A Holiday Blueprint for Tackling Trauma and Anxiety

young woman looking anxious at holiday dinnerAlthough the holidays can be a happy and exciting time for some, for others it is a time of dread, feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and wishing it would just be over already. This can be especially true for people who have struggled with trauma. The holiday season can be riddled with reminders of traumatic events.

The holidays, the time of year, and being around loved ones can create the perfect storm and trigger both large and small traumas and their accompanying symptoms.

I recently had a client mention that he was dreading the holidays and experiencing a great deal of anxiety, as he would soon have to go home to visit his family—where he had experienced some minor trauma which resulted in negative beliefs about himself. Just the thought of going home increased his anxiety and worry. This reaction is very common, and knowing how to cope with the symptoms can make the difference between suffering through the holidays and enjoying them.

These are tips that I give to people who are in the above predicament to help them get through the holiday season as smoothly as possible:

  1. Make sure you have an escape plan. This doesn’t have to be dramatic as it sounds. By escape plan, I mean a way to get away from the crowds/family/holiday festivities/etc. and take a break. We all need our space, and that is even more important for a person who is continuing to address small (or large) traumas. Knowing you have a way to get time for yourself, setting boundaries, and sticking to your boundaries can be reassuring and anxiety-reducing.
  2. Breathe! It is amazing what a deep breath can do for the body and the mind. Give it a try right now. Take a deep breath and notice how your body feels after you do. When we are tense, we tend not to breathe as deeply and fully as we could. Becoming aware of your breathing is something you can do whether you are surrounded by loved ones at a holiday gathering or on your own. It is discreet; nobody has to know that you are practicing an anxiety-reducing technique.
  3. Make self-care a priority. I cannot stress this point enough. During the holidays, self-care is too often put aside in the interest of getting things done and catering to everyone else. It is OK to recognize your limits and say no to activities that will compromise your self-care. Purposely schedule your self-care and engage in activities that are restful and rejuvenating for you.
  4. Don’t miss appointments with your therapist. I know it is a busy time of year, but this is connected to my last point about self-care. If the holidays are difficult, stressful, or anxiety provoking in any way, this is the time to be consistent with therapy. If you aren’t in therapy, it is a good time to start therapy to have the extra support that may help you get through this time of year.
  5. Let loved ones know how they can support you. It can be tempting to want to isolate, but doing so can actually worsen trauma and other symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Let someone you trust know what you are going through and how they can best support you. If you don’t know what would help, a professional could work with you and your support network to come up with a plan for surviving the holidays.

Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to experience the holidays. Whether you enjoy the holidays, need a little more support this time of year, or use the above suggestions just to get through them as best you can, remember that the New Year (and maybe a new beginning) is just around the corner.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, therapist in Midvale, Utah

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gabrielle

    Gabrielle

    December 12th, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    I guess I have led a relatively safe ad secure and happy life because I didn’t realize that there were so many people for whom the holidays cause so much anxiety! But judging from the number of articles here there must be a whole lot more of you guys than there are of me!

  • Millicent

    Millicent

    December 13th, 2013 at 3:33 AM

    A good yoga class always works for me.
    It helps me to clear my mind, focus on my breathing, and take care of myself all at the same time.
    Truly this is the only way I can find peace in this stressful time of year.
    And Gabrielle, you are very lucky

  • Anny

    Anny

    December 13th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    I suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) in 1984, the fact that I was a teenager at the time may have complicated my emotional reasoning skills. I remember more than most people about situations in life but have difficulty responding correctly. I’m often times reacting poorly or making bad judgement calls on other peoples reactions/responses to regular events.

  • Ruth

    Ruth

    December 20th, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    Dear Anny, I, too had aTBI, but in middle age. Did you have a good neurologist? That is essential to complete healing. I would suggest you get a good referral; Then a therapist referral. How did it happen? Blessings.
    Have Happy Holidays!

  • stanley

    stanley

    December 14th, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    I think that most people feel this need to escape from the crowd every now and then but most of us don’t know how or don’t have the nerve to step away from the situation even when we know that this is for the best. My wife and I over the years have developed a little thing between us, just a small little look or gesture, that says hey, we need some help here and I think that we have always been there to step in if the other needs to be rescued a little bit from the chaos. I think that in some ways this has made the two of us stronger just because it is our little deal that w eknow we always have each other’s back.

  • Sheri Mobley

    Sheri Mobley

    December 15th, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Has anyone mentioned massage therapy? I don’t think that I have seen that anywhere but for me this is one of the best ways that I know to take a little time out just for me and have the stress kind of melt away. This may not be for everyone but I am a firm believer that you have to work to find what method of stress relief will work the best for you. It seems that I have pretty much tried everything over the years but once I found a great massage therapist it was pretty much over for me, I could stop looking. There is just something so relaxing about it for me that I can take that hour or so and keep my mind off of the troubling things that could be going on in other parts of my life. I definitely recommend at least giving it a try if you haven’t before.

  • jo

    jo

    December 16th, 2013 at 3:37 AM

    Missing my appointment times are NOT an option for me.
    I might let other stuff slide but this would not be one of them

  • Alice S

    Alice S

    December 17th, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    I have had to learn how to not let all the little things stress me out! I have also learned how to ask my family for help and delegate. Its much easier to not do everything yourself!

  • Anastasia Pollock

    Anastasia Pollock

    January 30th, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions! Body work such as yoga and massage therapy are great ways of reducing stress. Communicating with your partner and asking others for help are also wonderful ways for coping with holiday stress.

    Thank you for reading!

  • Deb

    Deb

    December 14th, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Great ideas !

  • jenny

    jenny

    December 14th, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    I amgoing to try laughter yoga, I seen it once at school, it was fun, it makes you laugh, and you get to be a kid again!! Try it :-) :-) :-)

  • Jean W

    Jean W

    December 15th, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Thank you for understanding and making others aware. The tips are wonderful.

  • Claudette

    Claudette

    December 21st, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Self care is so hard no matter what situation. People who fall under this article are those who want to carry their own burden, which leads me to the last one which recommends let others help support. Another hard one, for we don’t want to burden others. I have just recently started to understand all this. I turned 50 and seen how others feel good by helping and it didn’t cost them anything. Double good. It’s a matter of realizing it’s ok to be weak and let go. The weight is eventually lifted!!!

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