5 Ways to Cope with Trauma During The Holidays

Jessica Richards | Anxiety, Counseling

Trauma and Coping During the Holidays

The holidays are stressful. There is no doubt about that. For those with a history of trauma, depression and anxiety, the holidays can present an additional challenge with an increase in trauma related symptoms. 

With that in mind, for individuals who experience anxiety, depression or trauma relying on day-to-day routines is imperative for managing symptoms throughout the year. The holidays are full of unexpected schedules, sleep patterns, family feuds, traveling a change in eating patterns. You name it, there is a wrench thrown into the mix and routines are thrown off discourse. 

Trauma & 5 Ways to Cope this Holiday Season

The holidays we want to indulge and let loose. We tend to toss our coping skills to the side and then it’s not until we’re in hindsight that we realize our symptoms of trauma have increased. Things to consider this holiday season are:

  1. Sleep  – Often times sleep routine is paramount for coping with traumatic associations, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, emotional flashbacks and other trauma related symptoms. When traveling or having other’s over during the holiday, sleep routine is naturally thrown off. The body begins to feel a familiar feeling of ‘lack of safety’ and the nervous system begins to react. You may notice an increase in irritability, anger, aggression, or restlessness throughout the day. 

    I consider myself a ‘sleep snob’, from dim lights, essential oil diffuser, weighted blanket, tempurpedic mattress, black out curtains, and a sound machine. I myself, find it very difficult to sleep peacefully anywhere other than home. Those with a history of trauma depend on their coping routines to feel at ease. 

    Coping with a known and upcoming sleep dysregulation means that we can prepare ahead and reduce the overall impact. If you are like me and depend on a sleep routine, make a list of what you can do to increase consistency as much as possible.  

    • Schedule timers, or alarms to remind you when to prepare to go to bed and to keep you on as much of a routine as possible. 
    • Bring items, diffusers, oils, pillows, blankets etc. that will help you feel more at home and keep the mind and body feeling safe before bed. 
    • If you tend to have a bedtime routine such as, showering, brushing teeth, laying down reading etc. then make an attempt to continue the same routine and regimen as much as possible. 
  2. Alcohol/Coffee  Alcohol and coffee are stimulants. When our routines are on par, they may not negatively impact us as much. However, when we’re already being stimulated with a change in routine, our nervous system is already on an alert. As much as we may want to indulge, remember how this may impact your increase in trauma related symptoms this holiday season. 

    Coping with the urges to indulge with alcohol or coffee. Here are a few tips:

    • Prepare for the holiday gatherings where there will be alcohol or caffeine present. Decide ahead of time how to manage the situation. Wether you decide to forgo alcohol and caffeine altogether or if you decide to reduce the consumption. Make a plan. Consciously state the plan to yourself. ‘I will have X for drink instead’ or ‘I will drink and alcoholic free drink’. Your nervous system and body will thank you for it later and your trauma symptoms will not be negatively impacted by substances. 
  3. Managing Energy Levels With the disruption in routine the nervous system is already on a higher alert. This means, it’s burning our energy at a higher rate than usual. Maintaining a relaxed nervous system increases a sense of safety and therefore decreases the sense of panic associated with trauma. The trauma response stays at bay and the trauma reactions, symptoms remain at ease. During the holidays, we may want to stay out later, attend social gathering longer, and forget that this also disrupts and triggers our trauma related symptoms. 

    Coping with and managing energy levels during this holiday season:

    • Have an exit plan to leave events early if necessary. 
    • Plan which events you’ll attend and which ones you will forgo. 
    • Communicate ahead of time with friends and family members. 
    • Take breaks, go for walks, take a nap, refuel with eating healthy foods.
  4. Managing Family Chances are, family is either a source or a trigger for trauma memories, associations and anniversaries. Many individuals choose to do the holidays with limited, reduced or no-contact at all with family during this time due to an increase in trauma symptoms. Whichever you decide, is your choice to make. There is no right or wrong. However, there are ways to manage. 

    Coping with and managing family triggers during this holiday season:

    • Set boundaries and maintain them. 
    • Come up with scripts or assertive responses to questions you fear the most ahead of time. Write them down. When you’re frozen in a reaction, it will be difficult to communicate effectively. Plan ahead. 
    • Plan activities separate of your family. Walks, meditations, exercise reading etc. Get up before or go to bed after. The bathroom is a great place to escape if you have no other options. 
    • Plan activities WITH your family. Plan relaxing activities with your family — if it’s safe and you can of course — plan to go to the movies together, play games, go for walks together, or other activities you can think of. Just plan for it ahead of time. Doing something other than sitting around and waiting for conflict to arise, can assist with associating NEW memories less traumatic memories with family and friends. This will create a space for healing. 
  5. Grief With trauma, grief is common. With the holidays, grief can arise from trauma anniversaries, memories or better or worse times, loss of ‘ideal parents’ or ‘friends’. It’s ok. Know that this is common. Grief is going to arise and that’s ok. It’s temporary and you are safe in your grief. You will not stay in this place forever but, allow the mind and body to process the grief that you may experience. 

    Coping with grief from trauma during this holiday season:

    • Positive memories are often associated with negative memories and vice versa — for those with a history of trauma. Write down the memories, allow them to come, be kind, compassionate and caring in your trauma grief responses this holiday season. 
    • Talk to yourself as if you were a child grieving. “It’s ok you are safe now, those were painful memories and hurtful times, it’s safe to cry now and to miss those individuals even if they hurt you.” 
    • Write letters to those who you may be grieving this year. It’s not uncommon to find yourself grieving the very people who caused emotional pain and turmoil. This can be confusing. It’s ok. It’s common to love, care for and miss the very people who hurt us. It’s also ok to set and maintain boundaries while you continue to experience grief. Grieving someone who hurt you doesn’t mean they can hurt you more. 

Lastly, if you are someone you know are experiencing an increase in symptoms of trauma, anxiety or depression this holiday season, know that you are not alone. Reach out for support and increase counseling sessions. Our office at The Center of Life Counseling can be reached at 407-476-1432. We have available appointments and specialize in working with trauma, anxiety and depression. 

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