Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
As we move through our days; which are filled with Christmas Carols, Tinsel, Colorful Lights, along with the chatter of the days and weeks ahead.... there are those who are not feeling all that jolly. Many Veterans suffer from PTSD. These heroes have served our country well, and may be in need of compassion. At the very least, they deserve understanding.
After a trauma or life threatening event it is common to have upsetting memories of what happened, to have trouble sleeping, to feel jumpy, or to lose interest in things you used to enjoy. For some people these reactions do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These people may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I came across this article on ABOUT.COM and feel it is a Must-Share:
PTSD and Holiday Stress
Holidays may be particularly difficult for someone with PTSD. First, spending time with family and friends may not always be enjoyable. A person with PTSD may feel cut-off or detached from others. Some people with PTSD may even have difficulties experiencing positive emotions, such as joy and happiness. Being surrounded by others who are happy and not anxious may further make them feel as though they don't quite "fit in."
In addition, certain family members or friends may actually bring about memories of past traumatic experiences. Some people may also not know that certain conversations bring about unpleasant memories or feelings. At a time when family and friends come together, it may be difficult to avoid these triggers.
Likewise, the holidays are a busy time. People with PTSD may feel very uncomfortable or unsafe in large crowds. Large crowds whether at the home or at the mall may be difficult to avoid and can worsen symptoms of avoidance and hyperarousal.
Finally, the holidays are also a time when people tend to consume more alcohol. People with PTSD are more likely to have problems with alcohol. Therefore, during the holidays, they may experience more urges to drink or cravings for alcohol.
What Can Be Done?
Fortunately, a person with PTSD can take measures to better cope with the holidays. Below is a list of several coping strategies that may be helpful.
Now is the time to make sure that you know what your triggers are and have a number of coping strategies available to you that you can use to cope with a stressful situation. Practice your coping strategies at a time when you are not feeling high levels of stress. For example, practice deep breathing or mindfulness at times when you are relatively relaxed. The more you practice different coping strategies, the more they become a habit and can be easily implemented during times of stress.
It can also be helpful to make "coping cards." If you are going into a stressful situation and you think it may be difficult to cope with stress in the moment, write out a number of different coping strategies that you can use on small index cards. Put these cards in your pocket and during a time of stress, pull them out and try the different coping strategies on them.
Also, if you are going into a social situation, come up with some excuses ahead of time and practice them with others. This way, if your anxiety becomes too much to handle, you will have an excuse readily available that will allow you to easily leave the situation and manage your anxiety. For example, you may tell people that you have another event you might go to or that you may be meeting people from work later. The more prepared you are before hand, the less you have to think on your feet during a stressful situation.
As mentioned above, social situations or large crowds can be very stressful for someone with PTSD. Part of what makes this stressful is the unpredictability of social situations and large crowds. Unpredictability naturally brings about anxiety. To lessen this, before you go to a social gathering get a sense of how many people are going to be there and who is going to be there. The more information you have, the less unpredictable the situation will be and you will be better off in being able to identify potential sources of stress and how to cope with that stress.
Seek Out Support
Social support is a wonderful way of coping with stress and now is the time to make sure that you have support available to you. Seek out a friend that you can trust and bring this friend with you when you go into a stressful situation, such as a social gathering or shopping. Doing so will prevent you from avoiding situations that may be scary, but in the end, enjoyable for you. Social support (whether through a friend, support group, or therapist) can also be useful in helping you cope with any PTSD symptoms that may arise.
Focus on Spirituality
The holidays are a time when many people place more emphasis on their spirituality. Going to a place of worship (such as church or temple) or celebrating your spirituality in your own personal way is also a healthy way of coping with PTSD symptoms. Given this, focusing on spirituality may be one way of connecting with the holiday season that is not stressful or uncomfortable for someone with PTSD.
Redefine What the Holidays Mean
The holidays are a time for celebration, and this can occur in a number of different ways. For example, if you no longer feel comfortable celebrating with family and friends, find another way of connecting with the holiday season. Redefine what holiday celebration means to you. Celebrate in your own way. Come up with your own personal rituals that allow you to connect with the spirit of the holiday season. For example, donate some of your time at a homeless shelter or at a hospital for veterans. Help others. Giving back and helping others can be a very effective way of recovering from trauma.
To the extent that you trust family members, discuss with them things that may be triggering or stressful to you about the holidays. Discuss ways that things can be changed so as to lessen the likelihood that your PTSD becomes worse. Be open and honest about what you need to enjoy the holiday season.
Enjoy the Season
However you celebrate the holidays, make sure you take time to enjoy them. Although a person with PTSD may find it easier to avoid aspects of the holiday season, this avoidance is likely only effective in the short-run. In the long-run, it may further increase feelings of detachment, depression, or low self-esteem.
These are just a few coping strategies that may be effective. Spend some time coming up with your own so that you can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest. Although having a diagnosis of PTSD can make it more of a challenge to do so, it does not have to prevent you from connecting with and celebrating the spirit of the holiday season.