Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While most people enjoy holidays, unfortunately many veterans do not. Holidays are a time to be with family, to enjoy parties, good food, parades, fireworks and a variety of family traditions. It’s usually a time of excitement too.
While all of those things may sound good to most of us, to someone with PTSD the holidays can cause headaches and anxiety. Family gatherings are often tense, and parades translate to crowds and noise, several things that can actually be flashback triggers for someone with PTSD.
Is it possible to enjoy the holidays if you have PTSD? The answer is yes, with a little pre-planning. Take the time to think about what it is you don’t like about the holidays. That will show you where the problem areas are. Then plan how you can manage the situation differently instead of trying to suffer through it. It’s ok to make new family traditions, to do things differently than you have in the past. The goal is to make the holidays enjoyable to you, as a veteran, as well as your family.
For example, do you hate parades because of the crowds and the noise? Then that might be a tradition you want to give up. The key here is to explain to your family why you don’t want to participate. Can you still play a part in the activity? How about if you drive the family down and drop them off prior to the parade, then pick them up at a prearranged place afterward. You can let the kids know you aren’t sad because you aren’t seeing the actual parade, but this is something you’d rather do. That way you’re still playing a part in the tradition, but you don’t have to sit with the crowd.
Another example is the traditional holiday dinner. At my house, we used to call them “dinners from hell!” They were a time when everyone gathered together, but instead of being joyful and celebrating the holiday, we all worried whether Dad was going to blow up or not. My father had PTSD. Now I can see why he would ruin every holiday; it was too much stress for him to cope with. How much easier it would have been to keep dinners small and relaxing rather than the large gathering that triggered his PTSD.
With a little bit of planning, your holidays can be joyful again. If you feel guilty about not following family traditions, remember that in the long run, you are probably not doing anyone a favor by suffering through the day.
Make a plan this year for how you’ll handle the holidays. Then enjoy the day and create new traditions that make it a day to be remembered for how much fun you had, not how pressured it was.