The holidays are officially here. What an exciting time to spend with family and friends! We often use this time to reflect and count the blessings that have come our way. Our hearts are softened. Sometimes we even get a little pep in our step. There is that unfortunate friend, named stress, that happens to always tag along during the holiday season. Having a plan to beat the stress will help Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers make the most of this special time of year.
For a lot of people, the holidays are the best of times. God knows the holidays are stressful for everyone. This is normal. For some people, it is a very stressful time. People with a mental illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in particular, haven even more stress on their plate than people who don’t have a mental illness. Post-Traumatic Stress leaves a person in a permanent fight or flight mode; hyper-vigilance, anxiety, and irritability are just a few of the symptoms that can be exacerbated during the holiday commotion.
PTSD symptoms are more than likely to flare up because of an extra busy schedule but also daily routine is thrown out the window. Routine is that special comfort zone that helps PTSD sufferers “keep it together” – stay in control of what can be controlled. The sights, the smells, noises and crowds are sure ways to trigger PTSD symptoms such as a full blown panic attack or rage episode. With anxiety often comes depression also.
The good news is, people with PTSD can still have a wonderful and memorable holiday season. Transitioning into the end- of- year festivities with a game plan will ensure better mental health, “a way out” when you need to leave a situation, and an on call support system who know how to help.
Here is the C-H-I-L-L game plane to keep PTSD symptoms at bay or at least minimized this holiday.
Holiday C-H-I-L-L Plan:
Cool down and decompress before the holidays even begin. That means right now! Practice your grounding and coping skills. Try some new ways to relax to add new tools to your “coping toolbox.” Make it a priority to relax from the day to day stress. A set calming routine will be an easy go to as soon as your busy holiday season begins.
Hope for the best but be realistic with what you can commit to. If you really are having a rough week and can’t make it to that holiday concert, then that is ok. If it’s too much to go shopping a second day in a row, then just skip it. Online shopping can really help you avoid triggers. At the same time, don’t be afraid to check yes on the RSVP Christmas party invite. Go mingle! If you are feeling it, then let loose and have a great time. If you aren’t feeling very well and know it’s just not going to happen, don’t feel bad for having to leave. Give yourself the credit where it is due. You’re trying to be social and that is fantastic! Your friends or family should understand your well-being is more important than some cocktail party.
Include Family and Friends into your “Give me a Hand” Plan. It is definitely a challenge to have to ask for help when you need it. Swallow that pride and know that you are admirable for reaching out. Your support system will help ease your PTSD symptoms during the holidays. Have a quick conversation with your loved ones and say, “The holidays really add a lot of stress and can make my PTSD worse. Would you be willing to help me with a favor or two to help me through the holidays? Who would say no to that request? Nobody would, unless they’ll be out of town at their annual Punta Cana vacation. Insert jealous eye roll.
Look out for triggers like crowds, noises, smells, etc. and make sure your closest family and friends know what they are. Don’t leave them guessing if you happen to storm out of the mall. They may be able to let you know ahead of time what events and other crowded placed will be like so you’ll be somewhat prepared.
Love yourself enough to stay on your treatment plan and take breathers when needed. It doesn’t take much to become overwhelmed having PTSD. Staying on track with your medications or therapy sessions will help keep you focused and avoid a spiral down the anxiety and the dreaded depression road. Don’t feel like going to therapy a few days before Thanksgiving? I say throw on another coat of courage, take a deep breath and remind yourself you’ll be better off in the long run for not skipping therapy.
Print this out or save a copy on your phone or computer to help start your CHILL plan! Happy Holidays and God Bless!
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call this crisis phone number anytime! Help is just a phone call away and everything is confidential.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-8255
Also, here is a CRISIS CHAT Line. Just click the link.