Thrive by IU Health

December 20, 2020

Coping with Grief and Loss This Holiday Season

Coping with Grief and Loss This Holiday Season

The holiday season is often a time of year in which a wide range of emotions can arise. This year, the holiday season is coming during a year that has already been uniquely difficult for many of us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may not feel up to celebrating the holidays, and we may not be able to spend time with our loved ones or visit them like we’re used to. We may have to contend with our loved ones’ expectations that celebrations ought to proceed as usual, and reminiscing about the past year may bring us face-to-face with loss and grief we are still living with.

IU Health clinical psychologist, Dr. Danielle R. Henderson, PhD, shares the following recommendations for healthy ways to cope with grief and loss during the unprecedented 2020 holiday season.

Dealing with personal loss and tragedy caused by COVID-19

When interacting with others during this holiday season, it’s important to first remember that everyone’s experiences of the past year have been different, and people have different ways of defining loss during this time. Grief is not linear, and it has no timeline.

This holiday season, try to be compassionate with yourself and with others, and remember that the effects of loss and tragedy may continue to be felt for years. The days leading up to the holidays, or a day marking the anniversary of a loss, may be more difficult for some people than the specific day of a holiday itself.

Acknowledging grief during the holiday season

Allowing yourself to acknowledge your grief is healthy. As new feelings of grief arise, we sometimes pretend to ourselves that we can stifle and suppress it — but the truth is that it will eventually surface at some point. Remind yourself to take moments to pause, breathe, and reflect. Grief is never a sign of weakness: it is a natural part of coping with loss.

Steps for self-care when feeling grief during the holidays

Your holiday plans will be different this year, and it might be difficult to plan for them while dealing with feelings of grief. Follow these steps to make self-care a priority:

  1. Check in with yourself regarding what you need in moments of grief.
  2. Think about what you are able to handle during the holiday season.
  3. Have a flexible backup plan in case circumstances don't live up to your original plans.

Where to place your energy when grieving

Try to find ways to honor the losses you are grieving with your thoughts and actions. Prioritize rest, physical movement, and be sure to eat nourishing foods and stay hydrated during this time. If you have cultural, faith, or spiritual practices that can guide you and help you find peace with your loss, keep close to those practices.

What to avoid when grieving

Avoid ignoring your needs during this time. As best you can, you should also avoid engaging with people who may not be supportive of you or understanding of your grief. Remember that coping mechanisms such as alcohol or unhealthy foods can only provide short term relief, and can negatively impact your physical and mental health in the long run.

Keeping loved ones safe this holiday season

Focus on what you can control, and don't worry too much about what you can’t. When in public or around others, wear a mask and continue to maintain social distancing of six feet apart or more. Wash your hands frequently. Safely communicate with your loved ones as much as you feel is healthy, and help them acknowledge their own griefs, fears, and frustrations during this holiday season.

Showing others that you care, while remaining safely distanced

If you aren’t getting together with your family or friends this holiday season, you can still send cards and gifts. Do little things to show you care — read a beloved story or bake a favorite family recipe during your video calls with loved ones.

Don't forget the power of simple emails, text messages, and phone calls, either. During the 2021 holiday season, many of us will have to seek out new and different ways to show we care — but that just proves how much we care after all.

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