Coping with sadness during the holidays

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh


The holidays can be a time filled with festivity and family, but for some the season can also usher in feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. This is especially true for those who have lost their partners, their friends, or have family who reside across the country or abroad.

Coping with grief
Grieving a loved one’s passing can be very difficult around the holidays. From seasonal marketing to holiday traditions and memories, painful reminders of loved ones lost can be inescapable. One of the most important things to remember is that it is okay to not feel jolly this season.

“Grief is unpredictable,” says Naila Francis, grief coach & death midwife of This Hallowed Wilderness. “While we may plan to honor this season in a way that also honors our losses, know that sometimes grief’s erratic nature will sabotage the best of intentions.”

Francis also notes that “grief doesn’t run on a timeline.” Loss from many years ago can still have a significant impact on grieving each holiday season. Instead of trying to fight feelings of grief and loss, there are several steps you can take to ease and honor uncomfortable feelings:

  • Light a candle in honor of your lost loved ones.
  • Enjoy a meal with a picture of your lost loved ones nearby.
  • Join a grief counseling group to connect with others going through similar experiences. Visit HealthyMindsPhilly.org for a list of grief and loss resources, access to Grief Healing Discussion Groups, and virtual grief and loss support groups.
  • Set boundaries with others. If a certain holiday event triggers anxiety or feels like too much, simply lean into self-care and do what is best for you. Don’t let feelings of guilt cloud your brave decision to put yourself first during times of grief.

Managing loneliness
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), more than one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Social isolation can lead to health risks including depression, dementia, and even heart failure. For older adults who may not be grieving but feel isolated from friends and family, the holidays can usher in feelings of loneliness. Along the same lines of grief, individuals are encouraged to give themselves permission to feel whatever emotions arise.

“It can be helpful to schedule regular activities including exploring new hobbies and areas of interest such as crafting, writing and puzzles,” says Tracey Holder, LCSW, psychotherapist, integrated behavioral health, Main Line Health. “Remaining connected to communities of faith or other social groups and organizations as well as telephone communication can also help with remaining socially connected.”

Symptoms of depression
“Typical symptoms of depression may include sadness, fatigue, changes in appetite and/or sleep, hopelessness, feelings of guilt, trouble concentrating and other cognitive changes,” says Holder. “Some older adults may not present with the traditional symptoms but may have apathy or sense of not caring about anything, lack of interest in their usual activities, slower speech or movement, persistent digestive problems or physical pains that do not get better with treatment.”

If you notice these possible changes in yourself or your loved one, speak with a primary care physician or mental health professional.

Helpful resources
When “the most wonderful time of the year,” doesn’t feel so wonderful, there are many resources older adults can use to combat grief, loss and loneliness.

PCA’s Senior Companion Program is a person-to-person service program for older adults. Through the program, companions age 55 and over are paired with homebound older adults who need some assistance to remain in their homes. Call 215-765-9040 to learn more.

Philadelphia is home to 28 senior community centers that are brimming with robust programming. Each center provides opportunities for members to make new friends and foster meaningful connections with peers who enjoy similar activities, such as fitness, arts, music and games. There are many opportunities for social connection. To learn more, call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.

Sometimes giving back can ease feelings of loneliness or loss. Caring for Friends provides food and friendship to seniors, kids and adults in Greater Philadelphia region. Volunteer opportunities are also available. Visit CaringForFriends.org or call 215-464-2224.

If there are concerns regarding safety or risk for self-harm, call or text 988 (suicide and crisis lifeline), chat online by going to 988lifeline.org, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741.


Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

Categories: Mental health Milestones eNews

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