Navigating the Holidays with PTSD

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. They involve much-needed time off from work, family, and celebrations like Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Krampusnacht, and Hanukkah. They also represent the end of a year and closing another chapter of our lives.

Most of the time, we associate the holidays with joy and happiness. Traditional music. Hot cocoa. Mulled wine. Cozying up by the fire. Decorating cookies. Opening loads of present.

Other times, holidays can bring on less pleasant emotions, especially if you’re living with PTSD.

For us, holidays come with stressful social interactions and societal pressure to act in a particular manner or be more social than our energy supply allows. In addition, they can be triggering because they often put us in proximity to people or places that don’t hold the best of memories.

This can take an increased toll on anyone struggling with a mental health issue or psychiatric injury like PTSD. It can also make healing harder, particularly if you have to face the source of your trauma (i.e., a parent or specific place). Furthermore, the hustle and bustle they bring can be incredibly overstimulating, which can be a nightmare.

It’s not easy to protect yourself during the holidays. Circumstances can feel out of control, and dealing with everything tossed your way might appear to be a better option. Despite that, you can still protect your peace and have fun during the holidays. Here’s how:

1. Keep Up With Your Health

When we feel stressed, our health is often the first thing we neglect. Unfortunately, this can worsen stress and sometimes lead to physical symptoms.

To prevent this, stay up-to-date with your medications, eat healthy foods, and drink adequate amounts of water. Exercise, meditate, and keep up with your skin if those are part of your routine.

I’ve already been reminded this year that consuming more sugar and cocktails truly affects my mood and behavior. It exacerbates everything!

No matter how tempting it is, don’t let yourself go (too much). Enjoy goodies in moderation and be sure to eat something healthy and green every day.

2. Look to Your Support System

Having a support system is helpful when facing stressful situations the holidays can bring. Your network can include supportive members of your family, friends, and even a therapist. Make it a point to spend time with these people, no matter how short.

Not only can it simply be enjoyable, but it also gives you a chance to talk with others, which can be a therapeutic experience.

If you don’t have a support system, try to build one. The holidays are a good time for socialization, and if you’re willing to, you can meet lots of good people in person and online.

Also: be sure to take time for yourself. Recalibrate in the silence. Regenerate in your solitude.

3. Know Your Boundaries

Boundaries are essential in any situation, but their importance grows during the holidays. Make a list of your limits ahead of the holiday festivities, so you don’t get swept up. Know what events you’ll attend, which family members you’ll visit, and other noteworthy details.

Have an escape plan if things get painful and triggering. This can be as simple as running to grab a coffee or go for a walk, or it can be more complicated like grabbing a cab to the nearest hotel to truly escape.

Then, try your best to do the hard part, which is sticking to them. No matter what anyone says, choose yourself and stick to what you have decided is best for you. You and your mental health matter more than anything else, even disappointing family and friends. If they love you, they will understand. If they don’t understand and support you, they might just be the toxic people you no longer need in your life.

Closing Thoughts

Your mental health is vital. You don’t have to compromise it for anyone, even during the holidays. There are many ways to enjoy yourself without putting your mind through unnecessary stress. Even if it seems like the more challenging option, protect your peace. You won’t regret it.

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