It’s the holiday season, and the cultural pressure to make it “the most wonderful time of the year” weighs heavy on all of us. For some, this time of year represents celebratory occasions and a chance to reconnect with loved ones. But for survivors of complex trauma, sexual assault, and abuse, navigating this time of year can be a challenge. Verity wants to give survivors 5 tips for dealing with the challenges of the holiday season.
It’s important to be mindful that the things that might make most people happy and joyful are the very same things that bring up feelings of distress or panic for a survivor. Excess stimulation, such as lights, large crowds and noisy events can be triggering for trauma survivors. Large family gatherings could potentially bring up painful memories, especially for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of complex trauma, know this: You are strong and you can and will survive the holidays. You can respond to this time of year by making choices that empower you. You can reduce overwhelm by taking decisive action, planning, and working with your systems of support.
Here are 5 ways to support yourself through this holiday season:
- Rely on your support systems. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Whether it’s your therapist, a trusted friend, or a support group (check out Verity’s support groups here) talking to someone you feel safe with when times are challenging can be extremely beneficial. If you don’t have a support system in place, Verity can help you! Did you know you always have at least one system of support via Verity’s 24/7 Crisis Line? When you call our Crisis Line, you will be provided with resources and support by one of our trained Crisis Line Counselors. They can help you plan, access resources, and connect you to a Verity advocate. You are never alone, and our Crisis Line is always open. Call (707) 545-7273 for supportive services, anytime!
- Know that there is no wrong way to feel, ever, but especially at this time of year. In a culture that almost demands holiday cheer, sometimes it can feel yucky, wrong, or unfair if feelings of sadness, overwhelm or negativity arise. Don’t buy into the dangerous message that we should ignore or suppress negative feelings. As Rumi communicates in his poem, “The Guest House,” feelings come and go much like unexpected visitors. It’s important to entertain or “notice” all of them. Our feelings are our guides, letting us know how we are doing on a deeper level. There is nothing wrong with any of your feelings, no matter what they are or what time of year they pop in.
- Practice fun and healing self-care. Making sure your physical needs are being met should be priority number one. Be sure to get enough sleep, engage in physical activity, practice good hygiene, or make time out of your day to interact with friends. Remember to eat throughout the day. Self-care also looks like having fun, like watching a “feel good” movie or grabbing coffee or tea with someone you love. Lighting a candle, painting your nails, or picking up a fresh bouquet of flowers for your environment are also all fantastic forms of self-care that can lift spirits and remind you that it’s the little things in life that matter most.
- Know that you are not your thoughts. As Eckhart Tolle said, “What a liberation to realize that the voice in my head is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.” Our thoughts manifest as a variety of voices in our head. Sometimes these voices are internalized thoughts that have developed from past experience or even our childhood. These voices, or thoughts, are not necessarily wrong or right, but sometimes they can feel overwhelming, or make you feel like you are out of control. You can ask yourself, “where are these voices coming from?” Realizing that you are not these internalized voices can help you step outside your thinking and take you one step closer to healing. When you dis-identify with the constant chatter and noise in your mind, you immediately begin to connect with your authentic self on a deeper, quieter level, and create room for growth.
- There is no WRONG choice you can make when it comes to how you decide to support yourself during the holidays. Working with a therapist or support team to create a plan of action for this time of year is a good first step to navigating the holiday season. Will you go to family gatherings? Will you opt out? What will you do instead? How can you make sure you will be supported during your most challenging moments? These are all questions that can be examined prior to the season. Even with a plan in place, life is messy and imperfect. If things don’t go well, it can make you feel frustrated and defeated. You may blame yourself for being triggered or not handling things as well as you wanted to. Remember, you can only do as best as you know how to do in any given moment. Adopting an attitude of self-compassion and being kind to yourself in these moments will help dramatically. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to do the next best thing for yourself in any given moment.
Team Verity want to remind you that you don’t have to be in an immediate crisis to call our Crisis Line and access support and resources. Call (707) 545-7273 and speak to a Crisis Line Counselor anytime.