Post Traumatic Stress Disorder During the Holidays

Health Writer

People suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may have a more difficult time during the holidays for any number of reasons:

  • PTSD sufferers can suffer setbacks at the anniversary or during the season the anniversary of the traumatic event occurred. For example, if someone has PTSD because of being molested by a family member during the holidays, the holiday season may bring back the memories and make it difficult to relax and enjoy the holiday. If a veteran remembers spending a horrible holiday seeing other members of their unit killed, the holiday season may be difficult to make it through. Sometimes, those suffering from PTSD do not understand why or cannot explain why they are irritable or cannot enjoy the holidays. Family members try to make the holiday special and may end up feeling angry instead when the person with PTSD is not willing or able to participate in holiday events.

  • Holidays and family functions can make the PTSD sufferer feel like an outsider. They may feel uncomfortable joining in the celebration and, as a result, end up feeling alone and isolated. Although family members may try to include the person with PTSD, if the event brings back memories or makes him or her uncomfortable, being pushed into participating can make the feelings of isolation even more uncomfortable.

  • PTSD sufferers may have survivor guilt. The traumatic event that caused the PTSD may be one in which other people perished. This may create guilt and cause them to wonder why he or she survived and others did not. Holidays may increase these feelings. Family members, with good intentions, can create even more guilt by either ignoring the situation or calling attention to it. The survivor must be able to grieve in his or her own way and family members must be respectful of that grief.

  • Large crowds or events with alcohol can be problems for people with PTSD. He or she may feel unsafe in places with many people or large crowds. Trips to the mall or large family gatherings may bring about such uncomfortable feelings the sufferer may instead avoid all situations that involve crowds. People with PTSD have a larger chance than the general public of having problems with alcohol. Holiday parties often include alcoholic beverages and this may be a big problem, especially if triggers are around.

No matter what the reason, the holiday season is often difficult for people with PTSD, but there are a number of things they can do to help manage their PTSD during this holiday season:

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.

The holidays are a time of spirituality. No matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa, the meaning behind the holiday is love and peace. Family celebrations are meant to accentuate these feelings. However, holidays do not need to be celebrated only with family gatherings. Finding your own way to celebrate can make the holidays meaningful. Take time to volunteer at a local hospital or by providing food baskets to those that need them. Sometimes, reaching out to others that are in pain can help to relieve your own pain.