The Holidays have Officially Begun!


It is that time of year again – the holiday season. It is a time to gather with loved ones and talk about our past, our presents, and our fruitcake. It is a time to laugh, to play games, and perform some rather silly rituals that only our own family understand (such as hoarding wrapping paper for the epic post-gift-opening wrapping paper wad battle…seriously – we do this).

It is for many, however, a time of real pain. Many who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have increased stress and worsening symptoms during the Holidays. For some, there is real loneliness because their “battle family” – people who you may have spent some of the most poignant moments in your life – are elsewhere. Some PTSD sufferers are now very different people from who their family remembers and they feel that gulf open just a little wider when holiday music no longer holds that sense of hope and wonder it once did. And, the family often has no way to really understand what is going on or why you just can’t “put it out of your mind.” And don’t get me started about New Year’s fireworks…

So, what do we do? How do we get through this?

For some, the easy access to alcohol around the hors d’oeuvres table provides a distraction. Others find a safe corner and just disappear into the shadows. Still others avoid attending family functions, further widening the gulf between them and the family.

Health-writer, Eileen Bailey has some better advice in her article, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder During the Holidays:”

Understand Your Triggers – Knowing what your triggers are and having techniques to cope with triggers can help you to make it through family gatherings or shopping trips.

Develop Coping Strategies– Anxiety coping techniques, such as deep breathing or removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes can help.

Prepare Yourself – Be prepared for situations that may come up. You may want to write down some of your coping strategies. When a stressful situation arises, you can take out your notes and use the strategies. Sometimes during a stressful situation, you can forget what helps. Having it written down can help calm you down.

Accept You may Need to Leave – If your anxiety becomes difficult or impossible to handle, excuse yourself and leave, even if just for a few minutes. Sometimes leaving for a few minutes may enable you to relax and return for the rest of the event. Other times, your anxiety may require you to leave the event. Whichever it may be, leaving is an option and those people that care about you will understand.

Prepare First – When accepting a social invitation, ask the host or hostess questions to help you be more prepared. How many people will be attending? Who will be attending? By knowing about the event, you can prepare yourself for possible triggers and knowing in advance can help you cope with the triggers.

Create a Support Network – Finding someone that understands and is willing to provide you with support is a wonderful feeling. Bring a friend with you to events you find to be scary or may contain triggers for PTSD. Knowing there is someone that understands what you are feeling and will be watching for signs of anxiety can help and make coping with the situation easier.

Look, you’re not alone here. I am one of the “PTSD wallflowers” during the holidays. I’d rather sit in the corner reading a book or listening to Enya on my headphones than rolling around in the floor with a bunch of crazy children opening their presents. It sounds crass and somewhat mean, but it is what it is.

But, don’t underestimate your family’s capacity to love you and help you and, frankly, hold you accountable to seek help and find healing. I give all the credit to my ongoing healing to my wife, Melissa and son, John. They have endured some pretty intense stuff from me as a result of my PTSD. They are able to tell much better than I am when I am having symptoms. Melissa is my strength during times of stress and John becomes my foil, taking over my duties of rolling around on the floor with the nieces as they open presents.

They have really helped me to heal and have helped communicate to my family some of the things I just can’t say or express. Family’s role in healing is not to be understated – we are a team and we tackle these times together. That’s what families are for…

Your struggles are your own and I can’t tell you how to do this. I can’t give you that one piece of advice that will make it all better. I can’t make it go away. But, I will tell you – ORDER YOU – not to do this on your own. You need a team and your family can be that team if you let them.

Happy Holidays. I mean it!

Bill Butler
Chapter Coordinator,
Susquehanna Valley Team River Runner
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