lonely grieving woman during the holidays

For many, the holiday season is a time of immense joy — when families come together, braving the cold to enjoy each other’s warmth. Beautiful memories are made and past memories are remembered during this time of year. However, for those grieving the loss of a spouse, a parent, a family member, a friend, or even a child, the holidays can be a great source of distress and reopen emotional wounds. While this is a perfectly normal aspect of the grieving process, there are ways to minimize the anxiety of “the most wonderful time of the year.” 

Withdrawing or faking joy are not your only options. 

A side effect of our fear of being viewed as a burden is a perceived polarization of our social options. You may feel that, unless you can maintain a joyful disposition, that you should withdraw from social gatherings. You might fear that your own emotional state may diminish the holiday experience for others. This mindset frequently leads to two false scenarios. 

  1. You feel the need “to put on a brave face” — a fake smile or a phony cheery disposition. While this feels like a decent band-aid for getting through the holidays, this emotional dichotomy can deepen sadness, perpetuate anxiety, and make any gathering exhausting. 
  2. You may feel that, unless you can appear joyful, that you should just stay home. This may stem from fear of emotionally contaminating the gathering. Withdrawing from events as though your grief is contagious can seem like a logical approach. Though it seems plausible, this too can increase future anxieties about the holiday season. The physical and emotional quarantine can also exacerbate rumination and intensify grief. 

There is an overlooked third option. 

What is the third option? Giving yourself permission to be fully and genuinely yourself. Your family and friends love you. As much as they want to see you happy, even more so, they want to see you — a “you” comfortable in your own skin. They want you to feel safe opening up and being yourself. They certainly don’t want you to feel obligated to keep up appearances or feel the need to remain distant. 

Don’t feel obligated to maintain lofty expectations. 

For being a joyful season, the holidays are frequently loaded with anxiety-inducing expectations even for those not experiencing grief. If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one this year, you may feel that you need to keep certain family traditions alive even when you’re emotionally or physically exhausted. The good news? You don’t. While you may choose to do certain activities to honor a person’s memory, realize that you’re allowed to set the pace and tone for any holiday activity. 

Give yourself permission to be fully present. 

When you feel depressed, grief-stricken, or even just missing a loved one during the holiday season, these emotions can take you out of the present moment. It can be difficult to fully experience any holiday gathering while this loved one is on your mind. When you start to feel these painful emotions of loss bubble up inside, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and give yourself permission to be fully present. You don’t have to force it or condemn your negative emotions, but by simply allowing yourself to be present and form new positive memories, you can begin to enjoy the holidays. Remember that the loved one you are grieving would want nothing more than for you to be fully present and enjoy your holiday season. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

If you’re experiencing grief during the holidays, it can be easy to feel like a burden to others. You’re not. You may actually be surprised just how much family and friends want to help you, but you have to let them. Whether you need help cooking food, cleaning, preparing for an event, or lending their ear, don’t feel like you are imposing on your loved ones by asking for assistance. During this season of gifts wrapped in elaborate paper and topped with fancy bows, your loved ones would prefer to give the gift of their time and energy. 

Whether you’re experiencing extreme grief or just feel like talking with someone would help you manage negative emotions, there’s no shame in seeking the help of a supportive professional. An experienced therapist can supply the professional support necessary to help you endure the holiday season and lead you into a brighter new year. 

The hospice professionals from CURA HPC are proud to offer grief counseling services. You’re invited to learn more about CURA HPC Hospice & Palliative Care today.