Our Thoughts

PTSD and the holidays

Everyone knows that the holidays are particularly rough for veterans and first responders, but few can explain why. I think I can shed some light on this for everyone, and the answer might not be exactly what you think. The reasons can be pretty different for veterans than it is for first responders.

For soldiers with PTSD, it often brings up memories of past traumatic experiences and can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. The increased social and family obligations, as well as the added stress and expectations of the holiday season, can be overwhelming. Veterans tend to remember times they did not make it home for the holidays and can get caught up stewing about time and memories lost during their service. For veterans who have lost brothers or sisters in combat, they tend to get stuck thinking about those who will never make it home for another Christmas or will never see another New Year. Imagine trying to enjoy your time with loved ones while thinking about how your best friend’s family is having Christmas without him or her, simply because he or she was in a different seat during a convoy. This leads some veterans to believe they do not deserve the happiness that typically comes with the holidays and will choose to isolate in some irrational attempt at evening the scales. PTSD is not logical.

The holidays can also be a difficult time for first responders with PTSD due to the added stress and pressure of holiday events and activities. The increased demands on their time and energy can exacerbate their symptoms, including difficulty sleeping, irritability, and difficulty managing emotions. Additionally, holiday traditions and gatherings may trigger memories of traumatic events they have experienced in their line of work. For first responders, the holidays are full of family fights, homeless children with no joy, homicides, car crashes, death notifications and a long list of other traumatic calls because humans do not stop being human for the holidays. It can be difficult to enjoy your family time after seeing the worst humanity has to offer.

It is essential for people with PTSD to take care of themselves during the holiday season and to have a plan in place to manage any triggers or difficult emotions that may arise.

There are several steps that those with PTSD can take to manage their symptoms during the holidays:

  1. Plan ahead: Try to anticipate any potential triggers and have a plan in place to manage them. For example, if large crowds or loud noises are triggers, try to avoid these situations or have a plan for how to cope if you do encounter them.
  2. Set boundaries: It is okay to say no to social invitations or activities that may be too overwhelming. It is important to prioritize your own well-being and take care of yourself.
  3. Seek support: Talk to a therapist, support group, or trusted friend or family member about your feelings and concerns. It can be helpful to have someone to talk to and to have a support system in place.
  4. Practice self-care: Make time for activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature.
  5. Seek professional help: If you are struggling to cope with your symptoms during the holiday season, it may be helpful to seek the help of a mental health professional. They can provide you with additional support and strategies for managing your symptoms.

It is important to remember that it is okay to prioritize your own well-being and to take breaks when needed. It is also important to be kind to yourself and to recognize that it is normal to experience a range of emotions during the holiday season.

For those of you with friends, and loved ones with PTSD, make sure you let them know you appreciate their service and that their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Most importantly, do not let them isolate themselves and dwell on the negative. You have to be vigilant in your attempts to get them involved. It is easy to shut out the world and self-medicate if everyone is afraid to talk about it. Poke your nose in. Ask for specifics if something is bothering them and if you are lucky enough to get them to open up, listen.

No matter how uncomfortable it gets, just listen. It is a thousand percent better to get it out of them than leave it alone. It just might save their life.

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