Episode 12: 10 Tips for a Trauma-Informed, Mentally & Emotionally Happy Holiday Season

a family sitting together eating at a table in a well-lit dining space

a family sitting together eating at a table in a well-lit dining space

For better or worse, 2020 has been a year of immense transformation. I propose that this be the year we choose not to have the same ol’ holiday. However you celebrate (or don’t), these 10 tips for a trauma-informed, mentally and emotionally happy holiday season will help you navigate awkward conversation topics, set boundaries, carve out time and space for self-care, and hold space for your own or others hard feelings during this time.

Show Notes

While full of joy and family and togetherness, the holidays represent a difficult time of year for many. The American Psychological Association reports that 38% of people feel overwhelmed with grief, depression, and anxiety during the holiday season. The sources of this overwhelm include the stress of gift-giving, family relationships, and financial pressure. Given the fact that the holidays are upon us during a pandemic, well, that just adds more insult to injury.

In this solo episode, I give 10 tips for a trauma-informed, mentally and emotionally healthy happy holiday season.




[INTRO MUSIC] Hello. And welcome back to the podcast. Here we are the week before Thanksgiving, 2020, man. We’ve almost made it through this year. It’s been one hell of a ride. So going into the holidays this year is probably feeling a little bit different for a lot of us. Most of us, um, depending on where you live, you maybe dealing with not having holiday at all, not being able to have your family and friends into your home and due to COVID. And social distancing and masks and all of that. However, I know that most of us are probably going to do what we can to have a happy holiday season anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And however you choose to celebrate your holidays, whether you choose to be with family and friends, or you choose to stay at home is completely up to you. And I support your decision no matter what. However it is the holidays and it is the holidays in 2020. And without a pandemic and without an election and without all the other shit that we’ve been through this year, I think we can all agree. That the holiday season can be a trigger for painful memories, family drama, stress, financial difficulty. And ultimately trauma. And a lot of the dynamics that are played out in families during the holidays are the result of unhealed and even unacknowledged trauma. A lot of families, they don’t even understand why every year they get together every Thanksgiving or Christmas. And every year there’s some kind of a drama. Somebody has a fight, somebody gets passive aggressive, somebody break something, you know, some biggest or feelings hurt. And it happens every year. And, you know, I can only assume and guess for my own experience, having dealt with my share of family holiday, drama and trauma, that it is because of unhealed trauma. We had a situation in our family many years ago where, um, my brother-in-law was very rude and hateful to me one Thanksgiving humiliated me in front of my husband’s entire family. And basically just made me and my husband both feel like shit. And to tell you the truth, thanksgiving has never been the same for me. I mean time has passed and it’s gotten better. Um, this person is no longer in my life. They’re not invited to be in my life. I have forgiven him. But there’s just sort of this like tinge of darkness when it comes to Thanksgiving for me. And I’ve realized that as happy as holidays can be that for a lot of people, particularly traumatized individuals, the holidays are a time of extreme sadness and pain and all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. In a survey from the American psychological association. Though the majority of people reported feelings of happiness, love and high spirits during the holidays. These feelings were often accompanied by fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness. 38% of people reported an increase in stress during the holidays with the top stressors being lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings. So the struggle is real during the holiday, regardless of your religious affiliation or your family relationships. When you get a bunch of people in a room together around a lot of carbs and sugar, that can be a recipe for disaster for a lot of families. And so in today’s episode, I want to share my 10 tips for a trauma informed and mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season. So before I jump into my 10 tips again, I just want to emphasize, I know firsthand what it’s like to have to sit across the table from someone who can’t ever seem to say anything nice, or someone who brings their own trauma and drama and baggage to every get together. Perhaps the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that I don’t have the ability to change others. I can only choose for myself. And the truth is we all have a choice. You have a choice. I have a choice. Your family members have a choice. Your friends have a choice. We can choose to subject ourselves to dramatic and traumatic family dynamics year after year. Or this 2020 the year of the most profound transformation in the history of the world, we can choose to say enough is enough. I am setting healthy boundaries this year, and I am not going to put up with this drama and trauma anymore. So, please know that the tips that I’m about to share for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season are coming straight from someone who has experienced mentally and emotionally unhealthy holidays. I have necessarily learned to set firm boundaries so that my mental and emotional health don’t go downhill during this potentially difficult time of year. So my first tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season. Keep it simple. I feel like our Western culture has the tendency. I mean, it just does. It’s not even a tendency. It just is. We just go over and above for the holidays, especially like with holiday food. I feel like the holiday food obsession is an illusion. I don’t even like Thanksgiving food there. I will come out and admit it to the entire world. I do not like Turkey and dressing and rolls. And the only part of Thanksgiving that I love are the pies. So , we want to have a beautiful holiday. Many times we’re entertaining and feeding a lot of people. And so we have Turkey and ham and 284 side dishes and 68 pies. And I’m just going to let you on a little bit of a secret. You don’t have to cook anything that you don’t want to cook this year. Not everything on your table has to be homemade. You do not have to decorate your whole house. You are off the hook. You are not even required to make the traditional Thanksgiving foods that everyone expects or have your Christmas tree up on Thanksgiving. If that’s not what you need to do. One of my mottoes in life is if it’s not a hell. Yes, it’s a hell. No. And so for me Thanksgiving food is a hell no. Making a bunch of complicated food for Thanksgiving to please other people, spending a bunch of money in time decorating my entire house to please other people is a hell no for me. So I’m going to go ahead and give you permission for it to be a hell no for you too. If it’s a hell yes, great. Go for it. Knock yourself out. The meaning of the holidays is gratitude. It’s not about food or presents or decorations. So if you choose to make this season about gratitude and love and not the food, or whether you’re a bathroom has seasonal hand towels. You’ll probably be less stressed. You will digest your food better. And something like a burned pie crust or a soggy stuffing isn’t going to ruin your day. So again, if traditional food and homemade everything and tons of presents and decorating your house from top to bottom truly feeds your soul. And it’s a hell yes for you. It doesn’t stress you out at all. Then make it look like hobby lobby exploded in your house. Go for it. But if those things don’t feed your soul, if you do them from a place of obligation or expectation, let them go. The simpler, you can keep things the more you can focus on gratitude, connecting with your loved ones and even self care. I mean, there are no rules that say we shouldn’t do self care over the holidays. Second tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season is don’t obsess over tradition. Holiday is a holiday when you decided to holiday, not because you have the same traditions every single year. Some families eat the same foods or draw names for gifts year after year. If you love that sort of thing, go for it. However, I’m speaking as a person who endured traditions for years and did not enjoy them. I didn’t enjoy the traditions. They just didn’t feel right for me. They felt like they were too much work. They weren’t simple. There’s a lot of obligation involved. I tried keeping traditions with my family and I’m just not good at it. So we’ve had sushi for Thanksgiving and we’ve had enchiladas for Christmas. Like, there are no more obligations to keep traditions and you get to decide what feels right for you and what does it feel right for you. Another reason why keeping traditions might be triggering for a lot of people is because a lot of us have endured religious trauma around the holidays, particularly Christmas with fundamentalist Christianity. And so if having the naitivity out at your house is triggering for you because of religious trauma, then don’t force yourself to have any activity out because that’s a tradition that doesn’t align with who you are anymore. And that’s okay. You’re not obligated or required to keep any of those things. You can start new traditions. Like one of our traditions is every year on Christmas Eve, we give our kids new pajamas and we have a family movie night with hot chocolate. It’s easy, simple. We’re spending time together. There’s not a lot of planning involved. Like, it’s a great tradition and it’s not expensive. It’s not stressful. It’s not fussy. I love it. Maybe this year. You know, 2020, has brought us like all kinds of new shit we never thought of. So maybe this is the year you want to start some new traditions that are unique to your family and you don’t want to carry the weight of trauma and obligation to other traditions anymore. The bottom line is don’t be a slave to tradition. Let your traditions serve you and not the other way around. And if a particular tradition is old and tired, give yourself permission to start a new one. And if keeping traditions stresses you out then per my number one suggestion. It’s okay to let them go and keep it simple. Third tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season is accept that you or someone else will forget something. You will forget something. You just will accept it and make peace with that. Now it’s going to be an ingredient for a recipe, or you’re going to forget that your aunt is allergic to walnuts and you put walnuts in everything or something else. But you’re going to forget something. Somebody’s going to forget the side dish you told them to bring your husband’s gonna forget to to go get the extra box of Christmas lights, like something is going to be forgotten. And it’s going to be okay. Just accept it. Smile. Apologize if necessary and move on. People make mistakes. We forget stuff all the time. Not a big deal. And for traumatized people, particularly those about us with the trauma response of perfectionism, when we feel like we are not meeting up to other people’s standards and when we’re not pleasing everybody, that can be just the most devastating thing ever. So if perfectionism is a trauma response for you, if fawning and people pleasing as a trauma response for you, then go ahead the week before Thanksgiving and just accept at some point over the next six weeks, I or somebody that I’m relying on is going to forget something and it’s going to be okay. And nobody has to feel guilty and we’re not going to put anybody down. We’re just going to keep calm and carry on. My fourth tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season is religion and politics don’t have a place at the holiday table ever. Full stop. I don’t think I need to elaborate any more on that, but perhaps I will. Another example, we come from extremely religious fundamentalist Christian families, and when certain family members are together, the discussion at the table has a tendency to turn into something closely, resembling a presidential debate. And since we just went through an election, everybody remembers what those debates look like. They were a dumpster fire. On any given subject, our family members have their guns out debating with others, the merits of their position. They will go so far as to include verses of the Bible to support their views as the right views. Um, I’ve had things like my nose ring or the clothing I was wearing criticized with scripture at the holiday table. No lie. Friends, the holidays are not the time nor the place. In fact, I would say regardless of holidays, religion and politics don’t really have a place in family gatherings at all. And they don’t really serve a purpose. Religion and politics are polarizing. No one is ever in the middle. It always brings division people on opposite sides and someone always gets hurt. And again, if we’re trauma informed than we know that certain topics just need to be avoided and not avoid it in an unhealthy way. Like you’re not pretending like it doesn’t exist. It’s just setting a boundary of like, If that gets brought up at the table, we’re not going to talk about that this year. Let’s talk about something else not controversial. Number five tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season. Have an exit plan. Traumatized people, we need to have an exit plan. If your flight response is triggered during the holidays. It’s okay, but go ahead and have an exit plan so that you’re not exploding. And so that you’re not disassociating. So if crowds of people, your family, the stress of cooking or anything else overwhelms you, make sure that you have prepared ahead of time, a place for yourself to have some space and retreat. Go outside, go to a back room and close the door. Go sit on the toilet if you have to. Have a plan to exit ground yourself, then you’re not giving into that flight response because you’re grounding yourself. Breathe if and when that drama and stress kicks in. You could even go one step further by downloading some type of a guided meditation app or something like the calm app onto your phone. You can pull up a YouTube video with some guided meditations. Um, just as a quick 10 minute, meditation can really help you calm down and ground yourself and focus on your breath. Number six tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season. It’s very practical one: drink plenty of water. The holidays are notorious for a variety of drinks from cocktails to sweet hot chocolate and spiced cider and Wassail. It is so easy to just drink a bunch of sugar or a bunch of alcohol and forget about drinking actual water. And then you feel irritable or all that sugar is causing your blood sugar to do crazy things. Or you wake up with a hangover. You’re going to feel so much better during, and after all the festivities, if you stick to maybe one, maybe two holiday drinks. And then consume plenty of water the rest of the time. Number seven tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday. Use a happy light. Have you heard of a happy light? They’re these cool little lights. They have all the different, um, Uh, just lost the word. Uh, spectrums of light. And you plug it in and you can sit in front of it. And for those of us who are really sensitive to it, getting dark super early in the day, because our Northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, um, for seasonal effective disorder for, you know, just the depression and the winter blues that often sets in for a lot of us, the most wonderful time of the year happens to be during the darkest time of the year. And just a simple lack of sunlight can be really hard on our mental and emotional health. So it’s helpful if you have a happy light and you can use it if you live in the far North. In fact, according to my own psychiatrist, it’s fine to leave your happy light on all day, every day. As long as you turn it off three hours before you plan to go to bed. And I will have a link to the happy light that I use in the show notes of the podcast. Number eight for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday. Is knowing that holidays can equal trauma. For you. For someone else. We need to be holding space for that. Not everyone loves the holidays. Y’all not everyone loves the holidays and it’s okay to feel that way. Thanksgiving Christmas, the holidays in general can hold a lot of pain and trauma for many, many people. They can bring up feelings of loss, grief, isolation, family drama, past bad memories, and more. It’s not all fun and games for everyone and it’s okay if you feel that way. And if you have family members or friends who you’re with this holiday season, it’s okay for them to feel that way. Holidays mean lots of different things for everyone, and we need to be sensitive to that. Now that doesn’t mean that our grief or sadness has to pull other people down. And it doesn’t mean that we let their grief or sadness pull us down. Okay. Cause we’re going to have healthy boundaries. But oftentimes these feelings get pushed aside. And we don’t allow them or ourselves to feel the grief or the sadness or whatever it is that we’re feeling. And what they, or we really need is love and compassion and empathy. So if the holidays bring up these hard feelings for you, then it’s a good idea to set some boundaries beforehand. So for example, if a painful topic of conversation is brought up and you really don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself, or request to change the subject, as I mentioned with religion and politics earlier. Um, it’s really okay. So. If the holidays are hard for you, it’s okay for them to be hard for you. I think it’s also okay to examine why the holidays are hard for you and why they feel traumatic and to work on healing that if you can, that way you don’t have to find yourself in a trauma response during every single holiday. With that though, the week before Thanksgiving, you’re probably not going to figure it all out and go into this holiday season, like completely free of triggers. So I’m not saying avoid the triggers. I’m saying, be aware of your triggers or the triggers of someone else. Holds space for the grief or the sadness or the loss or whatever is coming up. Don’t let it drag the entire thing down. Feel it, observe it, release it, let it go. It will pass. It’s a feeling. And then don’t forget to go back and work on that trauma later so that it doesn’t always have to be a trigger for you. Okay. Number nine. Here’s the funny one, because I used to be health food blogger, and there were many, many holidays whenever I um, Was on some type of a special diet, like I was trying keto or something like that during the holidays. And I very rudely and stupidly talked about my special diet at the table. So my ninth tip is don’t talk about your special diet at the table. I’ve been that person before and it is just awkward. Um, No one wants to hear about your keto diet or your calorie counting, or your point counting or whatever, when they’re sitting across from you with a plate full of carbs and pie, right. So if you’re committed to your special diet during the holidays, Great. Go for it. Go get ’em. But you don’t have to proclaim it from the rooftop because this only serves to build your own ego and it causes others to feel inadequate or guilty, or just plain annoyed at you. I mean, with that said we can insert any other thing is in place of, don’t talk about your special diet at the table. Like we could insert don’t talk about your health condition or your chronic pain at the table. Don’t talk about the fight that you had with your mom at the table. Like. Those types of conversations. Just again, they’re going to bring down the whole atmosphere of the party of everyone. That’s there. It’s going to create drama and create trauma when it’s not necessary. And like that’s a boundary that we can hold, um, for ourselves as like, okay, here’s this thing that’s going on in my life, but I’m not going to talk about it because it’s not the appropriate time and place. Alright, my last tip for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday is obligation is a terrible motivator. You are not obligated to talk to anyone, sit next to anyone, visit anyone, eat something you don’t want or anything else. Okay. I think all of us have that friend or that family member who just rubs us the wrong way. Like it’s like when we’re in the same room as this person, the energy is just not vibing high. We try to be kind. We try to invite them to be part of things, but this often comes from a place of obligation. It’s that inner critic telling us you should invite them, or you should make this dish because it’s a tradition. Should is a terrible, terrible motivator. So if you’re doing anything from a place of obligation, this holiday season, remember that that’s a trauma response. Remember that that’s a people pleasing response. And if anything motivates you, let it be love for yourself and others. And then you will always be true to yourself. If you want to adopt my motto, going through the holiday season, go for it. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no. And that way, when somebody asks you to do something or go somewhere or bring something or whatever, during this busy, crazy season, Then you can know that you are living in your integrity because when you say yes, it’s a hell yes. It’s like, yeah, I really want to do this. I really want to be part of this. I really want to make that. I really want to bring that. I really want to be here for that. And if it’s not that you don’t have that level of enthusiasm to say yes, then your answer is automatically no, automatically period. There are no exceptions. So if it’s not, hell yeah. I want to make pumpkin pie and bring it then the answer’s. No. If it’s not hell yeah. Let’s draw names to see who’s giving gifts for Christmas this year, then it’s a hell no. That removes should from the equation. And then we’re no longer operating from the trauma response of fawning and people pleasing and feeling guilty and feeling ashamed because we don’t feel like we’re enough. And all of that. Those are all trauma responses. When we are aware of those trauma responses and we step into our true self and into a place of awareness, then we can consciously make the choice to override those trauma responses. And it will make a difference, not only for us, but for everyone around us. I don’t believe that we have to end 2020 with a shitty holiday season. I think 2020 has been shitty enough as it is. And a lot of us have transformed in so many ways this year. We have overcome so much and we have done it together. And that’s the point of the holidays we’re celebrating. Love compassion, community togetherness. Gratitude joy. That’s what we’re celebrating. Other people. Celebrate that with Jesus, other people celebrate that with, you know, whatever. But you get to choose how you celebrate it and what it means for you. And if nothing else, the holidays can just be a landmark for you of Holy shit. I made it through 2020. Like things can only get better from here. Right. You can only get better. So those are my 10 tips for a happy trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season. You can find the show notes with links to products that i found helpful like the happy light and other things that i like to use during the holidays as well as the transcription for this episode at the show notes which are found at lindseylockett.com/podcast .And as always you can find me on instagram you can comment you can tell me your tips for a trauma informed mentally and emotionally healthy holiday season @ iamlindseylockett. Merry everything and happy always! [OUTRO MUSIC]