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Coping with grief at Christmas time

Updated: Apr 17

woman holding her phone by a window in a dark room next to a Christmas tree

The festive season, often synonymous with joy and celebration, can be an exceptionally challenging time for those grappling with bereavement and loss.


Whether you have experienced a bereavement or are navigating complex emotions due to the loss of a relationship or friendship, this particular time of year (or other significant birthdays or celebrations throughout the year) has a way of amplifying these feelings.


Understanding that grief doesn't take a holiday, let's explore ways to cope with the impact during this time of year.


The unique challenges of grief during the festive season:


Grief, in response to loss, manifests differently in each individual.


Whether mourning the passing of a family member, the end of a relationship, or other significant life changes, the holiday season can trigger a range of emotions. Shock, overwhelming sadness, fatigue, anger, guilt and loneliness are common companions during this time.


Recognising that there is no "right" way to feel, it's essential to acknowledge and honour your emotions.


Navigating the 5 stages of grief


Experts often describe grief as a journey through five stages:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Bargaining

  • Acceptance.


While these stages offer a framework, it's crucial to remember that everyone's experience with grief is unique. Progression through these stages may not follow a linear path, and the intensity of emotions may ebb and flow.


Acceptance, the final stage, doesn't imply liking the situation but signifies readiness to move forward.


Coping strategies for grieving at Christmastime


Recognising the complexity of grief, there are practical strategies to help navigate this challenging time:

  • Seek support: Share your feelings with friends, family, or professionals who can provide a listening ear. Our mental health specialists at Schoen Clinic Chelsea can offer highly specialised bereavement support.

  • Prioritise self-care: Getting enough sleep each night is essential. If sleep is elusive, try to set a specific time to switch off electronics and wind down to bed. If you're really struggling with sleep we have a team of specialists who could help with therapeutic approaches. It's also important to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.

  • Explore peer support: Engage with peer support groups where individuals share their experiences, fostering a sense of understanding and connection. We offer a variety of therapy groups throughout the week at Schoen Clinic Chelsea which you may find beneficial.

  • Utilise mental wellbeing resources: Access free mental wellbeing audio guides and resources online. There are a number of apps on the AppStore or Google Play Store to aid in coping with grief and promoting self-care that may also be helpful.


Get in touch with our team at Schoen Clinic Chelsea if you need specialised support regarding loss.


5 tips for navigating grief during the Christmas season


As the festive season approaches, considering your plans and envisioning how you'd like to spend this time can offer a sense of grounding.


However, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Feeling pressured to adhere to traditional celebrations isn't necessary.


Instead, aim for a Christmas that feels comfortable to you, granting yourself the liberty to adjust traditions or create new ones aligned with your emotional needs.


Planning with sensitivity:


As the festive season approaches, considering your plans and envisioning how you'd like to spend this time can offer a sense of grounding.


However, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Feeling pressured to adhere to traditional celebrations isn't necessary.


Instead, aim for a Christmas that feels comfortable to you, granting yourself the liberty to adjust traditions or create new ones aligned with your emotional needs.


Managing emotional energy:


Grief encompasses various emotions, from profound sadness to fleeting moments of joy.

Understand that these emotions consume energy. Allow yourself breaks amidst the hustle, whether it's a solitary walk, quiet moments with a cup of tea, or personal reflections through journaling.


Try to avoid overextending yourself and refrain from feeling guilty about things you think you should be doing. Recognise that it's okay not to be okay during this period.


Open communication and setting boundaries:


Engaging in open conversations with loved ones about your feelings and plans for the holidays can foster a supportive environment.


Sharing your wishes and boundaries allows others to offer sensitive support tailored to your grief.


Adapting traditions:

Many holiday traditions may hold memories intertwined with the person you're grieving. While some might feel too painful to continue, exploring ways to adapt or create new traditions can be a healing process.


Consider starting fresh traditions like crafting a memory ornament, lighting a candle in their honour or making a donation to a cherished charity they supported.


Coping with the first Christmas after loss:

Your first Christmas or significant date like a birthday or anniversary following a loss can be particularly challenging.


Unpredictable emotions and a mix of old memories and new realities may surface. Grant yourself the grace of taking each day as it comes.


Understand that it's okay not to have all the answers or to feel differently each day. Allow yourself the freedom to prioritise self-care and put your needs first during this time.


Guidance moving forward


As you navigate grief during Christmas, remember to set realistic targets, channel energy into positive endeavours, and avoid relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or substance use.


Most importantly, understand that you are not alone—many individuals experience grief during the holiday season, and support is available.


By acknowledging your emotions, seeking support, and embracing self-care, you can find a path through grief during the holidays. While the journey may be challenging, it's an opportunity for personal growth, resilience, and finding light even in the midst of loss.


Author information


Headshot of Dr Sumi Ratnam

This article was developed with and reviewed by Dr Sumi Ratnam, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at Schoen Clinic Chelsea on 12th December 2023.


With nearly 30 years of experience, Dr Ratnam specialises in providing expert care to adults with mental health conditions. She has a particular interest in women's mental health but also offers specialised mental health support and treatment for men.


Next review date: 12th December 2024

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