How To: Manage Holiday Triggers
By Gabriella Bosticco
Content warning: Self Harm
For many people, the festive season can be a difficult time that isn't always merry. While returning to your hometown can be a positive experience, it can also mean returning to people and places involved in traumatic events. Especially if you've been away for a while, this can be quite an adjustment.
The nature of the holidays themselves can also be tricky to handle. For people who rely heavily on having a routine in order to manage their mental health, this disruption can make the day-to-day a little bit harder. Not to mention the emphasis on food and drinking, which can trigger or worsen common symptoms such as disordered eating and substance abuse.
With that in mind, here are some tips for managing potentially difficult festive emotions. While everyone's needs will differ based on what they're struggling with, these can be helpful as a general rule.
One thing you can do in advance is plan ahead. Are there any potential triggers that you know for sure you'll be facing? This is particularly relevant for anyone who has a difficult relationship with food or alcohol.
Are there any places you know you can go if you need a breather? Even if this is just a bathroom, having somewhere you know you can go if you get overwhelmed can help relieve the pressure a little.
Are there any boundaries you can set? Everybody's situation will be different, but if you're able to communicate with those around you and they're willing to help you manage or avoid your triggers, this can give you fewer things to worry about.
In fact, if you feel like you can, talking to trusted people can also help process or let off steam. Whether this is a partner, a sibling or a friend from home, virtual or in person, this can lighten the load.
Practice Self Care
The most important consideration is self care. Emotions are much easier to handle when you're taking care of your body. Even in the disrupted routine, try and find time for any self care that you regularly practise. Our resources page has tips for self care, particularly when trauma symptoms flare up. And, of course, do your best to make sure you're giving your body enough fuel in the form of food, water and sleep, when possible.
Go easy on yourself; don't put too much pressure on yourself to be enjoying yourself at every second. It's okay to admit that the holidays aren't always the most wonderful time of the year, and you're not a Grinch or a Scrooge for struggling to find joy in difficult times. It's also very common - 76% of people struggle to sleep at Christmas, while nearly 60% struggle with panic attacks (Mind, 2015).
Comparing your experiences to how you think Christmas should be can make a hard time feel even worse. While it can be difficult to let go of expectations, being realistic about the unattainable nature of the 'perfect' Christmas is important. Looking at other families, especially on social media, can make you feel even more isolated.
Overall, taking steps to manage your health and expectations can help you brace for a potentially tricky time. If you are actively unsafe, you can find a list of rape crisis resources here.
Mind, Mind warns that people with mental health problems struggle with self harm and suicidal feelings due to the the pressure of Christmas (2015)