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Holiday Stress and PTSD

The holidays are a stressful time for everyone. For those with PTSD, it can be magnified by the stress that we already face on "typical" days. Here are some common triggers for stress during the holidays:

Unhappy memories. Memories from holidays in abusive or neglectful environments, holidays spent in isolation due to hypervigilance, addiction, or being in treatment, or holidays spent away from loved ones whether due to deaths, abandonment, distance, or situation can trigger those with PTSD.

Toxic relatives. Oh yes, the joys of facing family functions with people who either do not support their loved one with PTSD, or, even worse, criticize and belittle her for having PTSD.

Changes. Throughout the year, there have most likely been ups and downs, and major changes have occurred. Many with PTSD have difficulties with change in general, and if any major losses or changes have happened throughout the year, the holidays are the time to "reflect upon the year". This often brings up feelings of grieving and loss, sadness and a longing for "the way things were".

What's stayed the same. In reviewing the year during the holidays, it also brings to light that which has not changed that you really wish would have... a feeling of regret and failure can accompany this reflection.

Lowered defenses. The holidays are portrayed as a time for families and friends to join together - reunite, reconnect, re-establish relationships. It is often in the movies that we see reconciliations and folks who have severed ties reconnect "in the holiday spirit." We often place these expectations on ourselves during the holidays.

Finances. Financial concerns often arise during the holidays, with an increase in event attendance, grocery budgets, travel expenses, and gift buying.

Those with PTSD may already have financial constraints due to difficulty with employment, insurance costs, medical visit costs, medication expenses, and therapy expenses.

Tips for Beating Holiday Stress

Focus on the holiday stresses that you can control. That includes making different plans and changing your responses to situations. Here are four key don'ts for the holidays:

Don't do the same old thing. Change something, anything about how you celebrate the holidays this year, in comparison to the last. Find a new tradition to start, go to a different household to celebrate, have a brunch instead of a dinner, etc.

Dont expect miracles. Just because the movies and media portray the holidays as a joyous time in which family and friends gather together in love and harmony, old conflicts forgotten and forgiven, etc. This rarely happens, and having realistic expectations will save much stress and disappointment.

Don't overdo it. Set limits, and stick to them. Practice healthy boundaries, and allow yourself to follow them without guilt. One cannot serve from an empty vessel.

Don't worry about how things should be. Accept the situations and events for what they are, and do not dwell on what they "should" be.

Ways to Avoid PTSD Stress Over the Holidays

It's pretty much 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 the possibility of enjoying the season. Here are some suggestions for coping with the holidays and holiday events:

Set limits by planning ahead. Have a set arrival and exit time pre-planned for each event. Plan for breaks and coping strategies (discussed below).

Have an exit strategy. As mentioned, having a set exit time is key. However, having an "emergency" exit strategy is always a good idea. If needed, set the alarm on your phone to go off, and claim that it was a text from a friend in crisis. Have a friend phone you, or simply tell your family/friends that you are not feeling well and need to go home. It is okay to not give "excuses" or reasons. It's your choice to be there!

Say no. If there are certain events that are particularly stressful, that you simply cannot face attending, then say so. It is your right to say "no" to situations, people, and places that are going to impede your recovery and effect your mental well-being.

Be yourself. Chances are - most - of your family and friends truly just want to spend time with you. Even if you are gloomy, anxious, withdrawn, moody, whatever, they really just likely want to be around you during the holidays. Just be yourself, and let those who truly love you, love you just the way you are! Visit our Self-Confidence and PTSD page.

Just look at the next five minutes. One small step at a time!


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