A Guide for Surviving the Holidays While Grieving
Don’t approach the holidays with your head in the sand, make a plan to control what you can with these nine tips for surviving the holiday season.
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If you’re going through grief right now, chances are you’re feeling a growing sense of dread as the holidays approach. Maybe you’ve already had your first ‘grief ambush' hearing festive music in the shops? You can’t imagine how you are going to face the gatherings and gift giving ahead. Yup, we thought as much. We hear you.

This month’s blog focuses on 9 Tips for Surviving the Holidays. Getting through the festive season can be hard enough without grief but coping with loss on top of everything else can make it feel unbearable. 

Don’t approach the holidays with your head in the sand, read on, and make a plan to control what you can. Based on wellbeing/resilience science, here are nine strategies we’ve seen work for the thousands of people we’ve trained over the last decade. One or more of them might just work for you.

  1. Emotions are just data
  2. Learn to say no!
  3. Don’t quash the good stuff
  4. Is what you’re doing helping or harming you?
  5. 3 days for Family and Fish
  6. Real is better than perfect
  7. It’s better to be kind than right
  8. Create the rituals YOU need
  9. It won’t always be like this – the only constant in life is change


Emotions are just data

⭐️ Accept that you’re likely to feel some BIG emotions; that’s okay. Remind yourself you feel this way because you’ve lost someone you really love. Emotions are just data, sending us messages. As Susan David says, “How you feel is how you feel. You shouldn’t judge yourself for your feelings. They are neither good nor bad—they just are. Your feelings reflect your emotional response to the world.” 

⭐️ Remember grief is as individual as your fingerprint. Just because you are experiencing these particular feelings, and maybe can’t stop crying, it doesn’t mean those not crying aren’t hurting too. We all grieve differently, we all feel differently – grief affects us in different ways and at different times.

⭐️ Hatch a plan for the moments you need time to cry, time on your own, time to let it all go without guilt of ‘ruining it for everyone else’ (we know many of you fear this!)

Learn to say no!

⭐️ Many of us are over-loaded and tired at the end of the year anyway, but add grieving on top, you’re going to have to manage your energy. And only you can do that. Time to learn to say no! You don’t have to send holiday cards this year, attend the work drinks party, or do some festive craft activity. 

⭐️ Start small – saying no to something relatively inconsequential can be enlightening, empowering, and ridiculously liberating. The world won’t grind to a halt: parties go on without you, colleagues find someone else to do that thing.

⭐️ Soothe your paranoia, by reminding yourself you’ve never criticised someone for not attending a party - most of the time no one even notices, they’re more likely to be full of admiration than recrimination. Owning the fact that you’re grieving and restricting yourself to what’s actually feasible doesn’t make you the Grinch, it usually makes you more lovable!

Don’t quash the good stuff

⭐️ In amongst the tears there’s also likely to be good moments. Don’t quash those. Moments of laughter, serenity, love, gratitude, hope and even pride are precious - and all part of grieving too. They’re there to help you recover, so don’t minimise them, sit with them, bask in them.

⭐️ Look back over the day for the small nuggets of gold and take every opportunity to savour them. In psychology, we call this capitalising; when you’re drowning in misery it’s helpful for our psychological health to also notice and dwell upon the good.

⭐️ Who’s been there for you? Who gets what you’re going through? Have you noticed glimmers of the incredible inner strength that resides within you? What did you manage to do or say that you’re surprised by or proud of even? Don’t let guilt or angst quash the good.

Is what you’re doing helping or harming you?

⭐️ Asking yourself, ‘is what I’m doing (the way I’m choosing to think or the way I’m choosing to act) helping or harming me in my quest to get through this?’ puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life. Use it to build your self-awareness of what works best for you, and what’s not serving you so well. 

⭐️ That fourth glass of bubbles before midday, is that helping or harming you in your quest to get through the long day ahead? Trawling social media and seeing all your friends happy times? Agreeing to three nights when you know you can only tolerate one? Getting take outs instead of slaving over a hot stove? Driving separately so you can escape when required? 

⭐️This question helps build your self-awareness around what’s working and what’s not. It reminds you that, ultimately, you know what’s best for you, and provides a short-cut way to monitor your thinking patterns and behaviour. 

3 days for Family & Fish

⭐️ There’s an old saying ‘guests are like fish - even the best ones stink after three days’. Don’t hold yourself to an idealised, unrealistic standard - give each other some space. We’re all irritating at times.

⭐️ Resist comparing your family to others’ perfect Instagram pictures; in reality, time with extended family is often complex. Grief and trauma can amplify our behaviour, so apologise where you need to, and move on - literally. 

Real is better than perfect

⭐️ Stop trying to be perfect and lower the bar instead! Studies show perfectionism is strongly related to depression, anxiety, shame, and procrastination. Replace it with a healthy dose of self-compassion: it’s okay to not return that text immediately, let your teenagers sleep in late, take some time out from your regular exercise routine.

⭐️ Acknowledging and accepting your limitations just makes you human. Pack all the self-sledging, snarking, doubt and recriminations away. Dial up your self-compassion by asking yourself, ‘what do I need to do to be kind to myself right now?’

⭐️ Don’t bake the cake, make your own greeting card paper, or even get out the decorations if you don’t have to. Better to be open, honest, and real instead – acknowledge that you’re grieving, and exhausted and will do what you can.

It’s better to be kind than right

⭐️ Pull back from that tetchy discussion, put a halt on the blame game of who forgot to buy/send/cook what. So what if you’re actually right?

⭐️ What will it gain to shove that point down someone else’s throat? Most likely an ongoing row, festering resentment, and frayed connections, at a time that’s tough enough as it is and supposed to be about love and goodwill. 

⭐️ Take a deep breath and repeat the holiday mantra “it’s better to be kind than right” over and over again.

Create the rituals YOU need

⭐️ First, recognise that rituals can help or harm you, then discuss with the relevant people which you might ditch for this year knowing you can revisit them down the track; rituals don’t have to be constant, just like everything in life there’s more value to being flexible than rigid.

⭐️ Consider what rituals you could introduce – which of their foods might you cook, who might make the toast to them, would it be good to light a special candle each evening? The most meaningful rituals are the ones that are personal to you, so get creative and make a playlist, a wreath using their favourite flowers, wear their jerseys or jewellery, sing their songs, remember them in any way that is special and unique to you, so that you continue to feel their lasting presence.

⭐️ Are there any organisations you want to donate to in your person’s name, or who could you give your time to help others, perhaps a group/organisation/charity that was important to them?

It won’t always be like this – the only constant in life is change. 

⭐️ While time doesn’t always heal, it does change things. As someone who’s lived through nine Christmases without my girl, I can say each one has been different. 

⭐️ Don’t feel the things you do this year set a precedent for next; work out what you need to do to survive these particular holidays. Focusing on putting one step in front of the other is enough – particularly if you’re early in your grieving. 


We hope you find these tips useful in the build up to the holiday season. They’re research informed but hugely practical. 

Each year I try to take a moment in early December to consider what’s going to work for me/us best this year? What are our individual (and collective) needs? What are any big bear pits of misery or stress we may encounter and hopefully avoid? What’s going to help? What’s going to harm? What can we all do to mitigate the worst and amplify the good?

Taking a realistic appraisal approach to the holidays is always a good idea, but in my opinion, becomes essential when you’re grieving. Death changes us, it makes us view the world differently and holidays can make life feel so much harder and worse. 

Be kind to yourself, lower the bar where you can, and don’t ever feel guilty for considering your own needs (social, emotional, practical, spiritual and energy levels!) as well as others. 

You are grieving, you matter too. 

Our team feels honoured to have been able to support you and your grief this year. 

If you know anyone who will also benefit from our newsletters and blogs, please share with them. We are on a mission to shift the narrative around grief by providing research-informed practical tools to support those coping with loss, to transform the grief journey and create a less death-phobic death-illiterate world. 

Thank you for joining us in this mission to support the bereaved. 

Lucy, Denise, Tilly and the wider Coping With Loss team 💜

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