Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Holidays
Holidays and events can often be PTSD triggers. There are two broad categories of triggers. PTSD Triggers can be uniquely individual, based on the trauma that caused the PTSD to begin with. Second, there is the PTSD danger zone that occupies 18% of each year. This zone seems to apply to many people with PTSD, regardless of how they were afflicted with PTSD. That danger zone extends from November 11th to the second week of the following January.
The span from the weekend before Veterans Day (November 11th) to January 10th is 66 days, give or take, 18% of a calendar year. This does not include individual-specific PTSD trigger risks associated with particular days, events, etc. We may have specific vulnerabilities to other items/events that heighten sensitivity to PTSD triggers. Thus, we may still be triggered by something which has nothing to do with the 18% Danger Zone.
Why is the period so fraught with PTSD vulnerabilities? It’s because there are multiple risk factors at play during this time period. Whether we celebrate, endure, deny, or merely survive, these particular days varies with the individual who experiences them.
For some people with PTSD, the thought of going “Home” for the holidays is horrid and frightening. Hearing an insistence we must come home can make us feel we are under intense pressure to fake happiness and satisfaction with life. When in reality we are barely holding together due to our PTSD.
At this time of year we are drummed with incantations about “how thankful we should be” when our lives may actually have been dismembered by PTSD. At this time of year, our culture tends to refuse to allow us to mourn, grieve, or seek solitude.
If those times fall in the 18% Danger Zone we may confuse some people who want us to be happy and jolly when we simply cannot be “happy on demand.”
Note, this is not saying we should completely isolate ourselves.
The thought of having to spend time with and share an important meal with a toxic person causes a lot of stress. These toxic people may even be relatives or friends. In some cases PTSD, the stress over thinking about having to be present at such a function can cause one to be physically ill. Additionally, it can trigger negative coping behaviors that lead to self-harm.
After being ravaged by a PTSD-producing event, we know we are changed. We may not understand the mechanics of how PTSD works and how it has affected us, but we know we have been changed and we react differently when compared to how we did before the trauma.
People who knew us well before the trauma will notice the difference. Out of caring and affection, they may even ask us about it. If they are gossips, they will mention it to others who have no need to know.
Whether the concern is from true caring or the interest is from selfish gossip, being pressed about trauma and what it’s done to us is the wrong thing to do. It will often feel like an interrogation. The thought of having to endure those questions can be daunting.
What can you do if you care about someone with PTSD but don’t want to pry? If you already have a relationship with a trauma survivor, then it is fair to say something like, “It’s up to you, of course, but if you ever want to talk, I’ll listen.” Some PTSD survivors have low estimations of their self-worth. If they are invited, they discover that others value them and want them to be with them; this can be a healthy experience.
We are now entering the holiday period when suicides go up, abuse cases go up, depression goes up, and life can just really suck from mid-November to mid-January. People with PTSD are at an enhanced level of vulnerability during this period: the 18% Danger Zone.
If we care about someone who has PTSD, then we should overtly or covertly make the holidays a time frame when they do not feel greater pressures, higher expectations, causes to isolate, pressures to self-harm, or to drink too much. This zone does not have to be destructive to us. We can heal during this period.
Written by Dr. Z from Healing Souls Wounded and used with permission. For more visit:
This column is not intended to be a substitute for any medical or legal advice.