Christmas music on the radio, countless cheery commercials, and colorful lights everywhere you go: these constant reminders can be overwhelming for anyone celebrating the season without their loved ones. In a time that carries a lot of joy, merriment, and cheer, there can also be a lot of sadness and dread when grieving during the holidays.
This season is chock-full of traditions, conventions, and unspoken rules about how to act and feel. We’ve put together some tips to help you reimagine the holidays as you recover from loss.
Tip 1: Make Peace (Not Joy) the Goal
Release yourself from the pressures of the holiday season, specifically the pressure to feel merry and joyful. Instead, shift your goal to finding inner peace. This looks different to everyone, of course. If you find the constant cheery reminders overwhelming, you could wear headphones out in public to avoid Christmas music or remove the Hallmark channel from your regular TV rotation until January.
If you do venture out into a holiday-focused environment, like a Christmas party, be prepared with an exit plan you can rely on if or when you’ve had your fill of socializing. Peace is a healthy goal, and you don’t have to pressure yourself to suppress your feelings or feel jolly if that’s not realistic.
Tip 2: Seek New, Meaningful Connections
Spending time with friends and family who knew the loved one you’re grieving can be a lot to handle. They come with memories that feel especially heavy this time of year. Connecting with people who are more removed from your inner circle can be freeing.
There are many ways to approach this. You could give back by volunteering at a food pantry or animal shelter and getting to know the people there. You might also consider making an appointment with a therapist or attending a grief support group. Connecting with other grieving people, hearing about their experiences, and sharing your own provides a powerful reminder that you’re not alone in your grief.
Tip 3: Decluttering as a Grief Practice
No matter what holidays you celebrate this time of year, there’s sure to be gift-giving involved. After a loss, material things can seem less meaningful. Decluttering your home is a moving way to clear space for new gifts and new memories. This can be an especially emotional practice for people who are grieving. Start wherever feels right: going through clothes you haven’t worn in years, old holiday decorations you won’t use again, or a constantly cascading Tupperware cabinet.
If you’re motivated to do so, you can donate these items. That said, give yourself permission to throw it all away. It’s ok, really. This isn’t about being perfect; it’s about honoring yourself. When all is said and done, treat yourself to a gift. If you’ve gotten rid of bags and bags of clothes, buy a new outfit. If you ditched a dusty box of old Christmas ornaments, pick up that just-right tree skirt. You’ve made space for something new in your life, and you deserve it.
Tip 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Time Alone
It might sound strange, but “togetherness” doesn’t work for everyone at the holidays. It’s normal if the thought of social engagements – even small, quaint ones – cause you extra stress. Cozy up in the comfort of your own home and indulge in some alone time. Plan ahead and have your favorite things on standby: movies, snacks, hobbies, the works.
You could also consider escaping entirely: travel somewhere new over the holidays. Traveling solo and releasing yourself from all the holiday hoopla can be empowering. Ideally, head to a place where you can enjoy time outdoors and take in the fresh air. If you choose to do this, be sure to communicate where and when you’re going to your loved ones. They may not understand your wanderlust, but that’s okay. Others’ expectations are not your responsibility.
Tip 5: Embrace Self-Care Rituals
Practice healthy habits and self-care if and when you can. Some ideas: get enough sleep, keep your body fueled with tasty and nutritious food, be mindful of your alcohol intake, pamper yourself with a good shave from a barbershop or facial at a spa. Remember to move your body. Take a yoga class – in person or virtually from your living room – or go ice skating.
Of course, some self-care should be more indulgent, and that’s great too. Eat your favorite holiday desserts, spend a whole day binge-watching your favorite TV show, and don’t be afraid to enjoy the holidays when it feels right to. Above all, be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion and positive self-talk.
Tip 6: Minimize (or Skip) the Holidays
This might sound impossible, but … you could skip the holidays. Really, it’s ok to take a break this year. If the idea of celebrating the season puts a pit in your stomach, give yourself permission to opt out of the whole shebang. Remember that inner peace is your goal. Like Tip 4, be sure to communicate your plans with your loved ones so they know what’s going on.
If this sounds too extreme for you, consider simplifying your holiday plans. Minimize gift-giving by talking with family members and communicating what limits you’re comfortable with. If shopping for gifts is overwhelming, give gift cards. Cut down on decorating and baking if it’s too much to handle this year. If you always host and prepare Christmas dinner, find a family member willing to take it on instead. Your loved ones will understand and are happy to help you however they can.
(On the other hand, if Christmastime activities are a good distraction that fill you up or make you feel at peace, go for it! Get out every decoration, bake every treat, attend every party, and bask in happy memories. Immerse yourself in the spirit of the season.)
To put it plainly, the holidays are hard. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve at Christmastime. Focus your energy on whatever you need to do to get through the end of the year in a healthy way that is comfortable for you, and try not to worry about much further ahead than that. We hope this list inspires you to celebrate the holidays in new ways that encourage healing and self-compassion.