The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. We put our best selves out there, we celebrate, maybe watch a Hallmark movie or three, listen to holiday music – this time of year it’s easy to get caught up in the magic of the season. As a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco, I see people struggling through the holidays because they have suffered a loss in the last year or even more, and they don’t want to bring others down. Because they don’t want to be a holiday Scrooge or a Grinch, they tend to isolate themselves. Coping with grief over the holidays is a very real struggle for many.

The holidays are a time for family, friends, love, joy, peace and all that other good stuff we see on TV and in the movies. It isn’t supposed to be a sad time, and yet for those who have lost someone through death, divorce or even distance, the holidays can be torturous. In addition to the loss, those who are grieving feel guilty for feeling bad when they “should” be happy. For many who are grieving, the holidays can feel like a freight train coming at them at full speed and they’re unable to move out of the way. For many, it’s about surviving the holidays, getting through until January.

That’s now way to live. If you are grieving, you may not have a wonderful holiday season, but it doesn’t have to feel like you’re getting hit by a train. There are things you can do to make the season a little more tolerable.

Talk to Someone – Talk to a friend or therapist about your loss. If you’ve lost a spouse or significant person in your life, it’s okay to talk about them when with other people. They might have refrained from talking about the person out of respect for you – they didn’t want to upset you – so talk about the person, if you like, and let others know it’s okay. Share memories about the person you lost, it helps to keep their spirit alive.

Avoid Retail Therapy – This time of year it is so easy to overspend. There’s a sale going on in every store and everything looks so good all packaged up with a bow. It might feel like a good idea now, but come January, when the bills come, you’ll feel even worse. Don’t use your credit card as a means to cope with your grief. If you miss shopping for a loved one who is gone, consider donating to a shelter or Toys for Tots in their name. You’ll make someone happy and pay tribute to your loved one at the same time.

Journal – I’m a big advocate for writing your feelings down. Such a simple task can be so healing and cathartic. Write in a journal, notebook, maybe start a blog? However, you do it, getting your feelings out on paper is incredibly therapeutic, and I highly recommend it.

Go Easy on the Alcohol – A drink or two here and there won’t hurt, but try to refrain from using alcohol, or other substances, as a means of coping with your grief. It might make things feel better in the immediate short term, but in the not too distance future it will make things more difficult.

Give Yourself Permission – Whatever it is that you feel you need permission to do, grant it to yourself. If you don’t want to go to the holiday party – don’t. If you want to spend a weekend on the couch watching horror movies and eating from a tube of cookie dough – go for it. Do what you need to do to nurture yourself through this very difficult time.