Holidays are thought to be the time of the year when love, laughter, and gratefulness take precedence over all else. The reality, however, is far from what the movies and advertisements would have us believe. For some people, holidays can trigger all kinds of disturbing memories and unleash a torrent of anxiety, helplessness, and shame.
The family get-together that are meant to be opportunities for bonding can instead serve as reminders of past trauma. Even something as benign as a smell, a song, or a piece of decoration can morph into a potent trigger and wreak havoc in the mind of the traumatized person. If this is you and you’re already feeling the bleakness of winters, let me assure you that holidays don’t need to be so dreadful. Here are some steps you can take to handle the trauma during the holidays:
List out what you can do before any important event to make yourself feel calm and steady. Also, list out what you can do after the event to unwind and relax. Be very specific so you know exactly what to do if a stressful situation arises. Such a plan will be immensely helpful in keeping you grounded and keeping panic at bay.
Recognize your triggers
As long as it does not cause you too much distress, try to imagine what might trigger the painful memories and list down all the potential triggers. Acknowledge that these triggers cause you intense psychic pain and try to list down the ways in which you could comfort yourself if something were to trigger your memories of trauma. Having a plan to deal with the triggers will unburden your mind of a lot of anxiety, and you might find it easier to maintain your emotional equilibrium in stressful situations.
If there are topics you would prefer not to broach, let your family know beforehand. If you don’t feel like participating in an event, you have the right to refuse. If you are feeling uncomfortable and wish to leave, know that you are not obligated to stay. You do not need anyone’s permission and you do not need to feel guilty. Your safety and comfort are very important and this is an area where you should not compromise.
Have a support system ready
Prepare a list of people you trust and can rely upon. Make plans to talk to them during the holiday gathering. Anyone who cares for your well being, be it a friend or a family member, is a good choice. If anything is worrying you, get in touch with them. Having a support group in place ensures you have someone to talk to if you need help in dealing with strong emotions.
Take some me-time
Go for a walk to revitalize yourself with fresh air. Sit in your room and listen to your favorite music. Lie on the sofa and read a book you like. Go to the nearest gym to get a good stretch. Holidays do not imply you have to be active all the time. A little break between the festivities can help you relax and replenish your emotional bandwidth. Try journal and write down your worries using journals like these - 52 week journal, untamed journal, or plain pages journal can help you feel more reset and recenter.
Be kind to yourself
Festive spirit does not guarantee perfection. You’re going to make mistakes. You might lose your temper with someone you love or have a bad day when you don’t feel like participating, or get into an argument that could have been easily avoided, or get hurt by a remark someone makes. In such situations, be kind to yourself. You need to comfort, not berate or belittle yourself. Things don’t always go as planned, and that’s okay. Embrace the imperfection and know that you will be okay.
Allow yourself to feel difficult emotions
If you feel sad, or angry, don’t try to suppress those emotions. If you are angry at the neglectful or abusive behavior of your family, allow yourself to be upset. If you feel sad about all the missed opportunities of having a childhood full of joy and love, sit with that sadness. It might be painful to relive these memories, but your mind needs the opportunity to process the trauma. Once you have given these emotions the time they were demanding, you will feel more at ease. Your mind will be less likely to wander to the negative emotions, allowing you to enjoy the holidays instead of dreading them.
Trauma needs time and effort to heal, and there are no shortcuts. But this does not mean your holidays have to be an anxiety-provoking and dreadful affair. You can take charge of the situation with the help of a good plan and move beyond the wounds of your past
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Keywords: online therapy, trauma therapy, telehealth, holiday stress, coping skills