Coping with Triggers During the Holidays

Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for survivors of abuse as triggers can often times set off a memory or a flashback that takes the person back to the event of the original trauma. These triggers can be activated through the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, and the reactions to triggers can feel painful or frightening and even cause a person to lash out or isolate themselves.

During the holidays, there can be a lot of pressure placed on people to engage in social gatherings. However, it’s important to know that you have the right to give yourself permission to do what’s best for you, even if that means stepping away. If attending the annual invitation to family dinner over the holidays is emotionally exhausting or overwhelming, it’s okay to turn it down. Let your family know that your decision has to do with taking care of yourself. Communicating with loved ones can help them be better able to support you.

And in our effort to also be supportive of you, we have gathered up some suggestions on steps you can take to get through triggering moments during such times. ** Please note that the following list is by no means exhaustive and is meant to be used as a toolkit to help you through a flashback or stress inducing moment.


1)     Create physical space from the trigger: Separate yourself from the trigger, if possible. It may be a good idea to move away from the situation, person, or thing which is triggering you, and give yourself space so that you can figure out what happened and reflect on how you’re feeling.  This is especially important if you feel unsafe.

2)     Create emotional space through grounding and breathing techniques.  Once you’ve created physical distance from the trigger and you feel that you’re in a safer space, it can help to remind yourself where you are, what day or year it is, and an observation about something in the room. For example, “I am 28, it is December 2015 and my chair is very soft. It is red with black arm rests and a low back. The material feels rough like tweed. My feet touch the ground.” Factual, objective observations that bring you back into the present moment help to create some emotional distance from the trigger. It may also be helpful to focus on your breathing: concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths.

3)     Redirect your mind by thinking about things that make you feel safer or calmer in a technique called resourcing. What is your favorite animal or pet? Who do you feel good and safe with and what is your favorite thing to do with that person? Is your “happy place” a beach or a meadow? Where is it? Try to go there in your mind: concentrating on the things that make us feel safe, calm, and happy can help redirect the negative effects of a trigger.

4)     Give yourself permission to be upset. Although it may be helpful to focus on grounding and resourcing techniques to calm yourself, it is also important that you listen to your body and let yourself be upset if you need to. Trauma affects us at every level – physical, emotional, neurological – and if what you need in that moment is to be upset, that’s ok.

5)     Ask for help.  Although it might be hard to reach out, it may be very helpful to tell someone what you’re going through and let that person know how they can be helpful to you. Do you need someone to just listen? Or do you need someone to sit quietly with you? If there isn’t a friend or counselor you can reach out to, remember that you can call CCS’ 24-hour toll-free crisis line at 888-385-4657.

6)     Make a self-care plan: What do you like to do that makes you feel relaxed, happy, empowered, or peaceful? For some people, creative activities like painting or drawing is a form of self-care, while for others it’s exercise or meditating. Identifying your mode(s) of self-care and scheduling regular time for it is important for your long-term emotional health.


Additionally, some suggest to prepare a simple and specific excuse to use if you become uncomfortable and you need to leave early. Also, it may be helpful to carry a small object like a stone or a penny to use as a grounding object.


We hope you have found this information helpful. Wishing you a free, fulfilling, and empowered holiday season!


References and Additional Suggested Reading:

Coping with Triggers, Arizona State University

Surviving the Holidays, Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Coping with Triggers – Chat Transcript, Pandora’s Aquarium

Tips for Enjoying the Holidays, Victim Service Center


By Lindsay Riedel and Alejandra Ceja-Aguilar

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