How To Cope With Grief, Stress And The Holidays

Discussing the ABC's of grief and how to ways to prepare for the holiday season.

As we enter Thanksgiving week, I am always reminded that there are many individuals who dread the upcoming months. The holiday season comes with societal expectations that everyone needs to be happy. However for every person who is excited about family gatherings, decorations and gifts, there is another who is secretly wishing the upcoming weeks would disappear.
  It is important to remember that struggles do not take a “holiday” during the holiday season. Often those who are struggling find their emotions magnified by the pressure of the season. The continued flow of daily life does not stop as we enter the holiday season. Each day there is someone who is providing care for someone who is sick, grieving the death of a loved one, coming to terms with the loss of divorce or job or even hearing about their own illness. Often those who are struggling find their emotions magnified by the pressure of the season.
The ABC’s of grief and the holidays was a list that another counselor and I created for our clients. Regardless of your situation, I’m hoping you can utilize the following ABC’s for yourself during the next few weeks.


As significant religious and national holidays approach, you are likely reminded by the past rituals such as family dinners and family get togethers. The loss of loved ones is especially obvious at these events and can often be very difficult. The first step as the holidays approach is to look at the weeks ahead and anticipate the dates, events and moments which may be difficult. Of course, difficult times can pop up unexpectedly but when we are dreading certain events, we can make a game plan. Once you have anticipated what may be difficult, think of ways which could possibly make the event easier. Examples can be Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps this is the year the family goes out for Thanksgiving dinner, or someone else takes on the role of host or you even purchase the food from the grocery. For the first Thanksgiving after my Mom and Nanny died, I would have prefered to leave town but we unable to do so. As a result, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner with James’ parents at our home (not a tradition) and we served different dishes that were nontraditional for our family such as beef tenderloin roast, quinoa dressing and a new green bean casserole. Last year we celebrated the week in Las Vegas and this year we will again be hosting dinner at our home.


With the Holiday season comes multiple expectations. Do you decorate? Do you accept invitations to parties even though you don’t feel like being with people? Do you buy presents although you don’t want to go out to the store? If you are grieving or dealing with other difficulties, be kind to yourself and try to give yourself permission to not do everything you have done in the past. Choose one or two events that you truly may want to go to and politely decline the others. In regards to decorating, realize that what you do this year is not what you will do next year. If you are someone who decorates your whole house (me), realize it is OK to not decorate every room. If you find that there are certain items which are too painful due to memories, realize you do not have to pull them out this year. As far as gift giving, I remind people that most people love a gift card (just make sure you a card that doesn’t expire) or you can shop online and have gifts delivered. If you feel you must shop, plan your trip for times that are not as busy and perhaps choose stores which may not be difficult. (A special plug here for Target, Target stores do not play overhead music and if you are someone who is grieving you are not going to be overwhelmed with holiday songs while you shop).


As everyone gets caught up in the Holidays, many friends and even family members may forget that you are going through a difficult time or that this is the first Holiday without your loved one. Each of us needs to let our family and friends know what we need during the Holidays. Share with people those events you have anticipated may be difficult or painful. Let others know that you are only choosing to attend a few events. It is also important to note that if you do go to parties or other events, drive yourself and don’t feel as if you are dependent upon another person to take you home. It is also OK to remind your loved ones that there may be days when you simply don’t know what you want or need.


If you are a consistent reader of this blog, you know I ask my clients and attempt to practice myself, letting go of the world SHOULD. Saying you should, automatically criticizes yourself. By saying you should be doing something, you are saying to yourself that you aren’t meeting an expectation. My question is always where is the expectation coming from? During the holidays there are many unsaid shoulds. Such as: you should decorate your house in all of the ways you have seen on Pinterest and in the magazines. You should hand make personal gifts for all of your friends. You should be baking and cooking magnificent desserts and dinners. You should have cute, adorable family pictures taken. Geez, just typing that all out is exhausting. When you place things as a should, when you do not accomplish – you feel that you have failed. Attempt to change the wording to “would like to”.  Most importantly, remember that not being able to accomplish that long list doesn’t make you a bad person. Be kind to yourself.


During the holidays, it is more important than ever to take time for yourself. Don’t let go of the exercise routine or the time you meditate. Continue to schedule time with people who bring you balance. Perhaps this will even become the time you begin to practice self care. Stop each day and ask yourself what you need? Once you find the answer, don’t forget to find some way to obtain it.

I am grateful that I was able to practice these steps through my own grief journey over the past two years.  As a result, I want to share that whatever your own struggles may be today, life does and will get better. 

Let me know if you will be practicing any of these tips throughout the coming weeks. 

Sheryl Signature (1)

Joining with Emily for Grateful Heart Monday! 



  1. Emily @ Ember Grey. on November 23, 2015 at 7:38 am

    You and Anne (from Love the Here & Now) both touched on some really important reminders about Thanksgiving (and the holidays in general). Thanks for helping us to remember that not everyone’s holidays are happy ones, and how we can be there for those people.

    • Sheryl @ How to Make a Life on November 23, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Life is so busy and moves so quickly that it’s easy to forget that others sometimes feel like time has stood still.

  2. Karen Yannacio Morse on November 23, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Love your ideas…especially just taking time for yourself. Very helpful reminders…

    xx, Karen

    • Sheryl @ How to Make a Life on November 23, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks Karen. We all need reminders to take care of ourselves regardless of the time of the year. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

  3. Joy Johnson on November 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

    This is an important reminder. Something I easily forget, is how difficult the holidays can be for certain people, like you mentioned. Deleting the “shoulds” is such a good one! Great post, Sheryl.

    • Sheryl @ How to Make a Life on November 23, 2015 at 7:52 pm

      Thank you Joy. More people stress and struggle than we realize during the holidays and it’s important for everyone to recognize. Hope you have a great holiday season.

  4. Jess on November 23, 2015 at 11:17 am

    “realize that what you do this year is not what you will do next year.” YES. This is where my anxiety goes haywire, remembering past bad holidays and then getting scared that this year will be the same. No, it won’t because every year is different and I have the power to spend the holidays differently. Thank you for the reminder. xo

    • Sheryl @ How to Make a Life on November 23, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Jess, I always remind people that were they are today isn’t where they were or where they will be. Life is fluid and we can make changes. Hope you have a great holiday season.

  5. Kim Munoz on November 23, 2015 at 11:39 am

    The holidays are the one time I seem to not stress, but the rest of the year I need to let the “shoulds” go. This is such a great and important reminder!

  6. Chrissy Z. on November 23, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    What a wonderful reminder! These are some great tips – especially to communicate and take time for yourself! Both are so very important! Thank you! xxx

  7. Jessica Hughes on November 24, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Great post my dear!!

  8. My Urban Family on November 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    “be kind to yourself and try to give yourself permission to not do everything you have done in the past” this is so key! Thanks for the wonderful post.

  9. Amber on November 30, 2015 at 8:11 am

    This is such a well timed post. I sometimes feel like such a Scrooge around the holidays. They can be such an emotional roller coaster. Thank you SO much for linking this post up with us at the Best of the Blogosphere!

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