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5 Ways to Survive The Holiday Frenzy When You Have PTSD

The holidays are incredibly stressful, doubly so when one is struggling with PTSD. Feelings of guilt, anger, shame, confusion, exhaustion, and anxiety can make it hard to find the same sense of joy that the people around you are celebrating. Sometimes it can even become a downward spiral, as family, friends, and co-workers want to celebrate with you, leading to even worse guilt as you struggle to be there with them. While there is no easy solution—and the holidays simply cannot be avoided altogether—surviving the holidays with PTSD can be done.

surviving the holidays with PTSD

1. Plan Out a Schedule

The holiday season is rife with events, activities, traditions, festivities, and demands that can put an overwhelming strain on your calendar. Planning out your time in accordance to what you feel you can and cannot do is essential to making it through the holiday season, and laying out a game-plan of what you feel you can handle and for how long helps establish a sense of control, organization, and balance.

Unexpected obligations or changes in plans are bound to come up at some point or another, but scheduling can help give a sense of control and give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.


2. Say Yes Selectively

Not every invitation has to be accepted, and not every gathering has to be attended.

Picking and choosing what you feel okay with—and allowing yourself to say no without guilt to what you are not—helps keep boundaries clear, and makes sure you don’t end up in over your head.  


3. Keep Things Simple

surviving the holidays with PTSD Keep things simple

This time of year can feel like a never-ending checklist of things to do and people to meet, and often things are made much more complicated than they should be. There are some things you can do to simplify:

  • Avoid crowds by shopping online
  • Reconnect with others by going to lunch or having coffee one on one
  • Get store-bought ingredients instead of making things from scratch
  • Fake Christmas trees might not be ideal, but they save time and energy and make less mess.
  • Gift bags instead of wrapping paper 

surviving the holidays with PTSD avoid alcohol

4. Avoid Alcohol

While you might want to bond with a few beers with your co-workers or have a drink for stress relief, consider how you’re feeling first.

Alcohol can worsen symptoms of PTSD, heighten feelings of depression, and, if you’re struggling with any preexisting tendencies towards addictions, can cause a relapse.


5. Know Your Triggers

Knowing what upsets or triggers you goes a long way in making the holidays less stressful. Knowing what to avoid and how to avoid it can prevent many problems.  Also, for the things you can’t avoid, plan out how you will handle them beforehand.

Setting strategies for dealing with stress and symptoms can make time with family and friends much easier, along with exit plans for if you need to leave. 


Surviving the Holidays with PTSD

In the end, it all can be summed up with the phrase “be kind to yourself.”  Make allowances for what you can take and what you can’t. Others might not understand, but that’s okay. They will enjoy you more when you’re not overwhelmed and you will be happier. 

Tina Casola First Alarm WellnessTina Casola is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, California. She is a recognized expert on the issue of trauma within the first responder community.

Tina is founder and CEO of First Alert Wellness, providing counseling services and continuing education programs within the state of California. She provides consulting services for agencies and organizations across the country. Tina speaks about preventing and addressing trauma at conferences and gatherings all over the United States.