How to Cope With Emotional Triggers This Holiday Season
Crowded grocery stores and shopping malls, bickering family members and delayed flights… the holiday season is one of alleged ‘good cheer’, yet it can be the most stressful time of the year for some. For those in trauma, addiction, or mental health recovery, the holidays can be even more strenuous. Fortunately, if you do struggle with any of the aforementioned issues, there are numerous tools available to help you make it through the holiday season unscathed. It is entirely possible to transform holiday-related anxieties and fears into positive and memorable experiences. First thing’s first… take few deep breaths and remember that everything is temporary. The way you feel now is not the way you will feel tomorrow, and just as turkeys will edge out pumpkins and Santa Claus will edge out turkeys, January will give way to March. Just like your emotions, life itself is cyclical, and it is impossible to predict the serenity that tomorrow may bring.
For those struggling with trauma-related issues, certain aspects of the holiday season may seem completely overwhelming. If past familial trauma is an issue, the prospect of ‘going home for the holidays’ may seem like nothing more than an unconquerable trigger. Those who have suffered trauma are more likely to feel an immense pressure to make everyone happy – to be the perfect host, the most thoughtful gift-giver, and the cook who caters to every preference. Aside from this, holidays tend to be somewhat geared towards reliving past events. Families and friends gather together, swap memories, and practice whatever traditions have been passed down over the years.
The best way to cope with trauma-related triggers over the holidays is by making a conscious effort to create new memories and begin practicing your own positive traditions. Perhaps you are used to spending all of Christmas Eve playing board games with your family. If the thought of spending all evening with your family brings on a sense of dread, try breaking up the time spent by taking an hour-long walk and watching the sunset. Allow yourself to create new traditions, and remind yourself that these can be your traditions – and your traditions alone. Take time to volunteer, join a Christmas caroling group… do whatever you need to do to honor your mental health and keep yourself in a serene and grounded place.
The vast majority of holidays – from St. Patrick’s Day to New Year’s Eve – seem to revolve around the over-consumption of alcohol. In addition to the prevalence of spiked eggnog and champagne toasts, the emotional, psychological, and financial stress that goes hand-in-hand with the season may drive some to drink. If you are in recovery for addiction, vulnerability to relapse certainly increases. Fortunately, there are numerous ways in which you can safeguard yourself against holiday-related triggers. First and foremost, it is crucial that you develop a strong circle of sober supports – sober friends that can be there for you when you need them, no matter what time of day. Secondly, it is important that you map out your recovery while you are away (if you plan to travel, that is). If you’re going home for the holidays, look up meetings in your area. Pin down reliable transportation to and from meetings in your hometown weeks before you begin traveling. Having a solid plan and sharing your plan with others will greatly reduce your risk of relapse.
It is also absolutely crucial that you practice self-care over the holiday season. Feeling stressed out and frazzled can be a huge trigger, and it is altogether too easy to get overwhelmed during the holidays. Remember to take care of yourself. Remember that no one really cares whether the pumpkin pie is store-bought or handmade, or whether they receive a gift card or a hand-knitted sweater. Prioritize your own spiritual health, and everything else is bound to fall into place.
Mental Health and the Holiday Season
The holiday season can be a breeding ground for both anxiety and depression. Trying to make every commitment and please everyone (friends and family alike) can be extremely anxiety-producing. Many feel financially strapped over the holidays, which is likely to cause additional stress. Those that are unable to travel home and spend time with loved ones may experience increased symptoms of depression, brought on by feelings of loneliness and isolation. Regardless of what mental health issues you may be struggling with, it is entirely impossible to manage your mental health over the holidays.
First of all, it is important that you remember to stay consistent in your regime. Try not to skip out on therapy, and avoid making excuses when it comes to keeping up with the things that you know help you stay motivated. For example, you may have discovered that spending an hour at the gym helps you relieve feelings of anxiety. If you are traveling home for the holidays, look up a local gym and get yourself a temporary membership (or use a friend’s guest pass). Sticking to your regime will help you maintain structure, which will in turn help you avoid slipping back into negative feelings. To avoid feelings of loneliness, plan to link up with old friends, or plan fun activities with old friends. Organizing activities like a Secret Santa gift exchange or a potluck will help keep you busy, prevent isolation, and allow you to choose healthy, sober attendees that you feel comfortable and safe around.
Remember that just like uncomfortable feelings, the holiday season will come and go. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, stay motivated, and practice self-care at every opportunity you get. Happy Holidays! You’ve got this!