Print this page

Coping with grief at the holidays

  • November 20, 2013
A UAB expert offers advice for when the holidays can be a season of sadness.

grief at holidays sIn an America shaped by Currier and Ives lithographs and Norman Rockwell paintings, the holiday season is supposed to be one of warmth, love and good cheer. For too many Americans, however, it can be a time of sadness and grief, says University of Alabama at Birmingham psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D.

“Personal issues don’t magically go away because the calendar turns to November or December,” said Klapow, an associate professor in the UAB School of Public Health. “Problems with relationships, jobs, finances or health can take on enhanced importance during the supposedly ‘merry’ holiday period.”Klapow also points out that events that shake the nation as a whole, such as the Sandy Hook school shooting, can also contribute to individual stress and anxiety. The first anniversary of that shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead, falls on Dec. 14.

“The death of a loved one during the holidays can trigger strong feelings, even if the death occurred several years ago,” Klapow said. “In the case of someone who died recently, the holidays can take on a whole new meaning for their family and friends.”

Klapow offers four suggestions that can help ease those feelings.

  • Remember that this holiday season might not be the same as those of past years. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. There is no right or wrong way — people should celebrate and grieve when they want.

  • Accept that this might be a difficult time and be prepared for rushes of emotions. This is normal. A lot of people fear that they will “break down” at holiday gatherings. Try to schedule breakdowns — go ahead and have a cry before going out. Allow a moment to grieve. When emotions are temporarily depleted, it makes it easier to take on the day.

  • Do not overcommit. Take time for yourself without becoming isolated. Embrace support from family and friends, and choose events that sound most appealing at the time. Decline ones that feel like an obligation.

  • If faith is important, spend time with people who understand and respect a desire to pray and talk about common beliefs.