Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Holidays

PTSD Counselling

The holiday season can often be difficult for people with Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Suffering from PTSD  can make it more difficult to cope with the holiday season for any number of reasons.  It can be difficult to be merry and joyful through the holiday season if you’re depressed, sleep-deprived, anxious, hypervigilant, trigger-sensitive, and struggling to suppress uncomfortable thoughts, feelings or memories. Family and friends may not understand you’ve been changed by trauma and the holiday season is full of stress and anxiety for you. Instead of hiding behind a fake smile and suffering through the holiday season let’s help you make a plan to address your needs this holiday season. While it’s very helpful to seek counselling, many individuals don’t reach out to therapists in Ottawa.

Ways to Avoid PTSD Stress Over the Holidays

Here are some tips from clinicians that can help you manage your PTSD symptoms over this holiday season:

Don’t over schedule

Talk with your spouse or partner before the holidays, parties, and get togethers start. Let your partner know in advance what events or gatherings you can do.  Decide ahead of time how many events you’re willing to attend and how long you can stay. Let your partner know it’s OK if he or she wants to attend some events on their own. Talk to your family member about what they need to feel comfortable during the holidays.

Make a Sensible Plan

Talk with your partner, spouse, family, or friends about how you plan to prepare for situations that may come up during the holidays. Write down your coping plan to help you if you become overwhelmed. Ask the party host questions to help you be more prepared for social gatherings. How many people will be there? Who will be attending? By knowing more information about the event, you can prepare yourself for possible triggers.  And have a plan that can help you cope with the triggers.

Develop Coping Strategies

When you feel triggered, overwhelmed, or stressed, remind yourself of what has helped you in the past. Use your coping techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization, or removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes to help reground yourself. Some people find it helpful to focus on their environment by describing what they see, hear, feel or smell.

Sometimes leaving for a few minutes may enable you to relax and return for the rest of the event. Other times, your anxiety may require you to leave the event. Leaving an event is always an option and those who care about you will understand.

Set realistic goals

Too often we expect too much of ourselves, we try to cram in too many activities in a day or we try to meet the unrealistic expectations of others. Remember to be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a given day. Don’t take on too much.  Make a sensible plan to what you can get done. Set small, doable goals. Some people find making “to-do” lists to be helpful. And enjoy your accomplishments. 

Make time for yourself

The holidays are not just about rushing from one event to another. It’s always been important to take care of yourself. It’s more important when you feel more pressure to plan to take some down times to relax. Do activities that are recharging for you such as listening to music, taking a hot bath or shower, or what type of activity recharges you. Try to exercise daily to reduce body tension and stress.  Maybe it’s heading out to the gym or spending a few evenings at home with your children or your partner. Ensure you are getting enough sleep. And listen to your body. It will tell you when you’re doing too much and you need to back off and spend some time focused on self-care.

Develop a Support Network

Reach out for support if you need it. Know you can rely on for help within your family, your circle of friends, or your community. Ask for help early don’t wait until you’re at the breaking point.It is important not to isolate yourself when you’re feeling down angry or depressed. Instead, make efforts to be with others who can offer you positive support.  If your symptoms are getting worse or you feel down, reach out to your health care provider, or your therapist or call your local Crisis Line.

Get online Help

Help is available online to help you. There are tools such as Use the tools from PTSD Coach app or PTSD Coach Online to help you manage your stress or anxiety. Do not rely solely on online help for support but use them in addition to ongoing support groups or individual therapy sessions with your therapist or doctor.  

Have a friend or loved one suffering from PTSD?

If you know someone with PTSD, there are things you can do to make sure the holiday season is pleasant and enjoyable for everyone. Educate yourself: Take the time to read Understand PTSD and PTSD Treatment (PDF), to learn more about how PTSD affects those you love. Make yourself available to them when they need to talk. Show you care by recognizing when everything doesn’t seem to be okay and let them know it doesn’t have to be perfect this holiday season. Let them know you understand they may not be able to attend all the holiday activities and then you manage your own disappointment without blaming your partner or friend. 

Know what resources are available in your community and reach out to them when you need help or support.