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Finding Joy in the Holidays While Suffering from PTSD

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Finding Joy in the Holidays While Suffering from PTSD

By: David Wilcox

PTSD, holidays

Photo via Pixabay by Patrycja

The excitement of the holiday season usually gets everyone in festive moods, bringing families together for joyous celebrations and gift-giving.  For those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can bring dread and uncertainty.  Holidays and anniversaries can be triggers for people who have gone through traumatic events during these time frames. And even if their event didn’t happen during the holidays, the expectation of joy and happiness can be difficult for sufferers of PTSD.

Parties and celebrations are hard to handle for people who have suffered loss and trauma.  Thinking about what’s missing or lost instead of focusing on reasons to be grateful just makes you feel more alone.  There are ways to help yourself or a loved one get through the holidays and maybe even find a little joy in the process.

Prepare a Plan

Think about what your triggers are and how they affect you.  Understanding your own triggers will make it easier to learn ways to cope or combat them.  You can prepare for situations like crowded parties with escape plans, such as a phone call from a friend after a certain amount of time, or a code word pre-planned with your spouse for when you need to leave.  Breathing techniques and stepping outside for a few minutes can also help if you just need to reset.  Limit your time  with very difficult situations or people that you know will be too hard to handle.

A support system is extremely important to have in place.  Do not be afraid to talk more openly with family and friends you trust.  If they love you, your trust in them will nurture their relationship with you and be just as important for them.  Take one of these trusted people to difficult events to be a shoulder to lean on and help you recognize triggers before they get out of hand. And plan to stay away from alcohol or drugs- these will only contribute to a loss of control during stressful situations.

Take Control of Your Holidays

Choose which events you really want or need to go to.  Plan your own activities that do not involve situations that you find difficult, like staying home with your family to decorate a tree or hanging lights on your house outside.  Discover new traditions to build on that won’t bring up old memories.

Instead of avoiding the issue of PTSD with your family, openly talk about how you feel, what your plan is to avoid triggers, and how they can support you while you remember to support them.  When everyone knows what’s going on, you can work on recovery together.

Find ways to eliminate stress for your household.  Finances are a big worry during the holidays.  Making and sticking to a budget can alleviate money-related issues.  Talk about other stresses and make a plan to alleviate them.

Taking Care of Yourself

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting help from a caregiver (in fact, it’s encouraged), think about ways to better care for yourself.  Instead of making typical New Year’s Resolutions, promise yourself that you will work to keep yourself healthy so that you can begin to nurture the ones important to you.  Allow yourself to feel different than others about the holidays and know that it’s okay.

Reaching out and helping others is a wonderful way to take control of your emotions and refocus them on others.  Finding your own ways to contribute can make the holidays easier and more fulfilling.  Volunteering at homeless shelters, helping others in a PTSD support group, or cooking food for the sick or elderly can all be ways for you to give joy without feeling obligated to take part in typical holiday celebrations.

Sometimes the best ideas and plans fall short and you may need some extra help to make it through.  Plan extra counselling or therapy sessions when during the holidays and get the help you need.  Check the PTSD website for help finding a therapist, assistance for family and friends, and to find the Veterans Crisis Line or Suicide Helpline.

Even if the holidays are difficult, remember to find those moments of joy and savor them.  You can be a survivor of PTSD by having realistic expectations and facing symptoms directly.  The more control you take over your symptoms, the less they will control you, and you may find the holidays can be a time for making new memories again.

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