6 Ways to Cope with Painful Holiday Memories

The holiday season is upon us. Tis the season to be jolly.

Or, maybe not.

The holidays can be a happy, joy-filled time. However, if painful memories make you wish you could sleep until after New Year's, you are not alone. Loss of a loved one, divorce, or other tragedy make holidays emotionally difficult to navigate. Add unrealistic expectations of a Norman Rockwell-like holiday to the mix, and it can make painful memories...well, even more painful.

Here are a few suggestions for coping.

Start a new tradition. There's no question that good memories hold a special place in your heart. But it's possible to create new, equally meaningful, memories. If adhering to familiar old traditions is just too painful, create new ones. For example, try celebrating in a setting where associations with a loved one are not so deep.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) warns the more you try to make the holiday the same as it was before, the more obvious your loved one's absence will be.

Honor loved ones. Find ways to remember and recognize people you have lost. For example, make a donation in their name to a charity they held dear, or decorate their memorial site for the holidays.

Volunteer. Volunteering takes the focus away from you and helps those who may desperately need it. Serve meals at a shelter or buy gifts for children who would otherwise go without.

Be realistic. The corollary to this tip is don't be too hard on yourself. The holidays can be stressful even in the best of times. The pressure to find the perfect gift, cook an outstanding meal, or please everyone can be more than you can handle when you're also trying to cope with painful memories. Do what you can and let the rest go.

Take care of yourself. Don't overindulge in food or alcohol in the hopes it will blunt painful memories. Eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and build in quiet time if you need it.

Write it down. Experts on grieving suggest you write a story or poem or pen a letter to your loved one. The act of getting your feelings out and putting them on paper can be cathartic.

Holding onto painful or hurtful memories do more than dampen your spirits over the holidays. It can take a toll on your health and make it harder for your immune system to do its job. You owe it to yourself to find healthy ways to cope.


Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "HOLIDAY SEASON - FRIEND OR FOE." Web. http://www.madd.av.org/holiday.htm

Sutter VNA and Hospice. "Coping with Holiday Grief." Web.


University of Maryland Medical Center. "Mental Health: Holiday Blues." Web. 5 February 2008.


American Geriatrics Society's Foundation for Health in Aging. "Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues." Web. 20 October 2006. www.healthinaging.org/public_education/​holiday_blues.pdf

Poklemba, Veronica. "Depression and the Holidays." AgingCare.com. Web. November 2008. http://www.agingcare.com/Featured-Stories/108018/Depression-and-the-Holidays.htm