Trauma and Holidays
A wise woman once said to me that there is a chain reaction that leads from loss to grief to messy emotions, most of which are not necessarily straightforward or neatly compartmentalized. One thing that was particularly true about the context to her statement was that loss does not always or only mean death but that loss could mean a close family member moving away or a job change or supervisor change or divorce or any other sort of expanded definition of what would constitute some measure of something not happening the way we envision it or want it or expect it. Most often that “loss” results from changes in relationships but not always. None of us are immune to loss, grief, or messy emotions. Another wise woman said to me a number of years ago that trauma or traumatic experiences are not for others to judge the merit as to whether or not a particular event as fitting the neat textbook definition of trauma. Research has shown time and time again that trauma and trauma responses are as individual as the person experiencing them. In other words, what one person might define as trauma is going to be a little different from what I define as trauma which is going to be a little different from what you define as trauma. Operating under the premise that we have all experienced some measure of loss, removal of an others-defined label of validity of traumatic experience, and the irrefutable fact that we are entering what is going to likely be the most bizarre holiday season any of us could possibly experience, it seems fairly safe to assume that all of us are going to have or know someone who will have some measure of traumatic triggers during this normally social and busy season, if we are to be completely honest with ourselves. Coupled with that, 2020 has been a year like none other and certainly one that no one alive had any experience in managing. Jobs were lost, violence ensued across the country, loved ones lost, personal finances strained, and a highly polarized and vehement election – all additional stressors no one could anticipate. Work and school were catapulted into Zoom meetings and distance or online learning. The hospitality industry sank into depths not easily recovered. Retail industries counting on holiday spending that will largely be meager at best. Let’s add in a dash of the idea that people have, essentially, become governed by fear and, well, allergic to one another. Out in public, there’s a sea of masked faces hindering verbal and nonverbal communication. Humans are, by nature, relational beings and as such, remaining six feet apart in this label of social distancing on top of masked facial features only further fans the flames of isolation. We are living in what seems like a never ending perfect storm, isolated, alone, and at best, six feet apart from our loved ones. The flames of isolation were already raging before even entering the holiday season.
So, then, how do we manage this bizarre holiday season with our own individual trauma triggers while maintaining six feet apart from those who help us through those tough times? Here are a couple of strategies to implement this season and, quite frankly, beyond.
Be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself is often mixed with feelings of guilt or selfishness. That’s a lie. Recognize that waves of grief will come. They too shall pass. Give yourself that extra five minutes to soak in a hot bubble bath. Allow the shower waters to cleanse your soul, not just your body. Stay in the moment. One breath at a time.
Tap into creativity. While the bells and whistles of expensive gifts are wonderful, there’s also something special about handmade gifts. Time is the most valuable thing that we have and something money certainly cannot buy. Spending time to give to others in a handmade gift or service can mean the world to the recipient. There are lots of ideas on the internet for handmade or very low-cost gifts.
Stay in the moment. Recognize that this is 2020, that it has been an extremely difficult year, and that 2021 is just around the corner which means a fresh start, at least with our minds. Realize that this is not the time that trauma happened. Sit with your feet shoulder-width apart and rhythmically tap your feet left-right-left-right. This helps ground yourself in the moment. Color in an adult coloring book or adult coloring pages found on the internet.
Reach out! Call that loved one. FaceTime with friends and family near or far.
Take your non-dominant hand and put it in front of you with palm facing outward. Take your pointer finger of your dominant hand and begin to lightly trace your outstretched hand. Notice the ticklish sort of feeling that gives. Now, when your pointer finger is going upwards on a finger, breathe in. When it is going downwards, breathe out. Slow down the tracing of your hand. What do your deep breaths feel like in your diaphragm?
Spend a few minutes in nature when possible. Gaze at the stars! They’re gorgeous sparkling diamonds in the sky! Marvel at the majesty of the mountains.
If you haven’t noticed, the biggest thread through all of these suggestions is being in the moment. Being in the present. Recognize that trauma brings messy feelings that often blindside us, particularly in the glitz and dazzle of this holiday season. Don’t believe the lie that you are alone – you’re not. We’re all in this together. We all need each other. That doesn’t mean we are weak or incompetent! It means that we are relational and strong! If trauma is really eating at you, reach out! The staff at Alpine Lakes Counseling and Wellness Center consider it an honor to join you on your journey towards wholeness and healing. We all benefit when we all seek each other for support.
Author: Carey Molinski, MA, LPC, NCC
Learn more about Carey here!