Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

By December 17, 2021Article
Ways to cope with grief during the holidays

The holiday season is here, and for many people, it doesn’t at all feel like “the most wonderful time of the year”.  Perhaps you lost a loved one over the past year, and this will be your first holiday without them physically here with you.  Perhaps you are dealing with another kind of loss, be it the loss of a relationship, job, sense of community or something else.  Maybe your sadness comes from the fact that we are still dealing with a global pandemic that feels like it’s never going to end.  Whatever it is, we know that this is often a season when we are bombarded with cheer.  And for whatever reasons, we just can’t join in the holiday spirit. 

So what then? How can we cope with our grief during the holidays?  What can we do to make the heaviness feel even just a little bit lighter? 

Well, I think one key is to spend some time trying to identify what you need…and then write yourself a permission slip to do it.  I know, I know. I can hear you thinking, “What in the world are you talking about Sara? Permission slips?”

Hear me out. 

In Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, she tells the story of getting ready to meet Oprah for the first time.

“…As I was getting dressed to meet Oprah for the first time, my daughter texted me. She wanted to make sure I had signed and returned a permission slip for her school trip. After assuring her I had, I sat on the edge of my bed and fought back tears. I started thinking, I need a permission slip to stop being so serious and afraid. I need permission to have fun today.

That got the idea started. After I looked around my room to make sure no one was watching the incredibly ridiculous thing I was about to do, I walked over to the desk in my room, sat down, and wrote myself a permission slip on a Post-it note…It simply said, ‘Permission to be excited and goofy and to have fun.’” (p.20)

So what if we, like Brene, gave ourselves permission slips?  Think about the advice you would give to a good friend if they were in your shoes.  You would likely tell them to do exactly what they felt they needed to do.  You would likely say that it’s not the time for guilt or pressure, but that this is a season to take care of themselves.  

Sample Permission Slips  

Each grief journey is unique.  So I hope that like for your friend, you can give yourself permission to cope with your grief during the holidays in whatever ways are meaningful for you.  To get you started, here are some permission slips that may resonate:

Permission Slip: “I give myself permission to go to the family gathering or holiday party, to participate in whatever way I can and to leave when I need to leave.”


Permission Slip: “I give myself permission to skip out of the usual events and expectations of the season.  I understand not everyone will understand and it’s not my job to convince them.”

Your permission slip might read, “I give myself permission to let the grief wash over me.  To tune into my body and let the tears flow as they want to.”  

Or it might read, “Permission to laugh, to enjoy myself today, to not feel guilty if I feel a sense of joy or happiness in this time of grief.”

A REALLY Important Permission Slip: 

“Permission to let the unhelpful words of my well-intentioned family members and friends roll off like water off a duck’s back.  There will be many who don’t understand my unique grief process and who will try to convince me that THEY KNOW what’s good for me.  Permission to simply smile and nod and excuse myself.  OR to gently tell them that I’m hoping for their gift to me this season to be ‘The 3 H’s’.  Hang around.  Hug me.  And hush.”


What Others Said That Helped

When I asked my Facebook community what has helped them get through the holidays when they’re feeling sad, there were a lot of great responses. To name just a few… Practicing being present, going for walks, other forms of exercise, meditation, spending time with family and positive people, playing music, giving toasts and making floral arrangements in memory of a lost loved one.  I loved what one friend said, “Start a new tradition like maybe remembering loved ones at dinner time by setting a place or maybe hanging an ornament on the tree.”  So many helpful ideas!  

I think the number one key that I’ve found to be tried and true for myself is seeking out those “inner circle” people who are safe enough for me to be able to express whatever the wide range of emotions that I’m experiencing.  It never fails to amaze me how talking/crying/laughing/bawling it out can help.

Whatever you need to help you cope with your grief during the holidays, I hope you can take a pause.  Inhale a few deep breaths.  Take some time to reflect on what it is you truly need over these last couple of weeks of 2021.  And then tune in to what your heart/body/mind/spirit tell you.  Even take a moment to write them down on a sticky note.  Carry them with you in your pocket for when you need the physical reminder.  And lean hard on your tribe, asking them to remind you of those permission slips when you need it the most. 

One Last Thing

If the subject resonates and you’d like to explore more, check out our related articles including “On Thanksgiving, Grief and the Practice of Gratitude”“Three Common Myths About the Stages of Grief” and/or “What a Kayak Taught Me About Grief”.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Great thought, Sara, “permission slips!” I’m thankful that I am in a place where I can enjoy the Christmas and the happiness associated with it, but I think what you’ve written could be so helpful for those who aren’t in that space. Wonderful, freeing stuff!

  • Andrea Shepherd says:

    Oh Sara, I loved and needed this! I read that book and forgot about that but fully intend to give myself permission to _____________. I often feel like I have to or should or need to and so this permission to just be and find yourself and love yourself in whatever shape you discover is ok.

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