Coping with trauma and its triggers can be a difficult feat, but it is possible. However, the holidays are a challenge all by themselves in that they include tons of smells, music, sights, rituals, and more. This time of year, often deemed “the most wonderful time of the year,” can be extremely triggering for many individuals. Past memories can come floating up and trigger painful emotions and physical feelings. Dealing with the holidays can be difficult, but not impossible. Since this time of year is approaching, we at Northstar Transitions want to help you prepare. Here are some tips for coping with trauma triggers during the holidays.
Identify Your Triggers
First and foremost, you should identify your triggers and how they make you feel, both physically and emotionally. Having a plan in place to cope with your triggers can help keep your body from spiking cortisol levels and going into the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Think of any general triggers and then add ones that are specific to the holidays as well. By identifying these and having coping strategies in mind, you can be prepared for if and when they do appear.
Set Boundaries for Yourself
Remember that even if it is the holidays, you are not obligated or required to put yourself in any traumatizing or even uncomfortable situations. Spending the holidays with your chosen family is an option if you believe it would be a negative experience to go home to your biological family for the holidays. Decide which parties to go to, who you want to see, and how you want to spend your holidays. You are allowed to set and uphold boundaries that are conducive to your recovery. This special time of year does not give anyone a free pass to you or your life.
If you do decide to go to a party that may have potential triggers or uncomfortable situations, be sure to communicate your boundaries with your family or whoever you are at the party or get-together with. It is best to do this before the actual get-together so they know what to expect with your coming. This can include asking for no drinking or asking to not be offered any alcohol, not bringing up certain memories or situations, etc. Communicate what you need as long as you feel safe doing so, and remember that you are allowed to leave the event any time if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
A great way to cope with trauma is to start new traditions with the people you love and like to be around. This can include holiday dinners, gift exchanges, seeing the lights around town, or whatever you and your friends find fun. The new traditions will provide a great distraction from the bad memories surrounding the holidays and give you something to look forward to each year instead of being anxious as November and December approach.
Do Something That Makes You Happy
It is common for trauma survivors to believe they don’t deserve to do things for themselves, but doing something that makes you happy during such a stressful time can alleviate a lot of the negative feelings you may be having. You can bake cookies, listen to holiday music, go on a walk surrounded by holiday decorations, and more. The goal is to keep yourself calm and take care of yourself. This can also be booking an appointment with a therapist or going to a support group if you think this will help get you through this time.
Trauma survivors are commonly on high alert because their nervous system works overtime as a result of the trauma they went through. They may be consciously anxious and notice everything around them, which can be exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. Slowing down and taking some time to practice self-care will help to relax you and keep you calmer throughout the holidays. Self-care activities can include taking a hot bath, taking a nap, meditating, going for a walk, and more. By taking the time to calm yourself, you will be more prepared to deal with stressful situations or triggers that may arise during the holidays.
The holidays can be extremely difficult when you have gone through trauma. However, you don’t need to spend the time in isolation, feeling depressed. Reaching out when you are feeling overwhelmed can get out a lot of the negative feelings that you are holding inside. You can also ask your friend or trusted person to be on-call during a holiday event you are going to. Keep in mind though, that they may be busy with holiday celebrations of their own. Having someone there for you will help keep your anxiety at bay as you are able to discuss anything that makes you uncomfortable. They can keep your mind off of those or help you engage in coping strategies.
The holidays are often thought of as one of the best times of the year, but this is not the case for everyone. For many individuals, the holidays are full of painful reminders of traumatizing memories. Unfortunately, the holidays are also packed with common traditions, sights, scents, rituals, and more. This can be overwhelming. However, there are ways to cope with trauma triggers as the holidays approach. At Northstar transitions, we want to give you the best chance of surviving the holidays. This is why we offer these tips. Feeling comfortable and being able to get through this time of year is an achievement in itself. Remember to take care of yourself and set healthy boundaries, reminding yourself that you are not obligated to spend time with anyone or in any place that makes you uncomfortable. We understand how difficult this time can be, but you don’t have to be alone. If you need further help, give us a call today at (303) 558-6400.