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Trauma-Informed Holiday Survival Tips for 2021

There’s no sugar coating it; the holidays are hard.

They usually are, however, we have collectively been living in a global pandemic which has made any normally difficult experience, even more difficult. Covid continues to be this pernicious buzz in the background of our daily lives, complicating our ability to connect with one another, gather and travel. The holiday season has always been sold to us in the media as a time of happiness, gifts, spending, and family time. Yet these media portrayals are often painful reminders of things we don’t have. We are reminded of the loss of a loved one, the money we don’t have, the success we didn’t achieve in the year, the goals we didn’t meet, the partner we don’t have, our family that is not close.

Therapists brace themselves for the holiday season knowing that historically it is a time client’s symptoms exacerbate or clients drop out of therapy for a while. It is not uncommon to feel extra irritable, frustrated, and exhausted. You also may find that you are more tense, waking up with aches and pains and with an increased desire to isolate yourself. If you are feeling any of these things hear this: you are NOT alone.


Here are some tips to help you extra care of yourself this holiday season:

  1. Take Breaks

Being around family and friends, while it can be enjoyable, can also be exhausting. It’s ok to take breaks. Be mindful of bodily cues that may be telling you it’s time for a break. An example may be feeling the tension in your neck. Find time for quiet and stillness. Breaks do not have to be for long periods of time and you are not rude if you let people know you need a little bit of time for yourself. In doing so, you are actually modeling to others what effective self-care looks like.

2. Create New Rituals

The holidays can be painful reminders of our lost loved ones who are no longer with us. While we cannot change the past we do get to have some control over the meaning that we can create surrounding their loss. Creating new rituals that honor your loved ones can be healing. Perhaps try cooking their favorite meal or sharing stories around the dinner table. Be kind to yourself in this process and know that if you are engaging with other family members that you may all have different emotional reactions to the new ritual and that is ok.

3. Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is always important, but during the holidays it’s even more essential! If you keep a calendar, carve out time in your day-to-day to have time for self-care activities. You can also set reminders on your phone to help you remember to engage in self-care. Don’t beat yourself up if you forget. Every day is a new day, but do your best to make it a priority. Even five minutes a day can make a big improvement!

4. Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins and can create a “state-change” when we are feeling an uncomfortable emotion. Even a brisk walk or a set of jumping jacks can be helpful in stressful times. It is important, especially during the holidays, to engage in exercise that feels enjoyable for you. Exercise like yoga can be a good choice because of it’s emphasis on mindfulness and restoration. The key is to make exercise feel like a source of self-care and not a chore.

5. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Limiting alcohol during the holidays may be difficult as many holiday festivities will have alcoholic beverages present. It is important to keep in mind that alcohol is a nervous system depressant that can lead to decreased and low mood. Try your best to limit consumption, especially if you are struggling with lethargy or exhaustion.

6. Create and Use Positive Affirmations

Humans have over 6,000 thoughts a day and studies have found that 80% of them are negative. I imagine that this number is even higher during the holiday season. Being intentional about speaking positively can push back on our natural pattern of negative thinking. Try having a list of “go to” affirmations in your phone or on index cards in your purse or pocket for easy access. Think of positive words or phrases you need to be reminded of in difficult times and remember that you can offer these words to yourself whenever you need them! Some examples may be: “you got this,” “this emotion is temporary,” “you have been through hard things before,” etc.

7. Stick to a Schedule

As hard as it can be to keep a schedule, humans crave and thrive on the stability that it provides. Especially during the holidays try to keep a consistent sleep/wake routine, in addition to a regular eating and exercising schedule. If you have children try to keep them to a similar schedule that they would be on if they were in school. The consistency will make transitions out of the holidays easier to manage.

8. Practice Gratitude

Similar to the psychology behind positive affirmations, gratitude practice has the ability to reduce feelings of depression and isolation. A simple way to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. You can do this with a physical journal or on your phone. Once a day, write down three things you are grateful for. At the end of the week review them. If that feels too difficult try this simple activity:

  1. Wake up in the morning

  2. Place your hand over your heart

  3. Take three full deep breaths

  4. Name out loud or silently to yourself 3 things you are grateful for

  5. Pause there for a few minutes before you get up and start your day

From my heart to yours — I wish you a holiday season that is restful and rejuvenating. Be easy and be kind to yourself and others.

What are some other go to coping skills that you use to survive the holidays. Share in the comments below!

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