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  • Amy Smith Ph.D., LMFT, CFLE

Managing Grief During the Most Wonderful Time of Year

Sometimes it doesn’t feel so wonderful.

Managing Grief During the Most Wonderful Time of Year

  • It's OK to say no to things that don't feel right for you this year.

  • Participating in fun activities can help to boost your mood and distract you from your pain.

  • Consider limiting your exposure to social media, TV shows, and movies that might make you feel worse.

The end of the year is a time that is complicated for many people. It can be a time of celebration, spending time with loved ones, engaging in traditions, and fun events.

However, for many, it can also be a season of loneliness and isolation, and triggers of grief and loss can also accompany some of those traditions and meaningful moments. If you are struggling during this season, here are a few tips that can help you cope.

It is OK to set boundaries and to say no. There may be different events, like parties/events or family gatherings, that occur that you do not want to participate in this year. It is OK to identify your needs to attend an event, communicate those needs with others, or choose not to go to an event. Even when you feel pressured to attend an event, it is healthy to advocate for your needs, and you can choose to say no.

Or you might choose to attend an event but leave early or only participate in parts of an event. Try to focus on identifying how you feel about the event, what would make the event feel good or OK for you to attend, and then deciding based on advocating for what you need in this season, even if it differs from what someone else might choose.

It is also OK to say yes and participate in fun events. On the flip side, you might experience feelings of guilt for wanting to attend an event. It is OK to give yourself permission to say yes to an event and allow yourself to have a good time. It does not dishonor the loss you have experienced or your grief to allow yourself moments of positivity throughout the season.

Loneliness and isolation can be a difficult trap that is easy to fall into when grieving, and it can often make things feel worse. It might be helpful for you to try to challenge yourself to identify which events might be worth attending and say yes to those while also saying no to the ones not right for you this year.

Listen to your body and respect your needs. You are the expert on yourself and your needs. You alone can know what decisions feel right for you. Listening to your body and emotions can help to guide you through this season, honoring what you need at any moment. And it is OK, and even likely, that what you are feeling will change throughout the season, the day, or even to feel multiple things at one time. It can be helpful to create a space to allow you to feel whatever feelings are coming up and have time to honor all your emotions this year.

Monitor your exposure to media. This time of year can be challenging for many reasons, partly due to the media messaging we receive. The commercials on TV all show happy families all gathered, and music in stores tells happy stories and can invoke memories of seasons past. All of these messages can tell the story that everyone else is having a picture-perfect season.

It can be helpful to set up some boundaries around the media you are experiencing to protect yourself from these stories if it feels like it adds a sense of pressure or grief. You can also remind yourself that just because marketing tells a certain story does not mean everyone else is having a picture-perfect time. Many people struggle during this season; you are not alone.

Invest in healthy coping strategies. It can be easy to fall into unhealthy coping strategies to try to get through the season. Things like drinking to feel numb or isolating and disengaging from your social support network to avoid potential grief triggers can feel helpful at the moment but ultimately can make things more difficult for you.

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Instead, try to invest in healthy coping strategies. You might want to talk to a friend or family member; you can reach out to a support group of others who are struggling as well; you might try a mindfulness practice, you could volunteer and give back to others, start a new tradition, or honor other traditions that are important to you, find ways to move your body, and take time to feel your feelings. These strategies can help both in the moment and the long term.

Involve your loved ones. When you have lost someone you love, it can be difficult to face this time of year without that person. While they are not physically present with you this year, you can invest in finding ways to have them continue to be a part of your celebration. Maybe you continue their favorite traditions, make sure to have their favorite dish for dinner, donate to their favorite charity in their name, tell stories of favorite memories, have a photo or memento in their spot at the table, find a moment to visit or decorate their grave or memorial, or any other way that helps to keep your loved one as part of your holiday.

There are millions of ways to find a way to include your loved ones. Take the time to find the way that means the most to you.

Embrace the messiness. Grief and happiness can coexist. Honoring one feeling does not mean that the other emotion will go away. There is space in life for both the hard things and the bright moments. It will undoubtedly be a bit less straightforward, but working to find ways to experience all of the moments for what they are can help you navigate this season while grieving successfully.

Amy Smith, Ph.D., LMFT, CFLE, - Website -


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