Written by Raealyne Olarte, LMSW

The holiday season can bring up many emotions, both positive and negative. And if you’re someone who’s dealing with grief of any kind, you may find that the holidays are an especially challenging time for you.

Grief can affect any person at any age, from the older adults who are most likely to have lost someone they love to the estimated 2 million children in the U.S. who have lost at least one parent.

In this article, we’ll talk about four of the most common types of grief that you may experience during the holidays and share some practical tips and resources for navigating that grief with healthy coping strategies. 

Recognizing the Four Types of Grief

Everyone’s grief journey is unique, and it can sometimes show up in unexpected ways at unpredictable times. But in general, most people’s grief can fit into one or more of these four categories. By naming the type of grief you’re experiencing, you can better understand your own emotions and start to figure out what you need to help you heal:

Anticipatory Grief – This may occur when you or someone you love receives a difficult diagnosis, or you’re seeing someone’s health and wellness start to decline.

Disenfranchised Grief – If you’re experiencing a loss that is not recognized or validated by the people around you, you may start to feel disenfranchised, on top of your already existing grief. 

Cumulative Grief – This may develop when you’ve experienced multiple losses in a short period of time

Traumatic Grief – A sudden, unexpected loss or a loss due to violence may cause you to experience traumatic grief. 

10 Strategies for Coping with Grief During the Holidays 

Amidst the holiday cheer, the daunting task of navigating grief unveils itself, weaving a narrative of loss and resilience during this season of celebration. Below are some tips on how you can cope with grief during the holidays.

    1. Allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to feel all of your emotions, from joy to anger to sadness to everything in between. Finding joy and laughter amidst grief doesn’t mean you are forgetting about your loved one.
    2. Practice self-compassion. In other words, be gentle with yourself. Pay attention to the “shoulds” that you tell yourself, such as “I should attend this event,” or “I should feel better by now.” Listen to what your body is telling you instead of what you think you “should” do or what you think is expected of you. 
    3. Establish boundaries. Reduce or eliminate your exposure to individuals, environments, or circumstances that act as triggers for you. 
    4. Try not to isolate. Know your limits but also keep in mind that social connections can help you heal as well. Allow yourself to be around people who bring you comfort and/or understand you. 
    5. Communicate with close friends or trusted family members. It is helpful to talk about what you are feeling and experiencing with those you are close to and trust. Others may be feeling similarly which can be both normalizing and validating. It may also be helpful to prepare others for if you may need to do things differently this year. 
    6. Continue embracing traditions that bring you comfort and solace. It can sometimes be comforting to continue with some old traditions or rituals and can be a good way to still have a connection with someone who is no longer here.
    7. Consider creating a special new ritual that honors the person who is no longer there. Try new traditions or rituals, attend new events, travel somewhere new, etc. 
    8. Identify people you can connect with for support.  If you find yourself overwhelmed and struggling to cope, consider seeking assistance from a professional. Try to refrain from engaging in risk or unhealthy self-soothing behaviors such as consuming alcohol or overeating. 
    9. Identify coping skills. It is helpful to be intentional about engaging in activities that bring you pleasure. For example: going for a walk, volunteering, painting, journaling, listening to music, etc.
    10. Find solace in acts of kindness and helping others. Explore the idea of making a donation or offering a gift in memory of your loved one or extend an invitation to someone who might otherwise spend the holidays alone. 

Please keep in mind that there is no right or wrong approach to navigating through grief. Different strategies work for different people, so be gentle with yourself as you try to determine what works for you, and give yourself as much time as you need to heal. 

If you and your children are experiencing a loss this holiday season and want to explore how therapy can help you heal, Backpack Healthcare is here to support you! Head to this link to get in touch with our team about scheduling an appointment.

References:

  1. Jones, A. (2022, December 5). Grief during holidays: Stages, types and coping tips. UAB News.  https://www.uab.edu/news/youcanuse/item/13289-grief-during-holidays-stages-types-and-coping-tips   
  2. Working through grief during the Holidays | Psychology Today. (n.d.). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/202211/working-through-grief-during-the-holidays  
  3. Krull, LMHP, E. K. (2023, May 8). Grief By The Numbers: Facts and Statistics (J. S. Strum & N. S. Stockwell, LCSW, MBA, Eds.). The Recovery Village. Retrieved December 20, 2023, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/grief/grief-statistics/

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