The holidays can be a time of excitement and connection, but they’re also often a time of heightened stress. Spending time with family, staying in a childhood home, potentially having less access to a therapist or mental health support, along with many other holiday-related activities, have the potential to bring up complex emotions and past trauma. For trans survivors in particular, being around family members who may not be supportive of one’s gender identity or transition (in the past or present), or who might be the source of previous trauma, adds another layer of difficulty to this already stressful time of year.
Going into environments where emotion is high and old wounds are likely to be aggravated, it can be helpful to come prepared with some concrete strategies for coping.
Strategies for coping during the holidays and beyond
One simple technique that can help to calm the nervous system involves using our senses to notice things in our surroundings. For example, we can look for specific shapes in the world around us, or look for a specific color. You might also notice what sounds you can hear, what you can smell, or what you can taste.
This technique helps to interrupt overwhelming thoughts and tune into what’s right in front of us to ground ourselves in our surroundings and in our bodies.
Holiday-related traditions, like traveling, hosting a get-together, or staying with family members, can throw off our established routines that give us a sense of safety and consistency. While this video focuses on creating routine while working from home during the pandemic, it also offers general techniques for feeling more stability in routines.
Some strategies for establishing a routine when we may have less control over our surroundings include: trying to go to bed and wake up around the same time, showering every morning or evening, or taking a moment to call/text a friend or support person on a regular basis.
Tapping is a coping strategy that can help to calm the nervous system, lessen anxiety, and even reduce physical pain. In this video, michael munson walks through a simple tapping exercise.
Movement can be a great way to release emotions and stress, boost positive moods, and feel grounded in your body. Similar to challenges with accessing spaces for exercise or movement early in the pandemic, being inside and visiting with friends or family during the holiday season can complicate opportunities for movement.
Movement doesn’t have to look like intense exercise to have benefits. For example, we might find time to go for a walk alone or with a friend/family member, which is a great way to get fresh air and vitamin D. When it’s too cold or not comfortable to go outside, doing household chores like washing dishes by hand, cleaning surfaces, or vacuuming, are opportunities for light movement.
Stretching is another way to add some movement to your day. This can be done standing or seated. Check out this video on gentle chair yoga for beginners!
Holiday activities, whether we’re traveling, hosting guests, or staying in an unusual place, can throw off our usual routines. This can make it difficult to stick to typical routines for medications. While in these situations, it’s helpful to make a plan for how you can stick to your medication routine.
You might consider where you’re keeping your medications and if they’re easily accessible so you can remember to take them. Using a seven day pill organizer is one strategy for keeping track of whether or not you’ve taken your medications for the day!
These are just a few strategies for getting grounded, maintaining routine, and moving your body while dealing with potential stressors that may arise during the holiday season. During this time of year, it’s particularly important to be kind to yourself and pay attention to the emotions that come up, and have coping strategies in place for when you feel overwhelmed or out of control.