How to survive the holidays when you are coping with trauma: a last-minute guide to making it through the merriment 


The season of good tidings and cheer is officially upon us. But what if you are not feeling particularly cheerful? What if you are still struggling through the aftermath of trauma? This happy time of the year can feel isolating for people who are feeling sad, angry, anxious or any other difficult emotion post-trauma. 

Here are five ways to navigate the holidays in the aftermath of trauma.

1. You can say no.

If your friends or family are not behaving in a healthy and supportive manner post-trauma, you are not obligated to spend the holidays with them. You don’t have to send a lengthy explanation. Something as simple as, “I won’t be at dinner tomorrow, thanks for the invite” is perfectly fine. If your friends or family press you for an explanation, it is acceptable to say something like, “I don’t have energy to talk through this at this time. I hope you have a fun get-together.” If they continue to press you to talk about it, you are allowed to ignore calls and messages. 

2. Surround yourself with healthy, supportive people.

Think of the healthy, safe, mature, trustworthy people in your life. The people who let you be who you are and where you are without judging you or trying to fix you. Ask those people if you can spend the holidays with them. If you feel OK doing so, share what you’re going through with these people ahead of time so they know you are struggling and can show you extra support. 

3. Have an exit strategy. 

Wherever you decide to spend the holidays, have a plan to leave if you need to. Large or loud crowds of people can be particularly stressful for someone who is recovering from trauma. If you can, share how you are doing emotionally with someone before the event. Ask them if they can leave with you or call you and give you an excuse to step out if you need to. It might be helpful to have a code word. Don’t feel bad about calling it a night early if you need to. 

4. It’s OK to be sad and angry.

You do not have to be happy just because it is supposed to be a joyful time of the year. It is OK to be quiet and just sit and observe the festivities if you do not feel like participating. You are allowed to feel sad and angry that you experienced trauma. The time of year doesn’t change that. 

5. It’s OK to allow yourself a reprieve from the trauma. 

It is also OK to give yourself permission to have fun, enjoy some good food, laugh, and catch up with friends and family. In general, making a list of things for which you are grateful is an instant mood boost. You are allowed to have fun, enjoy the season and partake in lighthearted festivities if it serves you. Doing so will not negate the legitimacy of your trauma. Your trauma is real, and that truth will stand no matter how you decide to approach the holidays. But it is also healthy and OK to take a moment to enjoy yourself this holidays season as you remember you are more than the trauma you have experienced. 

Rise Above Violence wishes you peace, hope and safe people to surround you during this holiday season. And if you need support, our free and confidential 24-hour hotline can be reached every day of the year by dialing (970) 264-9075.