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Coping During the Holiday Season if You Have C-PTSD or PTSD

For those who have a history of trauma, the holiday season can present difficult challenges. Holidays carry a full load of triggers, across the full range of our senses. Food, song, sight, family gatherings, and rituals associated with the holidays can trigger stress and difficult emotions.

If you have experienced childhood interpersonal trauma (C-PTSD), it may be that holidays mean spending time with the people who hurt you. If you are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by a traumatic event such as exposure to military combat, car accident or natural disaster, sometimes the sheer chaos of the holidays (crowds in shopping malls, busy streets and entertainment areas) are enough to cause debilitating stress. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you through the holidays.

Family Boundaries

If you have difficult relationships with family members, remember you are allowed to set healthy boundaries with them. I use the word allowed because adult children of dysfunctional, abusive, or narcissistic parents often do not feel they have the right to say no. They have been raised in an environment where saying no as a child led to significant consequences. As an adult, however, it is crucial to learn to set limits on what others demand of you in order to cultivate healing and good mental health. You can read here to learn more about setting boundaries with family.  

Have a Plan for Family Triggers

If your family causes significant distress or creates conflict, have a plan that you can turn to if something happens to upset you. For example, make sure you have your own transportation if going to family events. Set limits on how much alcohol you drink. If your family has a tendency for conflict, take steps to remain in control of yourself by limiting your alcohol intake and setting healthy and firm boundaries.  

If you are in conflict with your family or if your family has been abusive to you, it may be best to stay away. Make alternate plans to spend time with friends. If you have chosen not to spend time with family, it is important to find pleasurable things to do without them during the holidays. Connect with your faith organization if you have one. Volunteer to help those less fortunate than you. While holidays are portrayed as a time for family, there are many other options that are available for connecting with others.

Tips for Managing in Crowds

If you are triggered by crowds, take this into consideration when you make plans. If possible, take measures to shop earlier to avoid crowds or shop online.

If you do find yourself unexpectedly in a crowded situation and you feel yourself beginning to panic or become fearful, practice deep breathing. Deep breathing is a fantastic all natural way to control your own autonomic nervous system. It’s as if you are manually shifting your nervous system into a lower gear. Here are more tips to consider if crowds are difficult for you.

Reach out for Support — the Holidays Can Be a Growth Season

Many people find it very helpful to take time out of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season for a therapy session. It may be better to plan in advance before the rush of emotions associated with the holidays.

Working with a therapist during the holidays can be a great opportunity to learn coping skills and strategies for dealing with challenging situations. This is supposed to be a time for joy and happiness. Take the necessary steps to give yourself the best opportunity to make the most of your holiday season. It can be a time of growth as well as joy.


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Megías, J. L., Ryan, E., Vaquero, J. M., & Frese, B. (2007). Comparisons of traumatic and positive memories in people with and without PTSD profile. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 21(1), 117-130.

Jacobs, J. (2011). The cross-generational transmission of trauma: Ritual and emotion among survivors of the Holocaust. Journal of contemporary ethnography, 40(3), 342-361.

Tull, M. (2018, July 9). How to Reduce Stress With Deep Breathing. Retrieved from

Coping During the Holiday Season if You Have C-PTSD or PTSD

Fabiana Franco, Ph.D.

Dr. Fabiana Franco is a Clinical Professor of Psychology at the George Washington University and sees clients in New York and Washington DC.

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APA Reference
Franco, F. (2018). Coping During the Holiday Season if You Have C-PTSD or PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 Dec 2018 (Originally: 4 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 Dec 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.