“This isn’t what I asked for!” “Why do you have to act like this on such a special day?!” “Can’t you stop being like this just for one day?” “For some reason this day always makes me sad.” “How long do we have to be at your parent’s house, . . . we’re always there too long?”
Christmas Triggers: The Christmas season is so full of triggers. What’s a trigger? It’s an event, a situation, a feeling, a series of thoughts that “trigger” emotional pain, conflicted relationships, or difficult behaviors.
As much as we may love the Christmas season and Christmas day, both can trigger pain, loneliness, sadness, conflict, and so much more. So here are some ideas that may help.
Slow Down and Be Intentional: As joyful as the holidays can be, they’re stressful simply because they add so much to our already full plates. We go to more events and parties. We consume more unhealthy food and drink. We feel pressure to find and give “perfect” presents. We rub against each in ways that cause friction.
Slowing down and becoming more intentional helps. This means distinguishing between I want to do, what I need to do, and what I should let go of. Be intentional about what you say yes or not to. Be intentional about what you’ll eat and drink. Slow down so you can make good choices.
Focus on the Positive: This is incredibly hard to do when things become negative, but we can choose how to respond to triggers. We can react in typical negative ways, or we can choose other ways of thinking. Focusing on the positive means appreciating what’s good rather than lingering on what’s not. Appreciate the lights, friends, what’s good. Don’t deny what’s not good but pay more attention to what is good and be grateful for it. Gratitude is part of my spiritual life. I’m intentional about thanking God for all that is good.
Mature Understanding: Can you be more understanding simply of how people are? I’ve found this to be a powerful tool for getting through the stress of anything. The more I recognize that others are responding to triggers, causing them to be sad, create conflict, and feel stressed, the more I can become patient, compassionate, understanding, and respond in more helpful ways.
Be Responsible for Yourself: There was a phrase that really influenced my life when I was being trained as a drug and alcohol counselor. It has to do with two Alcoholics Anonymous steps 8 and 9, which have to do with making amends to those we’ve harmed. A recovering alcoholic said to me, I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility to make amend and ask for forgiveness. But I’m not responsible for getting them to forgive me.
The same is true for Christmas triggers. We can only be responsible for how we react and respond to them, not for how others do. So be responsible for your own responses and forgiving for others.
We hope you have a great Christmas!
The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA