Holiday Survival Guide: Managing Triggers

Brittney Doll-Schaeffer

Ugh. The holidays. There’s a lot of information out there on holiday stress and how to manage things like overspending, overeating, and sitting around the table with annoying family members. While those are valid concerns and it is important to be mindful about emotional coping in the midst of stressful situations, this blog is not for you.

This blog is for the holiday haters. For those who walk through a store filled with lights, cheerful music, and clove/cinnamon scented air and feel their world begin to crumble. It’s for those lost in nostalgia. For those that have never had a “holly, jolly Christmas.” Or any other holly, jolly anything, for that matter.

I once had a 19-year-old client that began grieving the holiday season somewhere around July. She knew what was coming in the following months and could feel her chest shrinking with the fear and immense sadness. In her childhood, they had never had a holiday celebration. Money that her parents made went to drugs and not toys. This little girl never had presents under the tree. She never had a tree. She never had a fluffy, warm robe and a mug of hot chocolate. Yet, she still had to go to school with all of the other children that had those things. And wore their new clothes proudly. And brought their new toys to show-and-tell.

This 19-year-old girl was still embracing the inner 5-year-old that wanted not the new doll but the joyful laughter of family and the comfort of a peaceful home.

This is for you.
For those that would rather sleep through the season.
Those that do not worry about over-spending because there is nothing to spend.
Those that are simply trying to stay sober and well.
Those that have lost more than this holiday could ever possibly give.

Start by recognizing what you are feeling.
This is a tough one. So often, we try to cover up the negative feelings with anything else to make us feel better. Food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc. How nice it would be to just numb out. But guess what? These same feelings will be here next year. And the year after. And probably every other day in between. One small step toward wellness is simply acknowledging that you are sad/angry/grieving/bitter/numb. “I’m sad. It sucks. And that’s okay.”
Our emotions are often like little raging children that demand attention. If you continue to ignore them, they will scream louder. If you try to chain them up or lock them away, they will burn down the house. It’s okay to simply acknowledge those feelings. Let them be.

It’s okay to take care of YOU.
That client that I told you about earlier? Her solution was to buy one special present for herself, avoid all obligatory holiday gatherings, meet a few times with special friends, and stay in bed watching Netflix for the rest of the time. This was her self-care solution and it worked well. What might work for you? Try to avoid self-destructiveness or over-indulging in anything. Sleep. Breathe. Take a walk. Look out the window and try to spot one beautiful thing. Cry.

Remember who you are.
Guess what? You’re a survivor. You’ve made it this far. If you’re reading this, that means that you are alive and have come through quite a bit of suffering and hardship to make it to this point. You will make it through the holidays. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Because you’re a survivor. And you have what it takes to make this year better than the last. Or at least, manageable and survivable. You’ve got this.

You’re right. I don’t know you. And I don’t know your situation or your life. But I believe deeply in the ability of each person. I believe that you have strength within you that you may not even recognize yet. It is in all of us. It is in you. And maybe you’re tired of being strong. That’s okay too. Take care of YOU.
From one survivor to another. From one who dreads the holidays as much as anyone else. Hear me say that you’ve got this.
We’ve got this, my friends.