The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Maybe Not.

Once again, the holiday season is upon us. For some people, this really is the most wonderful time of the year, as they look forward to time off from work and school and the opportunity to spend quality time with their family and friends. But for many others, the holidays are a difficult time rather than a joyful one. The pressure of buying gifts and traveling to visit family can create a lot of stress, especially for those who are struggling with financial difficulties. For people who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, or the “winter blues”, the shorter days and reduced amount of sunlight that accompany this time of year can lead to feelings of sadness, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression. Holidays can also be a painful reminder of loved ones who have died, especially when the loss is a recent one.

This time of year can be particularly painful for trauma survivors. People who have experienced trauma may find that their traumatic stress symptoms and triggers worsen around this time of year. The holidays can exacerbate the feelings of “otherness” that many trauma survivors feel, as they see the contrast between the joyousness of those around them and their own pain and suffering. For people who are survivors of dysfunctional childhood families, the thought of “going home for the holidays” may be bringing up feelings of dread rather than excitement.

Here are a few ideas to help you survive the holiday season this year:

  • Pay extra attention to your self-care. Don’t forget the basics: eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep. But it’s also important to make sure that you spending plenty of time on pampering, self-soothing activities. Take a bubble bath. Walk on the beach. Meditate. Don’t be afraid to spent time alone when you need to.
  • Create your own rituals for healing during the holidays. If the holidays are a trauma trigger, think of a personal way that you can celebrate yourself and your recovery process. Light candles and listen to inspiring music. Take part in service to the community. If you have experienced a loss of a loved one, find a way of honoring them in your holiday celebrations. Do something that feels meaningful and belongs only to you.
  • Respect your boundaries. The holidays often bring up additional demands on your time and finances, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t be afraid to say “no”, and often. This one is especially true if you come from a dysfunctional family, where you may not have been allowed to have many healthy boundaries when you were young. Remind yourself that you don’t have to play the same role you did when you were younger. It’s likely that your family members haven’t changed and that they won’t like your new boundaries– demand that they respect them anyway. And if they refuse, perhaps the best way you can respect yourself is to remove yourself entirely.
  • Keep your support system close. Spend time with people who respect you and who make you feel good about yourself. Even if that list is small right now, it may better to be alone than to be surrounded by dysfunctional people. If you are unable to avoid “going home for the holidays”, think of bringing along a supportive person to help buffer the harmful effects of toxic family relationships.
  • Be kind to yourself. Many who struggle during the holidays add onto their suffering by feeling guilty about it and beating themselves up. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel things more strongly and deeply around this time of year. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, without blame or judgment. Celebrate the fact that you have survived the pain, grief, and loss of your past.
  • It won’t last forever. Even if you find that nothing seems to assuage the stress of the holiday season, remind yourself that you only have to survive a few weeks out of the year before your life gets back to normal. And if you continue to struggle once the holidays have passed, consider reaching out for some extra help.

If you are interested in finding out more about how therapy can help you cope with difficult times, please contact me to learn more about how I can help.

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