Trigger Season

smiling black woman choosing christmas decorations in store

In the middle of October, I took a trip to my local Wal-Mart looking for a bike lock. As I started walking down towards the outdoors area, I saw a tremendous array of Halloween decorations spanning across at least a half dozen aisles. This was to be expected. Across the way though, there was an army of Christmas trees, reindeer, and candy canes prepared for battle. I cringed.

Every year the holiday season creeps up on us sooner and sooner. The holidays are meant to be a time of joy spent with loved ones. A month-long celebration full of fun memories, gift giving, food, and fresh starts.  However, we fall for this picturesque fantasy every year. Let me back up for a second. I love what the holidays stand for, and I do have some amazing memories as a child. Becoming an adult and working in the mental health field though has tainted this image with a commercialized, depressing reality. The holidays are not fun for everybody.

A few years ago while working in a partial care program, I deemed the holidays as “trigger season.” Think about it this way. Throughout the rest of the year, it is easier to avoid painful feelings and memories. During the holiday season though, triggers are everywhere. There are commercials on our computers and televisions depicting a perfect, happy family opening gifts from under a Christmas tree. 24/7 holiday music starts on the radio before Thanksgiving. Stores tease us with sales, “Don’t forget about mom this holiday season.” Everything that had been repressed for the other ten months of the year is suddenly fresh and raw once more.

The holiday season acts as a reminder that we must confront uncomfortable situations, feelings, and memories. You might have to see family or friends that you have been avoiding since last holiday. You think about a loved one who you cannot be with since the expectation is that you would have been. You feel obligated to spend money you do not have. A tight schedule becomes overbooked with parties, shopping, decorating, etc.

This is one of those times I wish I had a magic wand to make everything better, so everyone could enjoy the holidays without any issues. I also wish I could give a straightforward answer as to the best way to handle the holiday season, but this is what I have found helpful:

  • Stick to self-care basics. Make sure you are meeting your basic needs like eating properly, sleeping enough hours, and maintaining hygiene. Holiday stress is easier to manage. It will help keep you afloat when all hell breaks loose over the next few weeks.
  • Utilize time management. Keep a close eye on your schedule. Time becomes a huge constraint during this time of year between gatherings, holiday parties, gift exchanges, and special events. Do not overbook yourself. Also, this includes keeping time for yourself during this hectic time of the year. Schedule breaks for yourself.
  • Stay organized. You do not have to go all out for this one.  Keep a list of people to buy for and what you plan on buying them, so you are not stressing out doing last-minute shopping. Maintain a to-do list of holiday errands. Do not let your space get too cluttered.
  • Reach out. Like I said, this time of the year can stir up unwanted feelings and memories. Make sure to reach out to friends, family, or a professional if necessary.
  • Enjoy the moment. This holidays not only stir up unwanted memories, but help to create long-lasting ones. Live in the moment and celebrate with loved ones. It might help ease the sting in upcoming years if you can be reminded of good times.

Happy Holidays!

-The Caring Counselor

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