Coping with Your Grief During the Holidays

  • Allow yourself to acknowledge your grief.  Your celebrations will include sad moments as well as happier ones.
  • Find time for yourself – to remember and to reflect on past holiday times.
  • Know your own limits – decide what you can do comfortably, and ask others for help.
  • Let friends and family know what you need – time with others, time alone, time to talk, or time for quiet.
  • Find ways to remember your loved one – lighting a candle, sharing photo albums or a favorite song together, sharing a blessing or prayer – whatever is helpful to you. 
  • Don’t hesitate to make changes in how you “do” the holidays – you may be starting some new traditions.
  • Take care of yourself physically.  Eat properly.  Get plenty of rest.  Drink plenty of fluids.  Get some gentle exercise.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol or overeating – they tend to bring on depression.
  • Consider doing something for others.
  • If stress, anxiety, or depression become overwhelming, reach out for help – consider calling a medical professional.

Some Common Dimensions of the Grief Experience

  • Shock, denial, numbness, disbelief
    • Not remembering what is said to you
    • Hysterical outbursts or fainting
    • Outbursts of anger or even laughter
  • Disorganization, confusion, searching, yearning
    • Restlessness, agitation, impatience
    • Inability to complete tasks
    • Forgetfulness
    • Disorientation and confusion (especially early in morning and late evening)
    • Fatigue and lack of initiative
    • Low work-effectiveness
    • Restless “searching”
    • Yearning and preoccupation with memories
    • Shifts in perception
    • Visual hallucinations (“memory pictures”)
    • Dreaming about the person who died
  • Physiological changes
    • Low energy
    • Generalized tension, headaches
    • Changes in appetite, queasiness, nausea, digestive problems
    • Muscle aches
    • Shortness of breath, tightness in throat or chest, heart palpitations
    • Sensitivity to noise, increased allergic reactions
  • Anxiety, panic, fear
    • Feelings of vulnerability
    • “Am I going to be OK?”
    • Increased sense of one’s own mortality
    • Feeling overwhelmed by everyday concerns
  • Feelings of loss, emptiness, sadness, depression
    • Bedtimes, waking in the morning, awakening late at night
    • Weekends, family meals
    • Holidays, anniversary occasions
  • Explosive emotions
    • Anger, rage, hate, resentment, jealousy
    • Thoughts of suicide (NOTE: if persistent, seek help immediately!)
  • Guilt and regret
    • “Survivor guilt”
    • “Relief-guilt syndrome”
    • “Joy-guilt syndrome”
    • “Magical thinking” (assuming too much responsibility)
  • Relief and release

Adapted from Wolfelt, A. D. Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal. 1992: Accelerated Development, Bristol, PA.

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