Making it Through the Holidays

Another holiday has past, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that it is over. Unfortunately, with PTSD, holidays seems to bring more bad than good. I don’t like the stress that comes with getting everything ready and knowing family will be coming in with their own expectations that they demand I live up to. I’m learning every year a bit more about how to say “No” and how to choose my own path rather than letting everyone else around me buffer me around.

Over the years, I’ve learned to weather the storm, so to speak. I try to just close my mouth and not let myself be drawn into defending my own beliefs from those who think they have to convert my thinking to theirs. I stick to myself quite a bit, but I do try to step out of my safety zone and interact with others, at least to the extent that I’m not a complete hermit. But I’m so much more comfortable without all the posturing and posing that comes with social interaction.

I made it through another holiday. It wasn’t as painful as it used to be. It wasn’t as good as I would like it to be either. But, I made it through. I guess that is the one thing they can say about those of us with PTSD: we are survivors. I’m glad of that.


Beating Holiday Stress

Surviving the holidays can be quite a chore! Parties, baking, cleaning the house, in-laws arriving, the list seems to be endless, and with each new item comes more stress. During the holiday season more than any other time throughout the year, stressors seem to pile up on us. Remembering to take time out for ourselves becomes important at this time of year.

Remember all those different stress relievers you have learned over the years and put them to good use. Try deep breathing, meditation, listening to soft music, muscle relaxation, and any other way you can think of to reduce your stress load. You, and those around you, will enjoy the season more if you are not stressed to the breaking point.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year if we keep calm and don’t allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. Take some time away from others if it helps you too. This should be a cheerful, fun time of year, not a frantic load of work. Enjoy the holidays…you deserve it!


Too often we seem to go through life letting things happen to us. We are reactors to circumstances instead of choosing our own actions.  For instance, it’s easy to take on the role of victim and simply sit passively while things happen that we don’t want to happen.  We tell ourselves, “This is the way it always is and there is nothing I can do to change it.”  But that’s not true!  We can make different choices and take another course of action that may change the outcome of what is happening.

Sometimes we get caught in what I call the haze of ordinary. It simply means that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in our lives and when something we don’t like happens, we just lament how bad life is and we sit there suffering.  How foolish can we be!  We are capable of making changes in our lives, in the ways we think about things and in what we do in response to challenges.  We sometimes just need a bit of a bump to bring us back into a mindful way of thinking.

By mindfulness, I mean paying attention to what’s going on and being open to trying new things to change the situation. This means living in the present moment and stopping ourselves when we get on the pity wagon before we take off and ride it for hours or days.  Yes, bad things happen in life.  That doesn’t mean I have to focus on them and wail about them forever.  I can also realize that good things happen in life too.  If I focus on my blessings rather than my problems, it makes the problems shrink in size.

Stress makes mindfulness more difficult. If we’re stressed, we focus on what’s stressing us out rather than on the good things going on around us.  I work on reducing my stress levels and think of it not as a selfish thing to be doing, but a necessary way of improving my life and the lives of those around me.  Let’s face it, if I’m out of sorts, then the people around me will know about it and, in most cases, pay for it too!

I have to stop sometimes and look at what’s really happening to me at that moment. I’m not in danger.  I’m not particularly uncomfortable.  The sun, if it’s not shining now, will shine again in a day or two.  The problems I’m experiencing, although they may seem insurmountable, will fade away and others will replace them.  But good things will keep happening too and I don’t want to miss any of them.  Remaining mindful helps me live in the moment and feel hopeful about life.


After having a particularly stressful day, I got to thinking about PTSD effects our stress levels. I believe that if it’s a stressful day, my baseline increases dramatically due to my PTSD.  My sister will tell you my temper has a hair trigger, and that used to be very true.  I’d like to think it’s not the case so much now, but, it is what it is.  I know that I react to everyday frustrations very quickly, and it’s something I have to keep at the top of my consciousness and work to control every day.

It used to be that I did not realize I was so stressed until I had an emotional melt down. I don’t like myself very much when that happens, so I try to ensure that I’m paying attention enough now to stop it before things get out of hand.  Sometimes that means stepping aside for a voluntary “time out.”  That means I disconnect from whatever is stressing me and focus intently on something enjoyable.  Often I’ll use music to regroup, or maybe I’ll sit down at the computer to play a game or two, or take a ten minute ride in the car.  Basically, it means I’ve had enough stress for the moment and I need to disconnect in order to allow myself a cooling off period.  I really don’t think my family realizes how necessary this is for me, but it is something I feel I have to do for myself to maintain my mental health.

Try monitoring your stress levels throughout the day. If you practice doing this on a daily basis, it will become easier as you go.  Intervening before your stress takes over allows you to stop the cycle of “blowing up” and taking it out on everyone else in the vicinity.  I know I don’t like being known as the person with a temper that explodes on a hair trigger.  Even if others around you don’t understand what you’re doing when you refocus, it’s better for them and you to not let stress push you into the danger zone.


The thing about PTSD is that it is a normal reaction to trauma. You can actually think of it as a normal reaction to an abnormal event.  So why do we call it a disorder?  .  Although we may be changed by what we’ve been through, we can and usually do get better over time.  While we may never be the same, for many people the symptoms lessen or disappear altogether.

PTSD treatment works. There are different options you can try to treat PTSD.  The thing is, if you don’t get into treatment, your PTSD may get worse.  It’s never too late to get into treatment; the sooner treatment starts, the sooner you can start to feel better!

There are a variety of treatments available for treating PTSD:

  • Talk Therapy involves discussing what you went through with a therapist.
  • With Prolonged Exposure Therapy, you’ll discuss your experience with a therapist who will ask you to review the situation multiple times. Reliving the experience helps reduce the intensity of the memory.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy helps you change your thoughts about the event which helps change how you feel too.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing involves having you think about the event while listening to a sound such as a beeping tone, or being exposed to a blinking light. For some reason, this helps your brain reprocess your feelings about the event.
  • Stress Inoculation Training teaches you the skills you need to handle stress.
  • Medications may be used to increase certain chemicals in your brain that help you manage stress.

PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormally stressful situation.  It is treatable, and treatment can result in reduction or elimination of symptoms.


As a dog trainer, I sometimes see things that can be applied to people as well as dogs. Last night I worked with a wonderful little beagle who gets so excited she can barely function.  When she’s worked up, she barks constantly and won’t stop.  It’s very frustrating to the owners, as you can imagine.

When the owners drove up, this dog was in the back of the car, and she was very excited over going for a ride. They took her out and she immediately spotted several other dogs and their owners.  That also excited her.  As there were many other dogs that had been on the grounds that day, she was able to scent them, and that further excited her.  And, finally, when we took her to the exercise pen to stretch her legs, she spotted a fat rabbit nibbling the grass on the far side of the fence.  She immediately went into hound behavior, baying at the rabbit and frantically looking for a way to get under the fence to get it.  She was so excited, it was impossible to calm her down.  She was a victim of trigger stacking.

Each one of those events made her excited and nervous. Added together, they created a situation where she became out of control.  Unfortunately, I did not recognize what was happening until after the fact, but at least I was able to identify what was really going on: she wasn’t a bad little dog, just one that observed everything going on around her and was stimulated by it.  Her response was undesirable: barking, non-stop, but she wasn’t “just misbehaving.”

I think trigger stacking happens to humans quite often, and we also may not recognize what’s happening. We’re driving and someone runs a stop sign in front of us.  It scares us and makes our hearts race.  Then we get home and the kids are running around the yard, screaming as they play.  We go inside and the dog bolts out the door and runs away.  Finally we sit down to relax a few minutes and the neighbor comes over banging on the door with a complaint.  That may be the point where we lose it.  They are little things, but they build on one another until you’re feeling frantic.  It’s a perfect time for your PTSD triggers to go off too.

So, how can we respond to trigger stacking to stop the process? Recognizing what’s happening is the first step.  When you start to feel that first racing of your heart, take a time out.  Slow down and let yourself process what’s happening.  Are you in danger now?  No.  Can you afford to pull over for a few minutes at the local park and let yourself calm down?  If you can, it may break the sequence before it goes further.  At each step, recognize that things may be out of control, but there is no actual danger at the moment.

Staying healthy means recognizing when we have multiple issues that are having a negative impact on us. Don’t let your triggers build up until you go over the edge and lose it entirely.  Stop, evaluate the danger you’re really in, and then go on knowing you are in control.


The holidays are here, and with them come large family gatherings, parties, electric parades, children full of laughter and excitement, and all the hustle and bustle that is such a part of the season.  But for those who suffer with PTSD, the holidays can bring their own special kind of hell.  Those very activities and events that make the holiday special can be overwhelming for someone with PTSD!


When one is hyper-aware of the surroundings, large family gatherings can be over-stimulating.  There is too much noise, too much activity to keep track of at one time.  It’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on with so many people.  And taking the kids to a parade?   There are flashing lights, people coming at you from every direction; it leaves you with a felling that everything is out of control and danger is lurking everywhere.  No, the holidays can generate as much dread as joy for someone with PTSD.


As you celebrate this holiday season, remember those who paid for our freedom and our very right to celebrate the holiday.  There is something to be said for a quiet, peaceful season too.  Living with PTSD can take some finesse.  Remember that we can develop different traditions that are just as meaningful to us as the ones we used to practice.  The season can be one of peace and joy for all of us.