When the Holidays Aren’t So Happy

Mimi Thomas · December 8, 2017

For many adults and children, the holidays are anything but merry and bright. Whether they resurface past trauma or leave you panicking on the drive over to your mother-in-law’s home, the holidays can wreak havoc on mental health.

Bringing Up Past Trauma

The holiday season can be filled with triggers of past trauma, from the sound of traditional Christmas carols to the smell of turkey cooking in the oven. Many children and adults who have experienced trauma work through complicated feelings about the holidays. When the same people who hurt you decades ago are the ones sitting across from you asking for a dinner roll, it’s not a comfortable emotional space to navigate.

Highlighting Anxieties

The holidays can be hard to deal with if you are prone to anxiety, as obligations and to-do lists are both more overwhelming than ever. Some of the most common causes of holiday anxiety include:

  • Not being able to get everything done with shopping, traveling, entertaining and more.
  • Spending more than expected and going into the red on credit cards or your budget.
  • Not meeting the expectations of the season.
  • Spending time with family or the opposite—being alone.
  • Being in crowded places.

Increasing the Need for Perfection

If you deal with a need for perfection throughout the year, the holidays can really bring things to a head. Anyone taking in all of the advertisements and spending more than 5 minutes on Pinterest can quickly get swept up in what is needed to have the “perfect” holiday season. When you’re supposed to have three cookie swaps, an ugly sweater party and the office secret Santa exchange in the same week, it’s easy to fall short of those expectations. If you are pushing yourself past your limit, emotionally or physically, and your calendar looks like a solid ink-colored sheet, it’s a sign you might be struggling with a high need for perfection this holiday season.

Dealing with the Holiday Season 

  • Ensure that you are working with a therapist during the holiday season, especially if you are coping with past trauma. Even if you have not undergone therapy for years, it’s an excellent time to reinforce your recovery and learn new tools for coping.
  • Map out different triggers that you could encounter and come up with at least one coping strategy for each one.
  • Before attending a party or spending time with family members, set clear boundaries for yourself. Pick your battles wisely and don’t be afraid to leave an event if things are too overwhelming.
  • Lower your expectations of the holiday season. Redefining what “good enough” is can make it much more achievable.
  • Ask for help if you feel the need to do “everything.” If any of your friends or family members offer to help, even with seemingly small tasks like wrapping presents, take advantage of it.

Take Care of Your Mental Health this Holiday Season 

If you want to learn new coping mechanisms or talk through your feelings about the holiday season, contact CBT Baltimore to get on the right track at 443-470-9815.