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Successfully Navigating the Holidays

For many of us, the changing of the seasons and the march into Winter can evoke sadness and anxiety. Personally, all of the losses and traumas in my life occurred in the late Summer through Winter months, and I will often begin to feel the emotional strain well before I realize the date on the calendar. Along with the anniversary of losses, I have birthdays that will no longer be celebrated and holidays where chairs around the table are now empty. It can take a toll on our hearts to have to acknowledge so much absence in a time focused on gathering together.

In light of the coming season, I would like to share a few things that work well for me and others in managing our stress, pain, and grief during this time of year. I hope that it can help you as well. And please, remind yourself that you are doing well, love on your inner being, and give grace to yourself and others.

Many blessings and love,


Here are a few things that may help to lessen stress and anxiety and allow you to be more present in your day over these next few months.

Self Assessment:

This doesn't have to be about digging into a bunch of emotions or baggage unless you want it to be. It can be nothing more than a moment or two of checking in with our minds and bodies to see how we're doing and if we need to take a break due to current stressors or ones that we can see on the horizon. Being aware and prepared (not worried) about how we are doing is crucial to stress management and possibly even avoiding stress all together.

A few ideas for self assessment:

  • Journaling

  • Mediation

  • Simply closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths and asking, "How am I doing?" (Be sure to actually listen for the answer.)

  • Fully stopping and acknowledging the moment you are in

  • Looking forward in your day/week/month to see where stressors may appear and preparing in advance to do self care and self assessment before, during, and after those events.

Quiet Time:

Quiet, screen-free time to be still and allow your mind and body to rest & reset can be extremely helpful in calming your mind, and most importantly, your nervous system. It can be hard to take this time for ourselves, but if you will think of your mind/body under stress as if it were a car with the gas pedal pushed to the floor, you can understand how hard this is on our internal systems as well as our brains. Let off the gas for a bit and allow the engine to cool down.

A few ideas for quiet time:

  • Take a walk

  • Take a hot bath or shower

  • Read a book for no other reason than enjoyment

  • Do a craft

  • Clean (This may not be for everyone, but I like to clean and organize when I'm stressed.)

Being Joyful

Often times we are hesitant or struggle with finding and keeping joy when we are in moments of stress and grief. We either can't allow the joy to enter in at all, or when we do allow it, we may feel guilty or confused. Just as grief is a part of life, joy is a part of life; they are not mutually exclusive. For some time after my two most devastating losses, I had a very hard time accessing joy or accepting even fleeting moments of happiness. At first, it wasn't within my emotional grasp, because I was too deep in my grief. Once I did begin to have moments where grief didn't rule every second of my day, joy and happiness felt wrong. I either felt as if I was betraying my loved one and my grief, and I was also fearful of the moment when the happiness was jerked away from me and I found myself fully back in my pain.

These are all very common themes when it comes to joy and happiness during grief, so I'm not going to tell you that you should feel happy anyway. You have to manage and allow the good and the bad emotions to ebb and flow as needed. I will however, urge you to embrace the happiness and joy whenever you are able to experience it. Try to sit with it and allow it to love you for the time that it is near. Once it moves away again, that is ok too.

A few ideas for creating and accepting joy:

  • Call a friend or family member to catch up, reminisce, and maybe have a laugh

  • The routine of making tea or coffee and taking time to savor it, create a simmer pot, or bake something yummy. Routines, even small ones, can be of great comfort.

  • When the feelings of guilt or fear are present, accept that it is a normal part of your journey to healing and then try to shift your mind into a space of gratitude. Example: "Thank you for this moment of joy to remind me how much I... fill in the blank. ( loved, love to laugh, love the holidays, deserve happiness, love you, miss you, etc...)

Setting Boundaries:

During the holiday season we may find ourselves surrounded by people and commitments. This can be overwhelming and actually lead to more stress and deep grief if we feel trapped and obligated to participate. When this is the case, you need to give yourself permission to set boundaries and say "no thank you". This does not make you a bad person or someone who doesn't care about others. What it does mean is that you are in tune with what is best for yourself and your family in the long term.

What you're able and willing to set boundaries around is up to you and it is likely different for everyone. There are some things that we are able to abandon completely and feel ok with that choice, and there are others that we may not feel so comfortable dismissing. This is a personal preference and must be left up to you.

However, when in doubt, I will always urge you to ask yourself, "Tomorrow, will I feel better or worse for having participated?" or "Tomorrow, will I feel better or worse for having said no?" If the answer is "I will feel worse," then I sincerely suggest evaluating that "thing" and doing what is best for your mind, body, and spirit in the short and long term.

Honoring Old Traditions:

Honoring and following through with old traditions can be bittersweet. It can make you feel closer to a time when the person or thing that you are missing was near, but also feel like a glaring spotlight on what is missing. I have found that taking my favorite one or two traditions and participating in those is so good for my soul, and it makes me feel very close to my loved ones who have passed.

For example, my son and I would put cookies out for Santa every year, even up to the year before he passed at the age of 22. It was just something we did. He passed 6 weeks before Christmas, so that tradition was not upheld that first year due to deep grief and where I spent Christmas. But every year since, it is part of my routine, and now it is part of the routine I have with my Significant Other. It makes me feel close to my son, and it let's my new family honor him and me.

Also, please remember that missing what you've lost is not a bad thing. Crying or feeling sadness because you are reminded of it is a healthy and normal part of our human nature and the grieving process. If your only reason for not honoring your traditions is to avoid pain, I urge you reevaluate, and see how this can actually aid in your healing and in the strength of your connections.

Creating New Traditions:

It is so easy to get stuck in our pain and avoid doing anything new. I experienced this many times and sometimes still struggle with cynicism around holidays and the stereotypical traditions. I will fully acknowledge that aspect in myself, but I've also had so many opportunities to create new traditions and experience new moments that I can also acknowledge how helpful and uplifting it can be to allow for that newness to enter my life.

A few ideas for new traditions:

  • Lighting a candle for remembrance or healing

  • If you celebrate a holiday that has decoration, add a specific item or create an area to honor what is being missed

  • Schedule an event (i.e., dinner, outing, activity) that is specifically meant to celebrate what's missing, what's new, and what remains

  • Volunteer or find some way to help others

  • Simply sit still and say, "Thank you".

Rebecca is a Grief, Loss, and Life Transition Coach focused on healing and helping others find hope through life's hardest circumstances.

Schedule a free session.

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