The Christmas season is known as the ‘Merry Season’, the season of good-will where people come together with loved ones, families, and friends. Preparing for such gatherings, people buzz from shop to shop to presents, decorations for their home, and food. (Did I say cookies, chocolates, Stollen, and marzipan?)
For survivors, however, the holiday season can be anything but joyful. For some this time of the year triggers memories of abuse and they can feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or even suicidal. While that is often hard to avoid, it is possible to take some precautions to make this time as safe as possible. Here are some tips:
1. Anticipate that the Christmas season might become difficult and plan ahead how you want to spend the holidays.
2. Find out what your friends and support people are doing. Are they going away? Do you want to spend some of the time with a friend, or do you rather stay by yourself? Think about where you will feel safe; who is available to support you emotionally; how will you feel nurtured over the festive days?
3. What activities can you get involved in that will lift your spirit? Some people find going to attend church services uplifting, others might rather connect with volunteer services such as SPCA or the Salvation Army and help out in soup kitchens. There are many community services that look for volunteers over the Christmas period.
4. Are you part of a support group? If so, other members of your group might be interested to come together in this time or at least be available for a phone call.
5. Take care of yourself! This is a good opportunity to re-write history by planning a joyful holiday that is different from the one’s that evoke sad memories. Prepare a lovely meal, get plenty of rest, and go for a walk or take a picnic to your favorite beach, to a nearby forest, or to one of the many parks. Important is that you plan to have a lovely time.
6. Avoid bottling up your feelings. Find ways of expressing what you feel either by journaling, creating a piece of art, or talking to a friend.
7. Put some time aside to have a celebration of your survivorship where you can give recognition to your courage, hard work, determination, and your progress. Look back over your recovery journey and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
8. Have a plan for when the going gets tough. How will you know when you have reached the point of ‘not coping’? What are the warning signs you can observe? How can you then become active on your own behalf? Will you ring an emergency service, a friend, or find ways of calming yourself down with activities, relaxation exercises? Think about what has helped you through difficult times in the past and have a note or list handy to remind yourself.
9. If you plan to travel by car there are some sensible preparations that will reduce stress:
- Make sure your car is safe for the road. Ideally, have it checked before you depart.
- Check your tires, water, and oil.
- Have a number handy for road assistance services (AA, State Insurance).
- Take a first aid kit as well as emergency rations (water, food-bars, dried fruit) in case you have a breakdown.
- Plan regular breaks to avoid fatigue related accidents.
- If you travel with kids, take some games to keep them entertained.
10. If you can’t think of anything that could help you feel safe(r) and if you can’t find a place or service to turn to, please, look inside yourself. You might not find it right now, but there’s a part inside you that has kept you safe through previous moments when you’ve arrived at your wit’s end. Call for that resilience and inner strength and know that you’ve managed to get through hard times before… and you will do so again!
A little planning and awareness will make all the difference.
Most importantly, have a wonderful summer/winter break and enjoy the holiday season.