9 ways to handle grief during the holidays, according to mental health experts

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The holidays are meant to be a time of togetherness and celebration. Yet for those who have recently experienced loss or trauma, the season can bring sadness instead.

“Holiday-related grief can be about many things, like the loss of a loved one or bad memories from the past,” Alysha Tagert, a trauma therapist in Washington, D.C., told Fox News Digital.

While grief recovery is “not a one-size-fits-all process,” there are ways to manage the moments that trigger extreme sadness, she said.

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For those who are grappling with grief during the holidays, Tagert and other mental health experts shared tips for navigating the challenges. 

Here are nine to know about. 

Mental health experts shared tips for navigating grief during the holidays. (iStock)

1. Expect the unexpected

Grief is typically thought of as sadness in reaction to the loss of a person or thing, Tagert noted, but it can also include a range of other emotions that can catch people off guard.

“Grief consists of internal thoughts and feelings as well as external behaviors,” she said. “They aren’t experienced in a linear fashion, which is why grief can catch people by surprise.”

2. Know and communicate your needs

It’s important to identify your needs and honor them by communicating clearly with others, noted Christine Slomski, a licensed therapist in Mesa, Arizona.

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“This means letting friends and family know ahead of time how they can show up for you — from offering a hug to simply allowing you to have your space,” she said in an email to Fox News Digital.

3. Prepare for tough moments

“People who are grieving during the holiday season should prepare themselves for tough moments that are undoubtedly going to occur, especially as everyone else seems so happy,” said Tagert.

Sad woman at Christmas

While grief recovery is “not a one-size-fits-all process,” there are ways to manage the moments that trigger extreme sadness, experts say. (iStock)

For those times when conversations arise that may cause grief or other uncomfortable emotions, Slomski suggested having some courteous phrases on hand to provide a brief answer, then redirect the conversation.

4. Identify self-care routines

When you have a toolkit with ways to respond to emotional pain, you’re better equipped to manage it, according to Slomski. 

“If you use unhealthy behaviors to avoid feeling grief and pain, write out a list of healthy alternatives,” she suggested. 

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“Calling a friend to get coffee and talk can foster connection, going for a walk in the sun can release serotonin and clear the emotional cobwebs, and praying and meditating can calm your nervous system and recenter you,” Slomski added.

If you experience a rush of grief while you’re in a place where you can’t quickly slip away, she recommended taking a few deep breaths, holding a stone in your pocket or even chewing sugar-free gum to help relieve the stress.

5. Schedule time with a professional

“There are always known and unknown triggers when navigating grief — and that can be especially challenging around the holidays when everyone else seems full of cheer,” noted Maggie Rose Macar, a New York-based CEO and the founder of zant, a mental health app.

Man meditating winter

It’s important to have self-care routines on hand to help cope with holiday grief, such as meditation, according to experts. (iStock)

She recommended scheduling sessions with a professional ahead of time, whether it’s a therapist who’s already known or one who’s found through referrals or digital resources.

6. Surround yourself with friends and family if possible

To help ensure that you have a built-in support system, Macar suggested talking to those who are important to you to find out their holiday plans and make time to see them in advance. 

“Give yourself the gift of self-compassion, gentleness and the time to be with your feelings and needs this season.”

“Even when everything in you says to cancel and stay home, you must force yourself to get out,” she told Fox News Digital.

“It’s normal to feel a little ‘off’ or sad during the holidays — don’t be afraid to share this with your loved ones so they can better understand and support you during this time of year.”

7. Give back and do good for others

Giving back might seem counterintuitive when anticipating or feeling grief, but benevolent acts, said Macar, can release chemicals like serotonin to help you feel better.

Family

Spending time with family and friends can help relieve feelings of grief during the holidays, according to mental health experts. (iStock)

“It also shows you that there is good in the world — and seeing others smile because of your kindness can offer comfort when you need it most,” she said.

8. Consider joining an online or in-person support group

Joining a support group can be a little nerve-racking at first, but finding the right group can help you feel understood and comforted, suggested Macar. 

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“Surrounding yourself in a confidential and safe space with others who may understand what you’re going through is like a breath of fresh air during troubling or difficult times,” she said.

9. Take your time

“Healing is a process, not a problem to be fixed or solved,” Slomski told Fox News Digital.

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“Give yourself the gift of self-compassion, gentleness and the time to be with your feelings and needs this season.”

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