How to cope when the holidays are a time of grief

holiday grief

The holidays might be anything but happy when you’re going through grief, heartbreak, or disappointment. Just as festive decorations and music that are meant to spark joy can turn into reminders of your loss or frustration, the end of the year can also generally be a lonely, challenging time.

Although there’s no magic switch to instantly recover from pain, grief is a valuable, healthy process. It puts your resilience to the test. You discover strengths you didn’t know you had and you learn that you can feel sadness without getting stuck in it. Most of all, you unearth opportunities to improve your relationships and well-being as well as prioritize what matters most.  

While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, the strategies below can help you deal with the loneliness of loss during holidays in some of its different forms.  

Possibilities: A new kind of workbook to unleash your life

You feel grief for a lost loved one

The holidays will be different now, so decide which holiday traditions you want to keep to honor someone and which ones you might want to change. You might also create new rituals to honor a memory, like making a donation in their name or playing holiday music they enjoyed.

Be open to offers of help from siblings, relatives, and friends. Scale back on gifts and decorating if it feels too painful. It’s okay to take things one day at a time and say no if you feel too overwhelmed.

You’re recovering from a job loss

Layoffs are common around the holidays and losing your job suddenly can be traumatic, particularly as you prepare to gather with friends and family. Even though you may find yourself vacillating between strong emotions like shock, sadness, and anger, try not to get bogged in defeatist thinking.

Rewrite the negative stories playing in your mind that it’s your fault or that you’ll be broke forever. Focus on what you can control, like starting small and sending one email a day to someone in your network. A job loss can actually be a clean slate that allows you to pursue a new direction (maybe changing careers or starting a business?), so hone your skill at spotting opportunities. Take advantage of the holidays to reflect on your values and plan for the year ahead.

You’re getting over a breakup

December is the most popular time for couples to split. The holiday spirit of togetherness only magnifies the loneliness of singledom. Instead of focusing on a lost relationship, appreciate the love that does surround you. Keep plans to see friends and family, but have a kind-but-firm response prepared to set a boundary when people ask about your relationship status. Writing a goodbye letter to your ex (that you don’t send) is also a great way to find closure after breaking up.  

Remember to be a good partner to yourself, too. Follow through on personal goals like getting to the gym or cooking nutritious meals on weekdays. It’s a great way to build confidence during emotionally rocky times.

A happy holiday may seem out of reach if you’re hurting right now. There’s no shame in feeling awful for a little while. Cry, journal, create — take whatever action you need to find peace including seeking professional help. But don’t pretend like your grief isn’t real. Shock, sadness, and anger are valid emotions. Allowing yourself to move through the natural healing process — while hard — is the key to moving forward and enjoying yourself this holiday season.


Melody Wilding

Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. A popular speaker, Melody has delivered talks for TedX and others. 



Top image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou 

(This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)

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