The holidays can be very stressful for people coping with traumatic experiences. Some people with a history of traumatic experiences may feel overwhelmed and dysregulated when confronted with intense emotions around the holiday time. Others may feel numb and have a hard time feeling connected.

Fortunately, we can take steps to cope with trauma. When we make connections between experiences and memories that create traumatic responses, we can better recognize and prepare ourselves for potential trauma triggers.

Here is a three-step approach to mitigate the impact of trauma on your well-being during the holidays. Trauma often makes us feel powerless. By preparing, you are taking steps toward healing yourself and learning new ways to live a healthy life.

1. Identify YOUR trauma triggers during the holidays.

Take a quiet moment, sit, and write down triggers you have experienced in past holiday seasons. The best way to identify these triggers is to think about what made you upset. Are there specific experiences that bring back upsetting memories? Are there things that make you feel lonely and vulnerable? What situations undermine your well-being?


2. Identify how you cope with trauma triggers and be prepared to act.

Once you have identified your holiday trauma triggers, explore responses that helped you cope in healthy ways.

List positive strategies to cope with trauma triggers, even if you have not used them. For example, some people need time to connect with themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed. It is okay to step away for a few minutes and do a self check-in. Others need to avoid situations that can be triggering. For example, someone in recovery may not want to be in an event in which a lot of alcohol is being consumed.

Remember that traumatic experiences can also trigger the use of harmful coping mechanisms such as excessive alcohol use, self-harming behaviors, or inappropriate angry responses. Consider exploring alternative coping strategies, and reflect on how you feel afterwards to assess if this coping mechanism helped you feel better or not.


3. Plan when to respond to triggers and how to cope with them in stressful situations.

Once you have identified your common triggers and positive and negative coping behaviors, be prepared to act.

Identify when your feelings of distress are impacting your well-being. Be able to recognize when you are suffering. Take two steps back. That is the moment to act.

Learning to cope with painful experiences in our lives requires practice and support. If you feel you or a loved one is struggling to cope with trauma, seek help.

A good way to assess when to seek help is evaluating whether negative feelings or behaviors are impacting a person’s ability to function as they were before. In children, for example, assess whether their school performance has declined or they are struggling with doing things they did in the past without challenges. In adults, look for difficulties in everyday activities such as work, family, and social life.