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How to Deal with Holiday Triggers


avery tired
Just thinking about it makes me tired

There are a lot of ways that a traumatic event can impact the experience of a holiday. Perhaps the holiday is an anniversary of the trauma.  For a lot of people the holidays are a reminder of a loss, or of what is different now.  Others are estranged from their families due to their trauma, or simply separated by circumstance. The following are some suggestions to deal with any triggers that arise.


Have an anti-holiday
Is it possible for you to just ignore the holiday?  For some people, especially those with children, this is not an option.  But if you’re lucky enough to have the flexibility, who says you have to celebrate anything at all?  This year, my partner and I are going to the zoo on Thanksgiving.  It’s not crowded, and then we will eat barbeque.  Despite what I won’t have that day, I’m really excited about what I will have and focusing on that really helps.

Be prepared for others to ask about your plans
I have a lot of clients who were sexually assaulted by a family member, and whether or not they disclosed that, the holidays are a logistical challenge. A huge stressor is how to deal with friends and coworkers who make friendly inquiries into their holiday plans. If you don’t have plans you’re eager to share, popular options are, “Getting some much needed rest,” “catching up on personal projects” or “spending time with friends,” which is true even if your friends are movies and books.
For those fortunate enough to have plans they want to share, it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to ask people what they’re up to for Thanksgiving (or really just about any break from work), but just appreciate that for some people this is a stressful question, so if the answer is “not much,” let it go.

Plan ahead to have alternative arrangements
Spending time with family can be really great for mental health—but who says it has to be the one you were born into?  Join someone else’s!  Or find some folks who are away from their families, or are from another country or religion and don’t necessarily celebrate whatever it is you grew up celebrating.  While Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas do have very real objective meanings, it can be really empowering to give them your own.

Be aware that this is a pattern
Often just recognizing that something occurs is half the battle.  Although wishing that things were different, comparing your situation to others’ happy arrangements and worrying about how to get through it are all perfectly understandable and even reasonable responses to holiday triggers, they can also increase suffering.  An alternative is accepting the present situation as it is, which can allow you to move more quickly into planning your coping strategy.

How to Deal with Holiday Triggers

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2013). How to Deal with Holiday Triggers. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Dec 2013
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