Coping with Grief During the Holidays

By Scott H. Silverman

The holidays are a time of joy and celebration, but they can also be challenging if you’re mourning a loss, like losing a loved one, a relationship, or a career. If you’re grieving this holiday season, here are some tips for getting through it.

Acknowledge That the Holidays Will Probably Be Hard

It’s a normal part of grieving to feel sad or overwhelmed during this time of year. It’s completely acceptable that you don’t try to force yourself into any type of holiday cheer if you’re dealing with grief. When you are overcome with loss, you don’t owe anyone a joyful attitude or a happy face. Odds are the people in your life understand and sympathize with what you’re working through.

Set Healthy Boundaries

While in the midst of navigating grief and loss, set boundaries with your family and friends. If you need to scale back your social expectations, tell them so. Most people have experienced grief and loss and will be more than understanding.

There are three distinct but important types of boundaries that should be set during a holiday season mired by grief:

1.     Boundaries With Yourself

You don’t owe anyone festive celebrations while you’re grieving. You can and should say no to holiday expectations because your mental wellbeing matters more than parties and festivities. Knowing your limits is critical to communicating your needs with others so they can best support you.

2.     Boundaries with Work or School Obligations

You can still honor traditions like holiday parties, writing cards, giving gifts, and going out for company dinners if those are a welcome distraction. But you should not push yourself to do too much while you’re grieving. If work or school are too much, request extensions or see if you can delegate tasks to others while you take care of yourself.

3.     Boundaries with Family

They may have the best of intentions, but sometimes family can inadvertently put added stress on an already complicated grieving process. Everyone grieves differently, even within family systems. Opt out of family gatherings this holiday season if you need to for your emotional and mental wellbeing.

Accept the Grieving Process

The holidays are a difficult time for grief. The holidays by themselves can be difficult even when we aren’t grieving due to the heavy expectations of family, social, and work obligations. The holidays can have a compounding effect on grief because it can be challenging to both show up for holidays and mourn a significant loss. The stress of a disrupted routine, extra social expectations, and managing the holidays with sadness can seem too much to bear.

Instead of focusing on how you feel you should be grieving or focusing on an arbitrary timeline of grief, practice mindfulness about what you’re going through. Grief isn’t linear. It’s okay to take a day, a weekend, or even a whole holiday off from the expectations you (and others) put on you.

If you are struggling to cope with your loss and feel like the holidays should be a joyous time, know that taking as much time as you need is okay. This is not about rushing through the grieving process but focusing on the things that make you happy—even if those things are few and far between. Be kind to yourself, even if it’s hard to do so at first. And don’t compare your grief with how others grieve.

Develop A Support Community

Everyone grieves differently, and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn or work through a loss. Because of this, it can often be difficult for family and friends to know how to best support a grieving person. This can often mean that space is given when community is needed, or too much attention is given when the grieving person craves solitude. Knowing what your needs are and communicating those needs is vital during a season of mourning.

Let loved ones, family, and close friends know that you may need to lean on them extra during this time and ask if they can be available for a call or even a quick, comforting text. Therapists, clergy people, support groups, or even crisis lines can offer additional support, as many fear burdening their families (who also may be overwhelmed with grief). If you need time alone, communicate that, too, and understand that private reflection is an essential part of the healing process.

If you are mourning a loved one who is in active addiction, or has been lost to addiction, then it’s good to join Al-anon or a similar support group for families of addicted people.

Understand That Grief Looks Different for Everyone

There’s no right way or right time to grieve. Some people experience it as a wave of emotion that submerges them and then recedes, while others find themselves stuck in the same overwhelming feeling for longer periods. Grief can be unpredictable and messy, which means that what seems like a good idea at one point may seem foolish later—or vice versa.

It’s also important to remember that grieving doesn’t always look like what you might expect from TV shows or movies: You won’t see tears streaming down someone’s face whenever they think about their loss. And you don’t owe anyone performative grief, either. Putting on a show of sadness can be extremely taxing and can make the actual process of grieving that much more exhausting.

Be authentic to yourself regardless of how you feel like you should be expected to grieve. You can’t control how others feel about your grief, and you should not burden yourself with the expectations or pressures of others at this time. Do what’s best for you.


Those who are grieving must prioritize their mental health during the holiday season. You might find it helpful to make sure that you give yourself some extra time and space before facing the holidays head-on—especially if you know they’ll be difficult for you. The most important thing is not to get discouraged by how much time it takes; there’s no schedule or deadline for healing. Give yourself time, patience, and compassion this holiday season.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been helping men and women recover from mental health disorders for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, executives, and first responders achieve sustainable recovery from addiction.