The holidays are a time of celebration and joy for many, but that does not mean they’re a happy season for everyone. Even if your post-traumatic stress disorder is under control, the holidays can be a trigger that’s hard to overcome.
What to Know About Holiday Trauma Triggers
What Makes a Trauma Trigger
A trauma trigger is anything that reminds a person, whether literally or subconsciously, of a traumatic event in one’s past. The trigger itself does not need to be stressful or scary. It can be a smell, a location, or a particular phrase. Practically any person, place, thing, concept, sound, smell, taste, or emotion can be a trigger for PTSD. Experiencing trauma leaves an imprint on the mind that goes deeper than memory. Even events that themselves are hard to remember, whether from childhood or otherwise repressed, can be triggered by specifics a person isn’t even aware of. What makes the holidays a uniquely difficult trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder is how we behave around the holidays. The expectation many people have of the holidays is over-idealized and unrealistic. The winter holidays are supposed to be a magical time of year, but for people with PTSD triggers related to the holidays, it’s anything but magical.
A post-traumatic stress event is characterized by a variety of possible symptoms and can range in severity on a case to case basis. Intrusive memories are one common PTSD symptom in which triggers bring up recurrent memories of the traumatic event, whether in nightmares or dreams, or vivid flashbacks of the event. In the short term, during an episode of PTSD, a person may experience a panic attack, the symptoms of which include hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, sweating, chills, or hot flashes. Constant exposure to lesser triggers, or the things that remind you subconsciously of past trauma, can lead to negative thoughts that you may not even notice building. Depression, anxiety, guilt, and irritability, as well as self-destructive behavior, and anger can all be linked to a post-traumatic event.
What You Can Do if the Holidays Are a Trauma Trigger
Unfortunately, if you have trauma tied to the holidays, avoiding triggers can be difficult. Avoiding triggers can actually be unhealthy, as it may keep a person so afraid of the outside world that they no longer leave their home during the season. Regardless of how severe your PTSD is and how avoidant your behavior gets, it’s important to identify your triggers with a mental health professional.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to improve how you cope with triggers and enjoy the holidays in your own way. Working in individual or group counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder can help you make sense of and destigmatize your condition. Isolating, identifying, and understanding your triggers, no matter how subtle, can make coping with PTSD a lot less severe. Besides being able to better predict what triggers may bring out your trauma and prepare yourself for it, therapy can help you unpack the details of that trauma. Making sense of what may feel abstract or frightening, more or less shining a light on your trauma, is something that can help reduce your PTSD reaction whenever a trigger occurs. Practicing mindfulness, arming yourself with tools to cope with a stressful event, and knowing that you’re not alone in your struggle against PTSD is important. That’s why many people with PTSD benefit from group counseling. Learning how others react to trauma triggers and knowing that you have people to reach out to for support this holiday season can greatly lessen your own symptoms. Different things work for different people, so it’s important to discuss all of your options with a therapist and to try different things.
You don’t have to suffer through the holidays unsupported. Let us set you up with a specialized treatment plan for your particular trauma and triggers. Contact the experts at SOL Mental Health today, and make this the holiday season your PTSD recovery begins.