suffered a loss, the holidays can be tough,” psychotherapist Emily Cosgrove tells Bustle. “Give yourself time and space to process your emotions.” She says that it’s OK to not feel OK, and that it’s also OK to feel lonely, grieve, or miss the person. “Be patient, kind, and gentle with yourself as you let yourself hold these emotions,” she says.


Find Time To Be Alone

Justine Haemmerli, co-founder of self-help tools Girls Gone Happy, tells Bustle that when you’re grieving, it’s important to find time to be alone. “The holidays can be overwhelming for even the most supercharged extrovert; go for a walk, step outside, leave a party early, take bathroom breaks throughout the night — whatever helps you recharge your batteries, do it,” she says.

“Memories can be tough to recall in front of others, so I’ll have my morning coffee at the beach by my house and use this time to reflect on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come,” Kim Libertini, co-creator of the Goodgrief app, tells Bustle. “These moments by myself are a time to let out my emotions.”


Have An Escape Plan For Events

Kenyon says that you may think you’ll be fine going to an event, like a holiday family gathering, but then you’ll get there and it’s a whole other story. “Sometimes, you don’t know how you’ll react until you get there,” she says. “Be ready for a quick get-away and have an escape plan.” You can easily absent yourself from a Zoom hangout by saying you have to take another call, for example.


Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

“Don’t be afraid to say no to party invitations if you don’t think you can stand to attend parties, especially that first year,” Kenyon says. “I had a hard time going places where everyone was paired up and I still do, nearly seven years later.” That includes Zoom calls and virtual hangouts, too.

Libertini says that, some holidays, she just treats them as a regular day. “If I am alone for the holiday, I pretend it is a regular day and make a list of tasks that I need to get done,” she says. “And if I wake up and the holiday seems too daunting, or I’m without my children for the day, I give myself the OK to make it a day to watch a Netflix series in bed.”


Honor Their Holiday Traditions

Some people prefer to keep a loved one’s memory alive by honoring holiday traditions the same way as they did before. Therapist Susan Youngsteadt, LCSW tells Bustle that her father collected nutcrackers, so now she decorates her small apartment with as many nutcrackers and inherited Christmas decorations as she can fit.

“I will sit in my living room with the Christmas tree lit and holiday music playing, and reminisce on the memories of my parents and me during the holidays,” Youngsteadt says.

Libertini, too, shares memories as a grief coping mechanism. “I tell stories to my children about holiday cooking with my mom,” she says. “These are warm memories that I cherish, and it feels good to share a piece of who my mom was with my sons.”


Try New Holiday Traditions

“Think about what new traditions you’d like to create or ones that you haven’t done in a while,” Cosgrove says. Kenyon and her family started a new holiday gift-giving tradition. “Christmas without my grandson was unimaginable, until his younger sibling came up with the idea of giving terrible gifts that year when he spotted a hideous rubber baby at a thrift store and asked if they could give it to their Uncle Dan,” she says.


Leave Town Altogether

Libertini says that one thing she does is book a last-minute travel deal, such as to the Dominican Republic or a city in Europe that’s on her bucket list. “A little sunshine or busy travel helps keep my spirits up, helps me to step away from the loneliness of home, and gives me something to focus my energy on,” she says. If you can't get away right now, taking a few days off for a proper staycation, fantasizing about a getaway, plotting a future escape, or watching TV or movies set in a dream destination can still help you capture that escapist feeling.


Connect With Others

Although you may want to be alone to process your emotions, it’s also good to connect with those around you. “Having a support system who can shoulder you during the moments and days of grief in the holiday season is vital," Youngsteadt says.

“If I’m going to see family or friends, I always make sure I have someone I can count on for emotional and even physical support,” Robynne Boyd, co-creator of the Goodgrief app, tells Bustle.


Focus On Activities That Fulfill You

Divorce and parenting coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle that while you’re grieving, it’s important to find things that you enjoy. “This can become an ideal time to reflect on meeting your own needs and finding new people, activities, and events that bring joy into your life,” she says. She adds that this can mean anything from volunteering at a toy or food distribution drive, hospital, or animal shelter. For Libtertini, workouts are her escape. “I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to get to Orangetheory Fitness class by 5 a.m. every day to grab a daily dose of endorphins,” she says.


Remember The Happy Times

“The holidays are particularly challenging for people who have had a loved one die,” grief expert Heather Stang tells Bustle. “Finding ways to remember them, rather than suppressing the pain, actually winds up creating more balance, and it allows space for laughter and joy even in the midst of grief.”


Seek Out Professional Help & Grief Resources

While you may feel better when you talk to other friends and family members who are also grieving, it sometimes helps to talk to an outside party, like a grief support group or counselor, too.

“Don’t feel embarrassed or afraid to let others know you are feeling lonely, depressed, or sad,” Sedacca says. “Be proactive in seeking out a counselor who can provide advice and new resources for creating alternative holiday traditions and help lift your spirits.”

Counselor Heidi McBain LMHC recommends talking to someone about how you’re feeling. “Try to sit with the hard feelings when they come up instead of stuffing them down,” she tells Bustle. “A grief counselor can be helpful and supportive during this hard time.”


Do Random Acts Of Kindness

“I still carry around random acts of kindness cards with my deceased grandson’s name and story on them," says Kenyon. She says she likes to help out others in his memory, leaving the card behind.


GetPlenty Of Rest

Self-care is very important day-to-day, but especially when you’re grieving. “Grief is exhausting, so make sure to get plenty of rest,” Kenyon says. “If you can, take naps. I took so many naps that first winter after a loss that I scared myself and my children.”

Cosgrove agrees. “Take care of yourself daily, but especially during holidays or times of high stress,” she says. She says it will help reduce overwhelm, stress, and burnout, as well as help you heal and renew yourself.


Remind Yourself That You *Will* Feel Better As Time Goes On

“Be patient — things will get better and you will heal with time,” Cosgrove says. “Be kind to yourself: Don’t judge yourself or get angry for feeling how you feel.”

There are many varied ways to do grief, particularly around the holidays. Learning what grief coping mechanisms work best for you is the best gift you can give yourself, holidays or not.


Robynne Boyd

Emily Cosgrove M.A.

Justine Haemmerli

Kim Libertini

Mary Potter Kenyon

Heidi McBain LMHC

Rosalind Sedacca C.D.C.

Heather Stang C-IAYT

Susan Youngsteadt, LCSW

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