Every Christmas, like clockwork, I would get sick. Down for days, major flu-like symptoms, eventual antibiotics needed. This happened every single year during my twenties, when I didn’t understand that the holidays season was the major time of year for my PTSD triggers.
Holidays and PTSD Triggers
For me, the holidays are a specifically traumatic time for my post traumatic stress disorder. A large block of the sexual abuse that I remember occurred between mid-November and the beginning of January. And this is just what I remember. As we eat the candy from our Halloween buckets and the leaves fall from the trees, my brain and body enter into an extended PTSD event, a heightened undercurrent of symptoms.
I rarely get sick anymore during this time of year, which I consider an improvement. My acknowledgement of the effects of the trauma I endured helps me to put plans in place to help keep me as healthy and whole as possible from November to January 2nd. Part of this practice is to be honest about my PTSD symptoms, and that I am simply more sensitive during this time of year.
I am far more irritable. Tired, both physically and emotionally. Angry. Depressed. Anxious. It’s hard to get moving, even out of bed each morning. My startle reflex is more pronounced. I hate the colored lights and the holiday music that are everywhere. The days are short and light is scarce. I am more tempted to try and use food and alcohol to deal with the symptoms.
I may not like it, but this is my reality during the holiday season.
Make a Holiday Plan for PTSD Triggers
I’ve tried a variety of strategies to deal with the PTSD symptoms. For awhile, I simply tried to ignore them. I pretended to love the holiday season.
Okay, so I’m the Grinch. I can live with that, if it means I come out of this annual undercurrent of heightened PTSD symptoms sane and physically well. In order for that to happen, I have to make a self-care plan for this time of year, in addition to the typical Take My Meds, Eat Healthy Food, Exercise, and Sleep.
I need to make sure that I have a specific self-care plan in place for when PTSD triggers are the worst.
How to Make a Holiday Plan for PTSD Triggers
Okay, so we need to make a holiday self-care plan. This might seem overwhelming, but do not fear. Here’s mine for this year, hopefully it will help.
Decide what you will not do. Many times, deciding what you will not do is far easier than figuring out what you are willing to do. For example, I do not go to holiday parties, shop in the mall, or drive on busy streets. From mid-November until January 2nd, I am mostly at home. I will not try something new. I make no promises to be anywhere or with anyone – I play everything by ear.
Schedule everything, including rest. Get out your calendar, it’s time to fill in some details. Figure out a weekly meal plan for the next month or so. Schedule when you will exercise, even if it’s a 10-minute walk each day. Put in your sleep hours and when you take your meds. When will you go grocery shopping? For example, I go every Sunday afternoon. Do not forget to schedule down time, especially as the calendar fills up with the kids’ holiday concerts.
Practice typical self-care strategies with extra vigilance. I know that staying away from dairy and sugar help keep my depression manageable, so I am extra-vigilant about avoiding them during this time of year, which can be challenging. I also limit the amount of “treats” that I make and when I make them. I go to bed early and walk every day.
Ask for help. While I revile the holiday season, I do like to shop for people. I do the bulk of my shopping online. If there are gifts that I can’t pick up during my weekly grocery trip to Fred Meyer, I ask my husband or a trusted friend to help me out. I also don’t wrap or deliver presents – that’s what the husband and kids are for.
Focus on what you love – Okay, so I hate the holidays. I’ve admitted it. But I love my family. I love spending time with my kids. I invite them to do what I can do during this time of year, whether that’s going to the movies or my weekly grocery shopping trips or reading on the couch.
Remember, the only thing that must be done during the holidays is to take care of ourselves. We deserve that.