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Stress

An Intimate Way to Help Cope With Loss During the Holidays

Research shows that there's a greater chance of dying during the holidays.

CCO Commons
Source: CCO Commons

Life is fragile, and during the holidays, many people feel this more intensely. While for most, this season is joyous because of family gatherings, good food, and the sharing of gifts, others are immersed in sadness because they’ve either lost a loved one or currently have a significant other who is ill. Studies have shown that there’s more of a chance of dying during the holiday season than at any other time of year, especially as a result of conditions such as circulatory and digestive issues, respiratory diseases, endocrine/nutritional/metabolic problems, and cancer.

A team of sociological researchers at the University of Southern California, San Diego, headed by Dr. David Phillips, found an increase in mortality during the holidays, especially on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Phillips said that an analysis of 57.5 million death certificates showed that the chances of dying during these times increases “somewhere between 3% and 9% depending on the demographic group you look at, and between 1% and 10%, depending on the cause of death analyzed.”

There seem to be many contributory factors related to the increased rate of mortality at this time, such as colder weather, excessive eating, failure to seek medical attention, short-staffed hospitals, increased travel, and the overall stress of the season.

Emotional stress seems to be an overarching contributory factor to emotional and physical health problems at this time of year. However, here are intimate ways to decrease the risk of illness and possible death, for yourself and your loved ones:

  • Be a good listener, but refrain from offering advice. Understand that everyone grieves differently. Remember, grief is not a linear process; it fluctuates.
  • Decide whether you or your loved one prefer solitude or company.
  • Celebrate the holidays in a way that feels right at this time.
  • Providing emotional support to others also includes giving hugs, as needed.
  • Offer to cook, clean, or shop for others, if that’s something that will help.
  • Make sure to eat well-balanced meals.
  • Try to make a point of being out in nature.
  • Consider volunteering to others who are in need.
  • Surround yourself with those who care and make you feel comforted and nurtured.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Consider journal writing and writing letters to loved ones.

As Dr. Joel Young (2015) says, self-care or the conscious effort to attend to your own personal needs, is particularly important during these times. These times can also be a time of reflection of your own beliefs and a time to re-evaluate your own holiday traditions and perhaps incorporating new ones as a way to healing.

My father passed away four days before Christmas. While that was more than twenty-five years ago, the holidays are still fogged with loss. There's no doubt that the sense of grief has become less intense, but they will be forever present. What has worked for me is to honor my father during this time, by serving his favorite foods and writing about him. Regardless of when loss occurs, combining self-care with remembrance is important. What's also important to remember is that we all grieve and heal at our own rate and the importance of honoring that. We need to follow our own instincts with respect to what will makes us feel better.

References

Mundell, E. J. (2017). “Death Rates Highest During Holidays.” Healingwell.com.

Philips, D. P. et al. (2004). “Cardiac Mortality is Higher Around Christmas and New Years Than Any Other Time.” Circulation. Issue 110. pp. 3781–3788.

Phillips, D.P. et. al (2010). “Christmas and New Year as Risk Factors for Death.” Social Science & Medicine. Vol 71. Issue 8. pps. 1463–1471.

Young, J.L. (2015). "Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays." Psychology Today. December 17.

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