Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

What is ‘holiday grief’?

Many people are engulfed by an unexplainable wave of sadness and grief when the holiday season hits. This experience has been defined as 'holiday grief'. Let us understand what it is and how you can cope with it. (and help your loved ones cope too)

holiday griefHow can you cope with these feelings? (Source: Still from Bridget Jones's Diary)

A 23-year-old in Kannauj will celebrate his first New Year without his dad. “I don’t know how I feel. It’s all been a muddle these past few weeks. But I can’t break down either because my mom and siblings are dependent on me.” Though he technically is still a student at his Paris university, life has turned upside down for him. Now he’s supposed to be “the man of the household”.

“It feels weird looking at what my friends are doing right now in this festive season. Like I’m seeing them through a looking glass. I’m not complaining but I think I’m grieving for both my dad and the loss of a life that could have been,” he expressed.

He’s not alone. Though his trauma is relatively new, there are many more like him who are engulfed by an unexplainable wave of sadness and grief when the holiday season hits. This experience has been defined as ‘holiday grief’.


According to Dr Harini Atturu, consultant – psychiatry, CARE Hospitals, Hyderabad, this feeling is characterised by a profound sense of sadness and emotional distress that individuals may encounter during the festive season.

“This sentiment is often intensified by factors such as the loss of a loved one or the unfulfilled expectations associated with holidays,” she explained.

Festive offer

Anish T, a 27-year-old comic artist, shared how hollow he’s been feeling post his breakup with a long-term girlfriend last year. “This is my first time being single during New Year’s in the last 4-5 years.”

How can you cope with these feelings?

Dr Mazher Ali, consultant- psychiatry, CARE Hospitals, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, explained that many struggle with this feeling without being able to put it into words. “Grieving during the holidays can be particularly challenging as societal expectations often emphasise joy and togetherness.”


When facing this challenge, employing coping strategies becomes essential. “It involves a process of self-awareness and emotional acknowledgment, allowing oneself to feel and express the full range of emotions associated with the grief,” said Dr Attaru.

Dr Ali agreed, adding that one needs to accept their emotions. “It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s essential to give yourself permission to grieve.”

Both of them recommended those who are struggling to find solace in creating new traditions or modifying existing ones to align with their emotional needs.

holiday grief How can you help a loved one deal with holiday grief? (Source: A still from Sex and the City)

Seeking support is another crucial aspect of coping with holiday grief. “Connecting with friends, family, or mental health professionals can provide a valuable outlet for sharing feelings and receiving empathetic understanding,” noted Dr Attaru.

It is important to set realistic expectations that will help one accept that this holiday season might be different, according to which you can scale back on activities if needed. “Anticipate potential triggers and plan how to handle them. Having a strategy in place can help you navigate challenging situations,” recommended Dr Ali.

How can you help a loved one deal with holiday grief?

Supporting a loved one dealing with holiday grief requires a nuanced approach. If someone you care about is experiencing holiday grief, here are some ways to offer support:

Be Understanding: Acknowledge their feelings and let them know it’s okay to grieve. Avoid pressuring them to conform to holiday expectations.

Listen: Provide a non-judgmental space for them to express their emotions. Sometimes, just being heard can be incredibly therapeutic.


Offer Practical Assistance: Help with holiday tasks or responsibilities, such as cooking, decorating, or shopping, to alleviate some of the stress.

Suggest Alternatives: Propose alternatives to traditional holiday plans, such as spending time together in a low-key setting or participating in activities that feel more manageable.


Be Patient: Grieving is a process that takes time. Be patient and understanding, and let your loved one know that you are there for them whenever they need support.

Remember that everyone grieves differently, so tailor your approach to the individual needs of the person experiencing holiday grief. Professional counselling or therapy can also be valuable for both individuals coping with grief and those supporting them.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 07:00 IST
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