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Dealing with Grief at Christmas

This season can be tough; here are clinical tips for how to manage grief during the holidays.

grief at christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least that’s what Andy Williams calls it in his quintessential Christmas song of the same name. For a large number of Americans, however, Christmastime is a time to be dreaded. That’s because this season easily, if unintentionally, reminds us of those things—and people—we may lack or miss.

No other holiday kicks off with a sales day designed to buy gifts for other people. No other holiday has a seasonal soundtrack of nostalgia. No other holiday so pervasively integrates itself into daily consciousness for a month the way Christmas does. And no other holiday falls six days before the end of the year—a time that organically leads to a greater-than-normal amount of reflection.

This can stir up painful memories and is enough to dampen the spirits of the most cheerful person. If you find yourself with a slight trepidation as you approach the holiday season, consider using these strategies.

1.  Focus on deep breathing

Grief can cause you to feel overcome with mental or emotional stress. When this feeling hits you, take a moment to breathe and focus on the present. Try not to focus on what could have been or what should be. If it’s too painful to think about what is good in your present life, just focus on the sound of the deep breaths you’re taking. This will help slow down your breathing and feel your emotions without being overcome by them. It will also remind you that you’re surviving the grief with each breath you take. That’s a victory.

2.  Surround yourself with supportive people

Even if spending family time is not an option, make sure you have a group of supportive people you can stay connected with during the holiday season. Plan group dinners, comedy movie nights and fun group activities to make sure you stay active, joyful and grateful. If you have a therapist, be sure to get phone numbers of who can be reached in an emergency.

3. Stick to a Budget

Determining your budget ahead of time can help eliminate any possible sadness or guilt for overspending. It’s a form of setting your own financial boundaries. You can also avoid the stress of needing to buy the “right” gift for your loved ones by considering homemade gifts and memory-creating activities, instead, such as Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, hosting a game night or taking a drive together through neighborhoods decorated for the holidays.


4. Practice Self-Care

One of the most important things you can give yourself as a gift is self-care. Especially if you suffer from holiday blues, or even with clinically diagnosed depression, be sure to include time in your schedule to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Get outdoors, try to exercise, get some pampering with a massage or even just take a long bath and indulge in aromatherapy. Self-care decreases your chance of feeling blue during the holiday season and it increases your ability to thrive well beyond the holidays.  

5. Know When to Say “No”

​There may be many party invites or maybe even last minute requests for that special food item you make that tastes so good. If this something that you enjoy and have the time for, then by all means- go for it! But if this request is going to cause any stress or anxiety, then just say, “No.”  Anxiety over a time that should be filled with joy is no fun. Symptoms of anxiety can include excessive worry about an outcome, restlessness, and changes in your sleep pattern. Saying “no,” decreases your chances of developing holiday related anxiety and increases the energy you’ll have for the tasks that are most important to you. If you start to feel guilty about saying, “no,” remind yourself that you have the right to take care of yourself and use your energy in the ways that bring you the most joy. A happy and well-rested you allows you to present the best version of yourself to the world. 

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