Traumiday Season: Coping With Holiday Stress

Holiday stress“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Yes, the holiday season is upon us once again. It is a time of good cheer, family gatherings, gifts and parties, and perhaps one of the most triggering times for trauma that we have in the year.

The power of our minds to associate different things to each other has been a very important part of our evolution. Look at clouds or patterned wall paper for a couple of minutes and you will start to see ships, faces, or dolphins. I was listening to a couple of announcers the other day comparing breakout Dallas running back Demarco Murray to Eric Dickerson or O. J. Simpson, illustrating that need we have to make the unknown recognizable and familiar. A certain perfume or pipe tobacco can bring immediately to mind the person it reminds us of. Love songs from our teen years; enough said? We make connections!

For those of us that grew up in the US, this 6-8 weeks from the first Christmas music in the malls to the dropping ball in Times Square offers powerful and repeating opportunities for associating good and bad memories. That first Christmas music, decorations going up, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, putting up lights, bringing home and decorating the tree, who to buy for and what to buy. We get together with family that we may not see the rest of the year and might visit homes that haven’t changed much from our childhood.

An important facet to trauma is how time becomes distorted. An “as if” loop plays in our body and mind, bringing up images and emotions as though we were in those moments rather than years or decades removed from them. Our rational mind can be overridden, and our unconscious may provide the associations that our conscious isn’t even registering. A good portion of the healing effect of trauma therapy is disconnecting that loop and letting the past be the past.

To summarize, we have this brain that is constantly connecting information on a conscious and unconscious level. We have this period of time during the year that provides a rich environment for these associations to occur. And many of us may have poorly-processed traumatic events that get triggered by these associations. Traumiday season, indeed!

And not to put a damper on the season! Most of us heal and resolve holiday stress through our lives. But if you find this time of year becoming consistently depressing or anxiety-provoking, maybe clearing out some of that old stuff through counseling can help you to better enjoy the holiday season.