Grief can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Christmas, even though it’s often a joyful and festive season, has its share of stresses, especially during times of grief when it’s a battle to do the normal everyday tasks. So, what can you do this season to reduce your Christmas stress while you process your grief?

Before we move into a few tips, remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal. You’ve lost someone you love, and it’s hard. You may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, shock, denial, guilt, anger, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these emotional responses are normal and natural. All you need to focus on is taking care of yourself through the holiday season so that you have the energy you need to process what you feel and begin the journey toward healing.

Tips for Reducing Your Christmas Stress

Your feelings may tell you to skip Christmas altogether this year, but before you make any big decisions, take some time to evaluate what changes you can make to keep things simple while also taking your loved ones’ needs into account.

For example, you may decide not to attend your work party, but instead, you go out to lunch with your closest office friends. Or, instead of getting individual gifts for everyone, you get gift cards instead. There are little changes you can make that will make your life easier while also ensuring that your family and friends still get to enjoy your presence during the holidays.

Here are a few tips for reducing your holiday stress:

Keep Things Simple

You may normally go all out for Christmas, but this year, give yourself permission to take it easy. With a few adjustments, you can take a task or event from stressful to simple.

  • If the stores are too crowded and holiday shopping is stressing you out, do your shopping online or cut back on the number of gifts this year. Or, after talking to your family, consider skipping gifts altogether this year and picking up next year.
  • If signing and sending holiday cards is too much, skip it this year. People will understand.
  • While putting up all the Christmas decorations usually brings a sense of joy, the thought may be stressful this year. Consider minimizing (or even skipping) the decorations if it seems like too much.

Don’t Overcommit

The Christmas season is often filled to the brim with events, parties, get-togethers, recitals, concerts, family gatherings, and more. You may not have the energy to go to everything, and that’s okay. Choose the most important events and pass on the rest.

As you prioritize events, make sure to talk to your family about your plans so they know when to expect you and when not to. This way, they can let you know what’s important for them – maybe a child’s recital – and you can plan ahead for the events you will attend. Plus, communicating your plans to family and taking their requests into account will help soothe any ruffled feathers and keep things relaxed.

Accept Help

If you’re like many of us, you learned early that it’s good to be independent and self-reliant. And while these two things are not inherently bad, we can sometimes take them a little too far, refusing help when we actually need it. So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid to accept a little help. Let people support you through this time of grief. Accept casseroles, offers to run errands, and assistance with household chores. It will only make things less stressful and easier for you.

Practice Self-Care

Grief takes a toll on us, and it’s important to find ways to take care of ourselves. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, pampering yourself every so often, and not overdoing it. At Christmas, self-care may be splurging on a gift for yourself, going to the golf range or the day spa, or simply spending quiet time alone to journal, meditate, listen to music, or take long walks. No matter what it is that helps you relax and feel cared for, take time to do that this holiday season.

Express Your Feelings

You may be tempted to push down your feelings and power through the holidays but try to resist the temptation. Instead, build opportunities for reflection into your holiday season. Make time to express yourself. This could mean journaling, painting, talking with friends or family, or attending a grief support group. There will be times when your grief shows up unexpectedly, and that’s okay. People will understand if you’re teary. But by intentionally taking time to address your emotions, you can better confront and reflect on what you feel on your own time and on your own terms.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory

This year, you’re missing someone special. Rather than ignoring their absence, consider finding a special way to honor their memory. Avoiding the elephant in the room – your grief and loss – may lead to feelings of stress. By openly honoring a loved one, you will have the freedom to include your loved one’s memory in the festivities without reservation.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Save a seat for them at the table
  • Create a remembrance item
  • Serve their favorite dish
  • Play their favorite Christmas tunes
  • Pull out the family photos and reminisce
  • Visit the graveside and leave a wreath, poinsettia, or memento
  • Continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor

While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Let this Year be Different

If you’re someone who wants everything just-so, one big way to reduce your holiday stress is to let things be different this year. Let go of the need for a perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and the perfectly prepared meal. Give yourself a little grace and some room to breathe. Christmas is different this year; it’s harder. Do what you can to keep things simple.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge that no two people are alike. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and some won’t. That’s just fine. If having the perfectly trimmed Christmas tree helps you relax, then go all out. If shopping provides a release of tension, do it. You know yourself best, so implement the ideas that work best for who you are.

Just remember – it’s okay to let yourself feel however you feel this Christmas. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful, and you don’t have to stop yourself from feeling happy if you enjoy the season. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or miss the person who is gone; it means that you are human. We are complex beings, and our lives are filled with moments of joy mixed with moments of grief, sometimes both at once! Take time this Christmas season to step back, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love the most. If you do, you will create sweet memories to cherish in the years to come.