For many, the holiday season is a time of reunion, festivity, and gratitude. We get to see loved ones we haven’t seen all year, we get to take time off of work… everyone we meet seems a little more cheerful, kind, and willing to lend a helping hand. However, there are some individuals that experience the opposite when the holidays roll around. Trauma survivors may feel overwhelmed, over-stimulated, and extremely anxious during the holidays. Those in trauma recovery tend to thrive in a structured environment, and changes to schedule (breaks from work, traveling, etc) may bring up feelings of anxiety and sadness. Past trauma may have occurred within the family, and expectations to return home may cause extreme stress. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cope with potential triggers. Of course, it is important that the concerned individual is able to identify triggers, and either avoid them entirely or formulate a realistic plan of action. Usually, developing a plan is the more practical route. While falling asleep sometime before Halloween and waking up in the middle of January may seem ideal, sleeping through the holidays season isn’t entirely pragmatic.
Trauma and The Holidays
Traumatic experiences affect everyone differently. Whether a traumatic event is isolated or ongoing, the mind and body will process the event in differing ways. For some, one specific experience may prove to be completely debilitating, and consequences will prove severe and long-lasting. For others, the same experience may prove to be relatively inconsequential. The way that traumatic events impact us depends on a variety of factors, including upbringing, co-occurring disorders, personal belief systems, sociocultural factors, and our individual, developmental processes. However, there are several common responses – known as trauma responses – that those who have lived through trauma may experience after the fact. Trauma responses are classified as initial or delayed; initial responses tend to be short-lived, while delayed responses crop up weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event took place. The holiday season has been known to trigger delayed responses, which can include insomnia and other sleep disorders, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and a conscious or subconscious avoidance of people, places, and things that may be associated with the trauma.
In order to maintain trauma recovery throughout the holiday season (and in order to successfully avoid delayed trauma responses), the ability to recognize potential triggers is of utmost importance. Triggers could include returning to a childhood home, coming into contact with a past abuser… even hearing a specific song on the radio, or being reintroduced to a specific smell. Take a look at what circumstances, people, or experiences have lead to negative feelings in the past. Of course, it will be impossible to actively avoid all potential triggers. This is where the utilization of coping skills comes into play. We at Next Chapter believe in ‘grounding’ as a highly effective coping mechanism, and we put a huge emphasis on teaching all of our clients several useful grounding techniques. Consciously bringing yourself back to the present moment and recognizing that triggers are simply bringing past emotions to the surface will help alleviate responses quickly and efficiently. Focus on breathing, plant your feet firmly on the ground, and pay attention to the sounds, sights, and smells in the world around you. Remember that ll feelings are temporary, and remind yourself that you are going to be okay.
It is important to remember that trauma responses are to be expected – dealing with ongoing symptoms does not make an individual weak, and it doesn’t mean that progress hasn’t been made. It simply means that there is still some healing left to do. For more information on our program of trauma recovery for men, please feel free to contact us today.