How do you celebrate the holidays when you're too tired to care?
It's a very real question for me this year. Although not a new one.
Yes, this year I am especially exhausted. In under four months, we sold our home, moved cross-country, adjusted to a new city (still are), and bought a new house. (Read the story here.)
And now the holidays are upon us!
Can you hear my feeble 'hooray'?
Holidays and Complex Trauma
Fatigue at holidays or other celebratory events is nothing new for our family. The challenges of living with a person with complex trauma are overwhelming at the best of times. Add in holidays, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries...yup, that's me in the photo above.
For many, survivors and non-survivors, the holidays are overwhelming. In addition to the often-unrealistic extra cultural expectations about the perfect holidays, there is the practical reality that holidays bring a lot of extras with them: extra activities, extra purchases, and extra functions with people you might not see any other time of the year.
But for survivors and their families, the extras can topple an already-precarious balance that can lead to a resurgence of trauma symptoms and stress all around. Slow, steady, and predictable are ideal when recovering from trauma. Holidays are often not conducive to this.
And what about kids? As a mom, I want my children to enjoy the holidays and special celebrations. If you are a parent, I am certain you do too.
How can you do it? How can you celebrate the holidays when you might be too tired to care?
1. Acknowledge your feelings. Are you depleted? Are you overwhelmed? Maybe you are okay this year. Whatever your feelings, don't push them away. Just let them be.
2. Once you have acknowledged your feelings, think about what you need this holiday. Do you need to do something different? Do you need to not go to that event? What has worked in the past and what hasn't?
3. What do you enjoy doing to prepare for the holidays? Try and delegate the rest. I like shopping. I hate decorating. Decorating is delegated to daughter #2.
4. Plan in advance and communicate plans ahead of time especially if children are involved. Last year, we decided to forego the turkey dinner on Christmas day. We let the kids know ahead of time allowing space and time to process disappointment and other strong emotions.
5. Increase contact with others who understand and support your situation. Holidays are a time when we see people we don't see the rest of the year. That's okay, but these relationships are likely not the main supports in your life. It might be important to increase the frequency of contact with your year-round support people and groups during holiday seasons. It doesn't have to be in person: texts, online messages, and phone calls work well too.
6. Communicate openly about the impact of holiday stress. Explain to children what is happening if a survivor's symptoms increase. Children may require extra emotional support during this time.
7.Survivors: Ensure you have a plan and strategies in place when triggers arise. If you have a therapist or coach, discuss your concerns well ahead of time. There are a number of online blogs, videos, and articles addressing the holidays and survivors. I like this one:
Surviving the Holidays with C-PTSD and DID8. Partners and others living with a survivor: You must also have strategies in place to regain balance when a survivor is struggling. Partners and other caregivers, don't be shy about taking time 'off' to rest and refresh yourself. Keep communication open about your need for a few hours away while offering reassurance about your availability upon return.
In answer to my question: How do you celebrate the holidays when you're too tired to care?
With some extra planning, extra communication, extra care, and extra support. You can celebrate the holidays and so can I.
Readers: How do you celebrate holidays and other extra events? What have you learned about celebrating events when a family member has complex trauma? What do you do that works?
I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email. Drop me a comment or let me know on social media.
Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash