Grief In The New Year: 6 Mindful Tips To Cope

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: January 1, 2024

Grief in the new year is never easy. I have been writing about New Year's Grief for a decade, and I know that on New Year's Eve the website is busier than any other night of the year. I share this because I want you to know that you are not alone.

Whether your loved one died in 2022 or decades ago, when you are grieving, New Year's does not pass by without your thinking of, and yearning for, the person you love and lost. It is normal to feel strong emotions. It is normal to not know what to do with your feelings of grief.

If you are early in the grief process, you may feel raw and overwhelmed. One of the common grief experiences is to feel anxiety as "special days" approach. While grief over time may shift in its intensity and texture, this type of grief reaction is not unusual - though it is uncomfortable.

Many people find relief by just knowing this is a normal experience. Below I will also share some things you can to to ease your suffering and make the new year a meaningful one. 

Coping With Your Feelings About Grief In The New Year

The new year is a marker in time. As we transition from 2022 into 2023, you may be feeling ambivalent. Part of you may be digging in your heels, while another part can't wait for this awful year to end.

However you are feeling, please treat yourself with compassion. Acknowledge your relationship with grief without judgement or shame. This will give you the space to tend to what hurts while loving the memories that remain.

So let's take a collective breath in, and out, to honor all our fellow humans who are missing someone right now. This includes you.

How To Face New Year's Grief

As with other holidays, anniversaries, and days that end in -y, feeling sad, angry, anxious, resistant, confused, detached, or any other difficult emotion is par for the course when you are grieving. Instead of fighting the reality that things are different, let go a little and allow yourself to do things a little differently than before.

Planning how to approach the new year - from what to do on New Year's Even when you are grieving to navigating milestone dates - can help reduce some anxiety. Even if you toss out those plans, the process of setting them will help.

Here are a few ideas to help you cope with grief in the new year.

5 Tips to Cope With Grief in the New Year

1. Focus on self-compassion and self-care instead of self-improvement.

If you are grieving in the new year, you may want to skip the typical New Year's resolutions and instead focus on self-care for your grieving mind, body, and spirit.

Simple things like getting good sleep, eating nourishing food, and exercising a little bit each day will help your body and mind support you during loss. However, do these things with an attitude of self-care instead of self-improvement, which is often implied in our resolutions.

Don't add to your suffering by trying to attain an unrealistic goal. Instead, treat yourself as you would treat a beloved friend in the same position.

You can even start compassionately tending your grief with my free New Year's Eve Grief Meditation Retreat At Home.

2. Create your own mantra to replace “Happy New Year.”

If you are like most grieving people, the idea of being happy is a bridge too far from where you are right now, but since you are going to hear these words again and again, you may as well incorporate them into your self-care practice. Instead of feeling bad for not feeling happy, or angry that someone would assume you could feel happy, use these three ubiquitous words as a reminder to send yourself compassion.

Try this: Each time you see or hear “Happy New Year,” offer yourself words of kindness that resonate with you. For example, “May I treat myself with kindness this year,” or “May I have a Compassionate New Year,” or simply “This is hard and I am doing my best.” This not only puts you back in the driver's seat so you have a modicum of control over your experience, but it is also a great bell of awareness that can remind you to take care of yourself.

3. Know that you are not leaving your loved one behind.

When you cross the threshold of a new year without your special person by your side, it can feel like you are leaving them behind. That isn't the case. Yes, the annual change of the calendar is a marker that time is passing, but you will never forget your special person, no matter how many years go by.

Take some time out early this year to reflect on the ways you carry your special person with you. What habits, likes, dislikes, hobbies, or mannerisms do you share with them? What are your favorite memories of your time together? If they are a blood relative, in what ways do you look like them? They have left their mark on your heart, and that will never go away.

4. Prioritize your grief-work with your new calendar.

Instead of just scheduling things you have to do, use your new calendar to plan what you need to do to support yourself this year.

While none of us have a crystal ball, most people find holidays and anniversaries especially challenging. Record them on your calendar, and plan how you want to spend those special days. If you are a member of Awaken, you will find a roadmap and worksheet that helps you fill the day with meaning.

And knowing what you are going to do on these special grief-days may help reduce your anxiety. Whether scheduling coffee over Zoom with a supportive friend on your loved one's birthday, or joining a wider circle of friends and family to reminisce on the anniversary of their death, be sure to connect with others unless you really prefer to spend time alone.

You can also plan ahead to attend grief support groups and memorial events through your local hospice or grief group, many of which are offered online during the pandemic.

I host the Awaken Meditation & Journaling for Grief Group online every Tuesday, and can tell you firsthand how beneficial regular group support can be. Members of Awaken also benefit from a library of grief resources, including guided meditations, videos, journaling prompts, and other supportive self-care tools.

Prioritize your group by putting it on your calendar now, before work and other obligations take over. You can also block off self-care time for self-massage, yoga, meditation, journaling, or just free time to do as you wish.

5. Steady your mind in the present with meditation.

The human brain is rarely fully present, and this is especially true when we are grieving. Part of us wants to fast forward and leave this awful time behind, but an even bigger part wants to turn around and sprint back to the time when our loved one was still alive.

The reality, of course, is that we can't control the passing of time, but we can control what we do with our attention. In the meditation world, we call this bouncing around “monkey mind.ˮ Although it is just a side-effect of being human, ruminating rarely reduces our suffering.

There are countless ways you can learn to tame your mind with meditation, but I find that in the early days, months, and even years of grief, focusing meditation practices can be especially helpful.

Try this: with your eyes open or closed, turn your attention toward your breath. As you breathe in, silently say to yourself – "IN". As you breathe out, silently say to yourself "OUT".

Do this over and over each time you breathe, for three to five minutes. When your monkey mind wanders off, find your breath again and start over. It doesn't matter how often you need to begin again. After a few minutes, you may feel calmer and more in control of your own mind.

6. Join a compassionate grief group or community for compassionate support and practical tools.

Time with people who understand you is one of the most helpful things you can do on your grief journey. In times of grief it is normal to feel alone and not understood by people around you. While not everyone experiences this, if it sounds familiar, you need to find your tribe. 

While not all groups will focus on a specific type of loss, the collective grief experience when shared with compassionate friends is very healing. If you can find a group where you can connect with people who are similar - either in the type of loss, relationship, or values - that can be extra helpful. 

I run an online grief group called Awaken that focuses on all types of loss, but pairs people with similar stories in our monthly social hour to talk about specific challenges. Many have created friendships outside of the group. My group also focuses on self-care and self-compassion, so the people in the group have a similar values of wellness and health.

Sending Hope To Everyone Grieving In The New Year

My wish is that if you are grieving, you find peace, and are able to release some suffering. After doing this work for over 20 years, I have seen people not only survive grief, but move forward to live meaningful lives while honoring the love that remains. My grieving heart honors yours.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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