coping with trauma during the holiday

Holidays and time leading up to them can be very challenging for those who have a history of childhood trauma. As a child, for those who are experiencing ongoing trauma, holidays are not the typical happy time. During the months of as early as September through January we are reminded of the “ most wonder time of the year” with decorations out in the stores and holiday music playing. But it’s not the most wonderful time of year for everyone.

Holiday’s can be overstimulating with all the people, noise, and crowds. For some, you might have to see the person who was the source of your trauma. Your family may not validate or understand your mental health struggles. If this leaves to continued invalidation of both your mental health and trauma, it can have lasting impacts and increase post-traumatic stress symptoms.

This post will review a list of coping strategies that may help you get through the holiday season and your triggers.


Stay grounded

Find things that help you stay grounded that you can use both at home but also outside of your home.

  • This can be certain scents that are grounding
  • A textured grounding stone in your pocket
  • Eengaging apps on your phone
  • Engage in grounding conversation with someone
  • Name off every detail of something in the room with you
  • Practice somatic grounding with your feet on the floor pressing down, feeling your back against the chair.
  • Wash your face with cold water
  • Drink something cold or something soothing like Camille tea
  • Go outside for a couple minutes- take in your surroundings: What do you see? What do you hear? What can you feel?
  • Cut up lemons or anything citrus and put in the freezer. Take them out when you need to practice grounding: feel the coolness, smelling the citrus, tasting the sourness.
Dual Awareness

Keep a piece of paper with you or a picture on your phone with the current date, where you are, and grounding statements such “ I am safe” “ It is December 25th 2022 and I am safe”  “ even though my body is afraid, I am safe” 

Self-advocacy

You have a voice. If you do not feel comfortable or safe going somewhere, say so. You do not have to attend. It is okay to set that boundary! You are allowed to set boundaries with those in your life and have them respected. 

Plan ahead

DBT will call this coping ahead. Picture what you will do before the event for yourself to help remain calm, picture how you can cope during the event, practice the dual awareness statements, picture yourself practicing vocalizing boundaries, and then picture what you can do after the event for self-care. 

Self-care

Over all during the holiday period, don’t forget to take care of you! Focus on eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and limiting caffeine are some examples. Do not forget about your brain body connection. Taking care of your physical health is very important. Take care of you first and foremost! 

Self-validation

We unfortunately cannot rely on other people to validate how we are feeling. This is also not a skill everyone learns as a child. During this time period make sure you are validating your emotions and experiences. Remind yourself it is okay to feel scared, anxious, sad, etc. Reminding yourself you are NOT to blame for your childhood trauma. Write it down on post its, put something validating to help remind yourself of this as your phone screen saver.

Grieve

…What you don’t have: It is okay to be angry that you didn’t have the childhood you would have liked. Grieve the knowledge that certain people in your life may not be able to give you the type of relationship you need from them. Grieve the lack of accountability you may encounter from those in your life when you were younger. Grieve the family, the relationships, the support you did not have. Feel the feelings. It is very hard to sit with uncomfortable feelings. Set a timer on your phone- feel all the feels for five minutes, ten minutes, whatever works for you…. And then make sure you practice self-care and coping. Do something pleasurable that will bring you peace or happiness, even if just for that moment.

Support

If you have people in your life that you trust that you can speak to, and that can validate how you are feeling, make sure you are staying in contact with them. Reach out when you need to. We are all human, but support looks different for each one of us. Let the people in your life know what support looks like for you and what you need from them during this time. Make a plan to talk to them on the way to or from a gathering. 

Limit substances

Although it might be tempting to engage in the use of alcohol or other substances before or during a family gathering, it would be used as a maladaptive coping skill which would not be healthy. Also if you are under the influence, it can lower your window of tolerance and allow triggering to happen a lot easier. 

Plan an exit

You do not have to stay in a situation that you feel unsafe in. Come up with an exit strategy before you go. Share it with someone you trust. This can be someone that is going to be in the same place as you such as another family member, friend, or partner. Sometimes, knowing you have a scheduled plan to leave if you feel unsafe or anxious, can help lower anxiety going into the situation.

Loneliness

If you do not have family to spend the holiday with, or holiday plans, create your own traditions. Try not to sit around and do nothing but ruminate on what you do not have. Try not to go over all the should’s ( I should have had…). Come up with a plan on what you can do to combat some of the loneliness and make the holiday bearable. Some ideas include:

  • Build a gingerbread house
  • binge a show
  • read a book
  • color
  • buy yourself some presents
  • bake cookies
  • . Volunteer at a homeless shelter, volunteer at Ronald McDonald house, etc. 
  • Plan to get together with your friends. Sometimes.. we create our own family.
  • Plan a vacation to get out of town.
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