The holidays are often seen as a time of joy and wonder, with traditions, decorations, and festivities bringing people together.

But for survivors of trauma or difficult life experiences, this can be an incredibly stressful season that’s hard to put into words. The triggers of the holidays can bring up intense feelings including sadness, anger, loneliness, or fear.

As a coach who works in personal development, I understand what it feels like to have the pressures from family gatherings or commercialized expectations become too much to manage without support. That’s why I want you to know that there is hope – and help – regardless of how overwhelmed or scared you might feel during this season.

The holidays are a stressful time for trauma survivors.

That building response you’re feeling as the holidays grow nearer isn’t an accident. It’s the result of years of conditioning. Much like Pavlov’s Dog was taught to drool when he heard a bell, you’ve been taught to flinch as the holidays grow nearer. It makes sense when you’re the survivor of a narcissistic, dysfunctional, or toxic home. The holidays, in these homes, become chaotic and warlike. There’s a lot of extra pressure and it’s hard to keep your head high as a kid.

Those years of conditioning you received as a child are what have led to the growing stress (and burnout) you’re already feeling in the slow holiday slide.

Your nervous system is still looking around the corner, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s waiting to be yelled at, to hide, to run away from the mean comments and the meaner looks. There’s a lot of fear tied into the unregulated nervous system during this time of the year. If you’re a survivor, then you have to take time now to prepare your nervous system for the inevitable stress of the holidays ahead.

What are you doing to make space for yourself this year?

So what are you doing to make space for yourself this year? As a survivor, what are you doing to make sure you’re not burned out by the time January rolls around? Are you feeding your nervous system? Are you creating opportunities for rest and recharging? Here’s a basic blueprint that you can steal to make sure the holidays don’t derail your recovery journey.

  1. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and practice self-compassion
  2. Create a plan for holidays that involves plenty of rest and taking breaks when needed
  3. Set boundaries with family to ensure you can manage stress levels
  4. Reach out to people who make you feel supported
  5. Keep track of triggers and know what causes more stress

Don’t go rolling into this season thinking you’ve got it all under control. Know that there are going to be outbursts and triggers. Prepare for them and stop pretending you are a superhuman. Create a plan for the holidays, one that involves plenty of rest and taking breaks from people, places, and things that stress you out.

What’s really important is that you consider and prep your boundaries now. Practice saying no to people and drawing the line before full holiday guilt takes hold.

If you’re getting burned out, then take a step back and reach out to people who genuinely support you. Open up to them. Ask for advice, and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to let them see your vulnerable. You’re processing a lot during the holidays. Give yourself credit for that. Keep track of your triggers and your responses to them so that you can regroup in the new year and consider what to do differently in 2024.

It is actually about you…

To go through holiday seasons as a trauma survivor doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be a passive event. Having the intention to actively practice self-care and giving yourself time and space can make a tremendous difference. Remember to look after your body’s needs around food, sleep, and exercise.

Make sure that you set boundaries for yourselves about how much contact or activities you want with other people or events. Creating a plan of action on how to manage your anxiety during the holidays can make a significant impact on your life as it puts you in control.

Connecting with friends who understand can also offer support when feeling overwhelmed or struggling with the triggers of pain and fear that arise from traumatic past events. Above all else, show yourself compassion by being patient with small steps forward instead of relentless in achieving sudden success in overcoming fears or anxieties. Did this story help? Don’t forget to share this story with friends who may need support during this season too.

Make a plan with me. Sign up for a special 1:1 holiday coaching session. We’ll create a holiday blueprint to help you navigate the season and a recovery plan for picking up the pieces in the new year. Sign up now. Spots limited. 

© E.B. Johnson 2023


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