Grief In The New Year: 5 Mindful Tips To Cope

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: December 27, 2018

Updated: December 31, 2020

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 2020 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.

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.

The new year is a marker in time. As we transition from 2020 into 2021, some of 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 own it. Acknowledge the spectrum of feelings without judgement or shame.

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. 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.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Mindfulness & Grief. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She is on the Advisory Board for the highly regarded military family survivor organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and is a faculty member of the Portland Institute of Loss & Transition, founded by Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer. She is also the host of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, founder of the Mindfulness & Grief Institute and the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland.

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