Society teaches us that the holidays are a magical time filled with love and fun. As adults, we know that this isn’t necessarily true.
All it does is leave us with high (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of ourselves and our families. When those expectations aren’t met, it can worsen our already dampened mood from the lack of sunlight in the winter, leaving us feeling deeply unfulfilled.
For people with trauma, there are also the trials of confronting memories from childhood, toxic behaviors from family members, and the added stress of scheduling family visits. How do we recover from it all? Well, we can start with EMDR and good old introspection.
We Should Allow Ourselves to Reflect, Not Just Move Past These Events
Sometimes we just want to rush through the pain so we can move on. Unfortunately, all this will do is leave us with lingering anxiety and pain that can then manifest in other ways. (Self-destructive behaviors, difficulty sleeping, or physical pains in the body.)
How EMDR Treatment Makes Space for Reflection
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) introduces a safe and non-invasive way to work through these memories and experiences without having to talk them out in vivid detail. It works by using specific kinds of subtle brain stimulation, like bilateral tapping, bilateral eye movements, and alternating sounds.
While our brain picks up on these signals, in the forefront of our mind, we picture an event that holds negative feelings for us.
Let’s say that this year, our mother pressured us to visit her specifically when we already planned to see her at another family event. As much as we’d love to make time, we have commitments on both sides of the family today, and a trip out of the way to mom’s house just won’t work.
Mom doesn’t understand and tells us it’s selfish for us to exclude her like this. How do we recover from the internal guilt, shame, and anxiety left behind by an emotionally immature mother?
During EMDR, we picture Mom’s reaction in our head while a therapist stimulates eye movement back-and-forth. After a few rounds, we should notice that while the memory is present, it feels more in the background and less emotionally pressing.
Some patients may cry here, finally processing their feelings from the event and gaining a deep sense of relief. For others, this process requires several sessions and a therapist’s keen eye to notice existing pain to focus on next time.
Caring for Ourselves Outside of EMDR
Relying on therapy and medications alone will never bring the holistic healing we’re craving. To do that, we must be responsible for ourselves and our own betterment.
We can relieve our holiday stress by…
Eliminating the Signs of It
An unpacked suitcase and a cluttered pile of gift boxes sitting in the corner can give us more anxiety than we realize. For people with trauma, these can be real-world representations of the stress we just endured and still carry in our mind, body, and home.
Don’t put it off any longer—unpack the suitcase, organize the new gifts, and recycle the boxes. While doing this, repeat the affirmation, “I am taking back my time and space.”
Resetting Our Rhythm
Being surrounded by painful nostalgia can make us feel old and worn. We can combat this by doing what makes us feel new!
Fill the fridge with fresh groceries that inspire clean cooking, restock the pantry with snacks we love, and get in a good workout to release all that pent-up energy.
Showing Gratitude for the Good Times
Seeing an overbearing mother over the holidays can be incredibly triggering, but maybe that distracting board game we learned with our cousins was actually a keeper. Reflect on the holidays and write down the parts that you were most grateful for.
This will help balance out stressful holiday memories with blissful ones, reminding us that life can be how we choose to see it.