Holidays can be wonderful opportunities to get together with family and friends.
It’s time to eat, drink and be merry, right? Maybe not so much. The eat-drink-and-be-merry holidays don’t always happen that way for everyone. In fact, frequently the ‘be merry’ part fails so often that many of us have learned to no longer look forward to the holidays at all. Instead, our annual tradition is to dread the holidays.
This year we can choose to begin to change that. Discovering ways to take a trauma-informed approach to the holidays can help make the season more about joyful celebration and less about painful memories.
How do we get this sort of ‘holiday party’ started?
Realize that you are not alone. We have all experienced situations with our families and friends that color how we feel about the holidays. Losses, conflicts, and misunderstandings impact how we view ourselves and others. We may have set unreasonably high expectations of how things “should” be. We may even have routinely reprimanded ourselves that things need to be “perfect.” So many times, our expectations are actually the result of what has happened to us before now. These expectations fill a need to control or to “correct” what has happened to us in the past.
Trauma leads us to feeling very overwhelmed and irritable, and ultimately, we simply cannot enjoy the holidays even if the negative circumstances surrounding the holidays have improved or been resolved or we have changed and are better equipped to handle the same old issues.
So how do we stop a cycle of holiday despair?
Take a step back, not forward. There are some things you can do to stop, recognize your stress, and become more mindful about your holiday, yourself, and your relationships. It is very important for all of us to take a step back periodically and to do a wellness check on our emotions and thoughts.
Recognize your real feelings. You may be feeling stressed or overwhelmed or sad or lonely or ashamed or something else. Dr. Dan Siegel a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, coined the phrase: ”You need to name it to tame it.” Once you determine you are not doing well, then you can do something about it.
Next, evaluate how you are taking care of yourself. Recognize the fact that you have basic human needs. As an adult, you must make sure your own basic needs are met. For most adults, it is ultimately our own responsibility to take good care of ourselves. It is possible that you neglect your own needs.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I eating healthy?
- Am I getting moderate exercise?
- Am I sleeping enough?
Listen carefully to your answers. It is essential that we take adequate care of ourselves. . The old adage is true: “You first need to put the oxygen mask on yourself and then you can help others.” Remember that it is not selfish for us to take good care of ourselves; it is critical. When we take good care of ourselves, we can face the world in a much healthier way.
Part of this healthier approach involves trauma informed care.
Allow yourself space for Calming Down. Mindfulness, meditation, spiritual practices or deliberately allowing yourself some alone time are ways people can achieve calmness. Our bodies need calm in order to function appropriately. If we are always running or stressed in some way, the body is negatively impacted over time.
Remember to connect with your supportive friends. These are the friends that are willing to be honest with you but always support you no matter what. They are the sources of grace in your life.
This year let’s create a new narrative about how our holidays can be. Let’s focus on our mental and physical health. Taking a few positive steps toward change can lead to taking a few more steps. If you discover that you need additional support, it is okay. Help is available. The one positive relationship that we all can work on is the relationship we nurture with ourselves. Taking care of ourselves helps us become more resilient with others so that we can keep moving in positive directions.