The death of a loved one alters our lives permanently and may be especially painful during the holidays. Gatherings you would have shared with your friend or family member may feel too sad or overwhelming to take part in now. You may not feel like celebrating at all, and that’s okay. Try these tips to help you survive the holidays if you’re grieving, and remember to be gentle with yourself.

Decide which traditions you’d like to keep and those you might want to change.

  • It’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating in the same way that you did before your loved one’s death. Choose the traditions that you’d like to maintain and those that you may want to skip.
  • Be honest with your friends and family telling them what you do want to do for the holidays and what you don’t feel like doing. You do not have to suffer through the same traditions if they feel unbearable to you now.
  • Start a new holiday tradition to honor your loved one. Tell stories about what an amazing person he or she was. Volunteer or make a donation to a local charity in his or her name. Make a memorial decoration or ornament. Have a moment of silence or toast to your loved one.

Be mindful of food and alcohol consumption.

  • Overindulging can seem like a good idea in the short term, but it makes us feel worse later on. Partake and enjoy yourself, but try not to use too much food and alcohol as a coping mechanism to get you through the holidays.

It’s okay if you decide to skip the holidays.

  • If you don’t feel up to it and need time alone, honor that. Ask your friends and family to respect your wishes, and let them know that it’s not personal.
  • There may be some friends or family who aren’t happy about your decision, but remind yourself that it’s perfectly acceptable to take a break from the holidays this year. If you have to, turn your phone off.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.

  • There’s no right or wrong way to respond to grief, and there really is no specific timeline for grief. Grief is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of love – love for a person who is no longer here. It’s often a bumpy process that each person experiences differently.
  • Some people may want to talk about their loss while others prefer to grieve privately. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or someone else in your grieving process, respond the way that you need to and give yourself time knowing that it’s a journey with good and bad days.

Make time for self-care and honor your needs.

  • If you need to excuse yourself from a holiday gathering and take some time to yourself, do it.
  • Allowing yourself time to rest is essential as you are carrying a heavy emotional load. Get enough sleep if you can. See a doctor if you’re having insomnia that makes it difficult to function.
  • Consider treating yourself to a spa day, some other relaxing indulgence, or simply enjoy your favorite Netflix shows. A gentle yoga class or an online guided meditation may also be beneficial.
  • Try journaling or writing a letter to your loved one on especially difficult days.
  • Confide in a trusted friend or family member, who is an empathetic and compassionate listener, if you need to open up about how you’re feeling or seek out a local grief support group. Hearing other people’s stories about their grief process can be helpful.
  • If you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm or emotions that feel too intense to manage on your own, see a WVU Medicine behavioral medicine provider, call a suicide hotline, or try 24/7 chat support. Know that you are not alone and millions of people are grieving over the holidays too.

Practice gratitude year round.

  • Gratitude is the expression of thanks for anything that is important to you and good in your life. Studies show that those who practice gratitude appear to be more optimistic and resilient.
  • Tell the people you value how much they mean to you in your own way – with a hug, a card, a thoughtful gift, or a few kind words.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Start a gratitude jar. Write down what you’re grateful for on small pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Re-read the pieces of paper on difficult days to remind you of all of the good things that remain in your life.

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE

This blog is approved by Dilip Chandran, MD, a WVU Medicine psychiatrist.