Holiday Sadness and Grief – Recognizing the Emotions

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, Dec 12, 2017, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot


Sad young woman with Christmas presents at her home

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”  -Kahlil Gibran

Weeping….no one wants to do it, especially in front of others!  But infants cry all the time.  It’s their method of communication.  Toddlers stomp around and cry.  It’s their way of expressing frustration.  Older children weep as a way to release emotions.  As adults, we may even find ourselves bursting into tears at the slightest provocation—a beautiful bride, a sappy movie, or a sharp word.  Yet, we try to calm crying babies and tell children that “big boys don’t cry”.  In doing so, we are attempting to avoid sadness, a common adaptive emotion.  In a 2015 Huffington Post article, Zelda Williams, daughter of the late actor Robin Williams, reflected that “avoiding fear, sadness or anger is not the same thing as being happy.”

As Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. points out, “Sadness is a live emotion that can serve to remind us of what matters to us, what gives our life meaning.” All of us have experienced pain from life events and issues, including losses, illnesses, hurts and deaths of loved ones.  Usually, we are able to recognize that pain and work through our emotions in a healthy, safe way.  But, “most of us are, to varying degrees, fearful that tapping into sadness will strike into this well of buried emotion….The problem is we can’t selectively numb pain without numbing joy….Emotions provide us with information and help us survive and thrive.” 

Sadness during the holidays is common.  Why?  Holidays are associated with our childhood, our families, and other important relationships.   Memories may be warm and fuzzy or cold and hard, depending on our experiences.  We are reminded of what matters most to us, and there is a feeling of loss if we can’t have what we deeply desire—especially at a time of “celebration” for everyone else.  It’s important to acknowledge sadness for what it is, but not to misuse the emotion, to exaggerate it, or to get stuck in destructive self-pity.

If there has been a recent death, the holidays can acutely magnify the sense of sadness.  The loss and mourning associated with grief is extraordinarily difficult at any time of the year, but especially during the holidays when reminders are all around and traditions simply enhance the loss.  According to Ronald Pies, M.D., the duration of grief is extremely variable, but the bereaved person will normally maintain their self-esteem and continue emotional connections with family and friends.  There are some strategies that may be helpful in coping with grief.  One mental health advocate, Sandra Kiume, suggests the following for a bereaved person:

  • Don’t tiptoe around a deceased person’s memory.  It’s okay to talk about them.
  • Acknowledge that traditions will not be the same.  It may be necessary to plan something new or limit involvement in old traditions, if needed.
  • Decide how to celebrate the holidays, or not celebrate.  It’s your decision.  Do what feels safe.
  • Find comfort in support groups or people who understand what you’re going through.
  • As a family, find a way to honor the person who died.  Creating a new tradition helps validate everyone’s sadness about the loss and not feel guilty about enjoying special occasions together.
  • Take time for yourself.  Pay attention to your own physical and mental health needs.
  • Plan something new and different.  It may take off some of the pressure.

Whether experiencing sadness triggered by the holidays, or the profound emotions associated with grief, it’s important to acknowledge our feelings and accept them.  Know that feelings, like waves, may come and go and come again, especially for those that are grieving.  And, remember that it’s okay to shed some tears in the process. 


Pies, R. (2011).  The Two Worlds of Grief and Depression.  Psych Central.  Retrieved on November 2, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/02/23/the-two-worlds-of-grief-and-depression/

Kiume, S. (2016). 7 Ways to Deal with Holiday Grief.  Psych Central.  Retrieved on November 2, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/12/12/7-ways-to-deal-with-holiday-grief/

December 8, 2017

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