6 Ways to Reduce PTSD Stress During the Holidays
Wednesday, November 26 2014 Michele Rosenthal
You change after trauma, but everyone else expects you to remain the same. Up until the day of your trauma (whether that was birth or any time afterward) the people around you have expectations for who you are, how you should behave, what you will and won’t do and that you will make choices in alignment with their agenda. The stress and pressure of these expectations can become enormously overwhelming – especially over the holidays.
How to Stay True To Who You Are When You Have to Be More Like Everyone Else
A season of expected joyful connection is particularly tough if you’re depressed, sleep-deprived, anxious, hypervigilant, trigger-sensitive and struggling to suppress uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and memories. When your focus on coping already taxes your energy and patience, the forced attitude toward and interactions with others during the holidays can put you into overdrive. The result: increased feelings of shame, self-blame, guilt, fear and panic. Plus, more frequent meltdowns, lashouts, tears and rage often occur.
So many survivors put on a mask on top of the usual survivor mask and muddle through to New Year’s day with a plastic smile and a hollow laugh. While that might appease those around you it comes at a price: You abandon what your true self needs. You know who you are and what’s important to you. This holiday season stay true to who you are by carefully planning and managing how you fulfill what others what you to be.
Ways to Avoid PTSD Stress Over the Holidays
It’s virtually impossible to avoid the holidays altogether but having a plan for being in control of how you experience and manage them can be the difference between a breakdown and chin up. Try these six ways to stay in alignment with you are while lining up to share the holidays with everyone else:
- Set limits by planning ahead. Maintain a sense of control and balance by choosing what you will do, when, how, in what way and with whom. Rather than allow yourself to get corralled into situations that feel uncomfortable, decide in advance what you will do and share this decision with others so that they understand your game plan. Decide how many events you’re willing to attend, plus the length of time you feel you can manage. Put in place boundaries that support your choices.
- Have an exit strategy. The best way to go into a commitment is knowing you can get out. Feelings of powerlessness increase when you feel you have zero control. For everything that you agree or commit to this holiday season, maintain control by knowing what you will do to take a breather, how you will escape if you feel overwhelmed and how to get away or spend some time alone for self-care and restoration.
- Say no. It’s not your job to make everyone else happy. Your number one task is to keep yourself on as even a keel as possible, to ensure your safety and to stay on your path to healing. It is absolutely okay to refuse requests or to modify your willingness to positively respond to them.
- Do it your way. Friends and family may have their ideas about how and when and for how long each get together occurs, but you have the right to choose your level of engagement. For each event that you agree to, ask yourself, “What do I need to be able to manage this?” Then, choose the most healthy options and implement them regardless of how others respond. (For example, if in the middle of a big family dinner you need 10 minutes alone to meditate and ground yourself, take the break even if it raises some eyebrows!)
- Be real. It’s true, you can’t go to every party or family gathering with an enormous frown, but you also don’t have to be the life of the party. Find a place of neutral that feels comfortable: offer a smile but stay within a true range of how you feel. Chat but don’t try to please everyone by being the funniest, happiest or _____ person in the room. Operating in a range of being true to you reduces stress, which will allow you to be more relaxed and successful in your interactions.
- Just look at the next five minutes. The holiday season and each individual gathering can stretch out over the next month like a very long and steep road. Stop looking ahead. In every minute, focus on just the next five minutes. Keep your vision rooted in the present to reduce anxiety (which is, of course, worry about the future) and conserve energy so that you spend your inner resources where they matter (here and now) as often as possible.
All year friends and family have watched you struggle. They have (or in some cases, have not) offered to help, support or accept the way your past continues to affect their present. You and your safety and comfort are your number one priority. Still, when appropriate you can also imagine a sense of compassion for their confusion, loss and sense of helplessness. Because of what they’re experiencing they’ll want things to feel a certain way over the holidays. Naturally, this will create a distance between you as their desires and expectations don’t jive with your own.
At the core of PTSD recovery is your bid to shift out of a sense of deep powerlessness and into a place where you feel powerful in ways that allow you to choose who you are, how you live, who you love, where you work, when you play and all the other aspects that create a life that feels good to you. The holidays and PTSD are tough. They are also a good place to explore, discover and practice identifying who you are and what is important and meaningful to you; then identifying ways for you to create that.