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How to Handle Holiday Trauma Triggers

The holiday season is often filled with family festivities and fun — but for some, it can mean stress and potential triggers. The most wonderful time of the year can also be painful reminders of past trauma and those affected by mental illness.

How can you go beyond just surviving the holiday season and enjoy it to the fullest, despite potential holiday triggers?

How Do You Identify Trauma Triggers?

Trauma triggers are anything that reminds you of what happened before, during, or after a past traumatic experience. Triggers can be brought on by anything from seeing someone who abused you to smelling smoke after a house fire.

Holidays are also marked with festivities that often involve food and alcohol. For anyone struggling with eating disorders or substance abuse, the heightened focus on food and drinks during the holiday season can be overwhelming. For some, unfortunately, it can even trigger a relapse.

Many people dealing with depression and grief can see the holidays as lonely days without their loved ones. On the flip side, many people who have dealt with family abuse and trauma can be forced to interact their abusers during holiday dinners.

Some emotional symptoms of triggers include overreactions, unexplained changes in mood, dissociation, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, flashbacks, hypomania, and anger.

How to Cope with Holiday Stress

No matter how hard we try to avoid stress it is part of our daily life. Here are a few tips to avoid holiday trauma triggers:

friends christmas holidays
  • Make a plan. Whether you are hosting the family or traveling for the holiday, a general plan with rough time estimates and departure times can be helpful. Start with your event time, and work backward. Give yourself plenty of extra time for traffic, delayed recipes, and any bumps you may encounter.
  • Feel free to say no. Responsibilities are unavoidable, but you do not have to do everything. If you are an introvert, saying no to a second Christmas party in the same weekend may be in your best interest. For those with family trauma, seeing some relatives can be especially triggering. Declining invitations to events that could be upsetting, no matter the reason, is an important holiday self-care tactic.
  • Know your coping mechanisms. Let’s be real — the holidays are stressful, and there is no way to avoid it completely. Knowing how to address your feelings and get yourself back on track is half the battle. Whether it’s fidget toys, daily exercise, guided meditation, or just your trusted support system, be ready to pull from your self-care arsenal.
  • Don’t focus on presents. One of the leading holiday triggers is money, from paying for a holiday feast to getting everyone the perfect gift. Use your skills to make things you can, or spread holiday shopping out over the entire year to make budgeting for presents easier.
  • Go with the flow. At the end of the day, the focus should be on celebrating with family and friends, not how perfect your pie looks. If something goes wrong, like a failed recipe or an unexpected seat added to the table, find a quiet place where you can take a few breaths. Try breathing in for a count of 4 breaths, holding for 1 count, and exhaling for 2 counts. This technique is proven to help reset the brain amid stress and anxiety.
  • Talk to someone. Knowing other people are in the same boat can be incredibly comforting. You don’t need to put all your feelings in your social media posts, but having a close group of a few loved ones to vent to and seek support from can keep you grounded through the chaos.

Contact Us Today

The holiday season revolves around giving back— and that also means giving to yourself, too. Through the parties, dinners, and celebrations, set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and be patient with yourself along the way.

Get ahead of the holiday stress before the season even starts! Contact us to set up an appointment at any of our five locations or via telehealth.