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Navigating Grief during the Holidays

December 15, 2021

The holidays are touted as the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us, the season can be a bit more complicated. This is especially true for anyone grieving a loss. And because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more Americans are likely to experience grief this season, whether it be for the loss a loved one, a job or financial security, a home, their health, or anything else.


For those grieving, the holidays can bring up feelings of stress, sadness, anger, irritability, guilt and even depression. They can also bring up conflicting, confusing feelings: for example, you may find yourself wanting to participate in the holiday fun but also wanting to be alone or feeling guilty for enjoying yourself.


Navigating these feelings can be difficult, especially during a time when we may feel pressured to be festive. If you are grieving during this holiday season, the most important thing you can do for your mental and emotional health is to allow yourself to feel whatever comes up. While some may be uncomfortable and unpleasant, there are no “bad” feelings. It’s important to acknowledge all our emotions and to not try to avoid them or push them away.


It’s also important to recognize that you are capable of feeling multiple emotions at once—and that that is all right. Grief is complicated, and every person grieves in their own unique way. It is normal and natural to feel conflicting emotions while you are grieving, particularly during the holidays. For example, you may feel sad and miss your loved one while still finding joy in decorating cookies with your kids. Neither feeling is more or less valid than the other, and the pleasant emotions does not mean your grief is any less real.


When it comes to navigating holiday events and expectations while you are grieving, setting boundaries—both with yourself and with your family, friends, and co-workers—is key. Remember that you can choose whether or not to participate in an event or tradition and that it is okay to opt out of certain things if they feel overwhelming. Express ahead of time to your family and friends that you need them to respect your decision if you decide you are not ready to attend a particular event. Then make it a point to check in with your own wants and needs. If you have been distracting yourself with a packed calendar, maybe it’s time to decline an invitation and have a quiet night at home. If you have found yourself isolating a bit, try going to that holiday party—you can always leave early if you need to! Setting clear boundaries going into the holiday season will help ensure that you have adequate emotional space and down time to process any feelings that come up.


While it is perfectly fine to say no to an invitation, it’s also important to remember the spirit of connection during this season. It is all right to lean on your family and friends! Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether it’s asking a friend to go for a walk and listen to you vent or asking your partner to take on more of the gift shopping responsibilities. You do not need to get through the holidays, or your grieving process, alone.


Another way to increase your sense of connection during the holiday season is to give back! Bringing joy or comfort to another persons’ life can help alleviate your sadness and remind you of all you have to be grateful for. If the thought of taking on more responsibility during the holiday season makes you panic, though, don’t worry! You don’t need to volunteer twice a week to make a difference. Call up your local food bank and ask what they need to make the season special for their patrons. Adopt a needy family in your community. Donate to a charity in memory of your loved one. Take an hour and visit with an elderly neighbor. Bake an extra batch of cookies and bring them to your co-worker with a newborn. Reaching out even in small ways can help you tap into the joy of the season.


Finally, find a way to honor old traditions and memories while making space to create new ones. Make your loved one’s favorite dish. Ask your friends and family to share happy memories of your loved one before sitting down to a holiday meal. Create a memory box and have people contribute pictures and notes. Purchase a special commemorative ornament or holiday decoration and create a family ritual around hanging it. Finding healthy, community-centered ways to honor your grief can reinforce the understanding that what you are feeling is valid and important.


As we head into the holiday season, remember that just like there is no right or wrong way to celebrate, there is also no right or wrong way to grieve. The best approach is to be kind to yourself, check in with yourself regularly, and reach out for support when you need it.


Wishing you and yours a healthy, safe, and peaceful holiday season.


WORKPLACE SOLUTIONS is a group of dedicated professionals who provide assistance and resources to individuals and families to create a satisfying and meaningful life. We’re counselors, attorneys, financial professionals, and experienced specialists in a wide variety of fields. Because life’s challenges and opportunities show up in a range of different areas, we provide assistance in a number of different ways.


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