Coping with Loss During the Holidays

For people who are experiencing physical or emotional separation, this time of year can be difficult.

By: Natalie Spindle

Fond memories of holiday traditions likely come to mind as the winter months approach. The season is meant to be a joyful time to reconnect with family and friends. But for people who have lost loved ones or are experiencing physical or emotional separation, this time of year can be difficult.

Grief can weigh heavily as we think about those who aren’t with us. It can trigger feelings of loneliness and isolation. In cases of a loved one’s death, survivors may feel guilty about enjoying themselves as their loss weighs on their conscience.

Phyliss Taylor, MD, medical director of outpatient services for UF Health Psychiatry – Jacksonville, provides counseling for those coping with grief. She says grief is normal, but how you handle it can make a difference.

“We see an uptick in appointments during the holiday season as patients experience complicated grief reactions,” Taylor said. “It’s the time of year when feelings of loss and sadness can bubble up.”

Taylor provides the following advice for those coping with grief during
the holidays:

Recognize grief

It is important to recognize that grief often flares up around holidays and special occasions. These feelings are normal, whether the loss is recent or not. Always remind yourself that no two people experience loss in the same way.

Honor your loved one

Do something special to honor your lost or estranged loved one. You might consider an activity, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer, writing a letter, watching a movie or visiting a place of shared significance.

Self-care

Don’t forget to invest in your own well-being. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods and getting plenty of sleep. Avoid the use of alcohol or any illicit drugs, which can exacerbate negative feelings. Try taking a walk and staying physically active to improve your mood.

Create a new tradition for yourself, such as a visit with friends or dinner at a new restaurant. Participating in volunteer work or otherwise helping others can also be rewarding and help redirect your attention toward something positive.

Seek professional help

If you are feeling overwhelmed, seek professional help, such as individual or group counseling. Psychologist Purnima Kumar, PhD, offers group grief counseling every Friday from 9:30 – 11 a.m. at UF Health Community and Family Medicine – Jacksonville.

“Remember you are not alone,” Taylor said. “Life is for the living, so try to find ways to help yourself move forward.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety related to grief, please visit UFHealthJax.org/psychiatry or call 383.1038 to schedule an appointment.