The Gift of Self-Care and Compassion: Managing Regression and Triggers During the Holidays
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Unfortunately, not everyone can relate to the popular holiday carol. For some, the holiday season is a jovial time to get together with family and friends, unwind and relax, and enjoy indulging in comforting foods and maybe an extra glass of wine or two. While the winter holidays can be joyous for some, it can be extremely triggering for others. For those that have complicated or traumatic family dynamics, past or current substance or behavioral addictions, or grief that reawakens during the holiday season, the joy of Thanksgiving and Christmas may be harder to achieve. The holidays can cause regression in someone who knows the holidays will mean being around a toxic family member, being in close proximity to alcohol or food, or can serve as a reminder of a loved one who may have passed during this time. The holidays can be a difficult time and it’s important to not only take care of oneself, but to recognize and acknowledge triggers and regression that may come up during this time. If the winter holidays seldom feel like ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ there are helpful strategies one can employ to manage triggers, practice self-care, and prioritize needs.
- Increase Mental Health Support: If one is currently in treatment or seeing a mental health professional, it may be beneficial to increase appointment frequency during the holiday season, providing it’s financially manageable. If one is not currently receiving mental health support, but has in the past, it may be advantageous to make an appointment with a mental health professional for an ‘emotional tune up’ and just have support during a turbulent time. If financial problems are making therapy unobtainable, one might benefit from free or low-cost support group options. Seeing a therapist or mental health professional can help one work through ways to incorporate healthy coping strategies to manage triggers and regression when necessary.
- List Triggers and Coping Strategies: It’s important to ensure one is not avoiding repressing their triggers. Avoiding one’s triggers creates opportunities for an individual to stay in their trauma which can lead to regression and acting out. It can be beneficial to grab a journal or even jot down some triggers to be mindful of in one’s mobile device. Take some time to write down potentially triggering people, places, memories, substances, and environments that could create a trigger response. In addition to triggers, include a list of healthy coping strategies that have been discussed and approved by a therapist or mental health professional. This hyper-awareness of triggers can help one protect their physical and emotional well-being during this difficult time.
- Celebrate Self-Care: Sometimes, avoiding triggering people, places, and substances is difficult. For instance, one may be in recovery for alcoholism and attend a holiday event where coolers of beer are present or being around a toxic family member. If these situations are unavoidable it’s important to make sure one is making space and prioritizing their needs. If one has to engage with a toxic family member or be around substances they are trying to avoid, it’s perfectly reasonable to step back or remove oneself from the situation when needed. It is not worth it for one to risk their mental health in order to please the people around them.
- Just Say No: It’s important for one not to isolate themselves, but there may be holiday events that are simply too toxic to be involved in. For instance, if one is in recovery for alcohol or drug addiction and their company holiday party is taking place at a bar, it could be damaging for that individual to be in attendance. In that particular situation, it would be beneficial for the individual to prioritize their recovery needs as opposed to potentially exposing themselves to triggers or relapse. Additionally, if another holiday event means being around a family member that has been physically, emotionally, sexually, or financially abusive then avoiding the presence of that person would be ideal so as not to regress, disassociate, or feel triggered.
Although the holidays may be difficult, through self-care and self-love, the tough times can be overcame. It’s fundamental for individuals to listen to themselves, their emotions, and their bodies. The individual knows themselves best and is in complete control of their boundaries and what they can and want to let into their space. It’s reasonable to say no to a situation that will trigger uncomfortable emotions and memories. Self-care is the highest priority and what an individual wants and needs comes first.
Posted on behalf of Triune Therapy Group