Although 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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