Dec 12, 2022
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How To Handle Festive Season Triggers
The festive season can be rife with triggers.
This year I’m having a lot of conversations with people who are feeling a little nervous going into said festivities and I wanted to offer up my perspective, in case it’s helpful for a little reframe or to remind you of the tools you have available to you.
To many people the festive season is a time for joy, fun, family, frolics and great food.
For probably just as many people it’s a little less joyful and more anxiety inducing for a number of potential reasons. Particularly this year when so many people are still operating from fight, flight or freeze responses after the intense last few years we’ve all had.
So I'm going to talk about some of the common triggers that might come up because awareness is going to be the biggest key to making sure you’re not overtaken by triggers. I’ll also give you the key steps to managing them. Awareness is and always will be number one.
But not just for you, to also help you step into someone else’s shoes too and understand why certain things that might not be triggering for you, could be for someone else and how to support them.
Remember as Carl Jung says, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’
The more aware you are the less power they have. When they remain unconscious you don’t have any other choice but to run on autopilot and from your old, often unhelpful, protection mechanisms that might result in a self fulfilling prophecy.
We want you to use the most efficient area of your brain, your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, rational thought, and choice. All the things you need when potential triggers are around. It’s known as the CEO of your brain and it literally goes ‘offline’ in stressful situations.
So, we want to know how we keep that online as much as possible.
Money is going to be a very common festive season trigger. Finances in general are a big one for people, especially this year.
There’s so much comparison, particularly on social media.
There’s so much ‘shoulding’ on ourselves about how our festive season ‘should’ look.
So much expectation.
However, a lot of it is actually self generated. We do it to ourselves. We put the pressure on ourselves.
In tricky financial times we need to think a little outside of the box. Set boundaries with ourselves and others. That might be instead of the financial pressure on food being on one person could it be split amongst everyone. For example, one person brings a starter, one sorts the turkey, one sorts pudding, one brings the trimmings.
Of course I can’t speak to your individual situation but I’m hoping you get the idea!
People might be feeling awkward this year and we don’t have to wait for them to say so. We can suggest ways to all be in it together, we can even make it fun, and help take the pressure off.
If you’re really struggling this year please do google what’s happening in your local area because there are lots of charities that will be putting together dinners and donated gifts.
You could make presents, do secret santa, get creative but please take the pressure off yourself as much as you possibly can and don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
Family and relationships are next up. Goodness these can be a big trigger for so many and often when things we thought we’d healed might sneak back in when we’re spending more time with people we might normally love from a distance.
Being in the wrong relationship, not being in one, arguments. People not pulling their weight.
Within the family trigger might also be loneliness or loss too for various reasons. If that’s you I'm sending so much love. Please have a google again for things going on in your local area. Even if there’s people to meet up with online. Please don’t suffer in silence.
Toxic positivity and having to answer questions about ‘where you are in life’ also play a part here so plan out in advance how you want to handle it. Brainstorm some killer comebacks. If people ask you questions you don’t want to answer, turn it back around and ask them something about themselves. People love talking about themselves and they love judging other people…don’t give away the fodder!
Food and booze can be a trigger for those managing addictions and eating disorders.
Booze can be triggering for people in various ways. It could be being around it. It could be worrying about how you’ll behave or what you’ll say after a drink, how someone else will behave with you after they’ve had a drink, or it could be the hangxiety that ensues and plagues the day after for yourself.
Obligation is huuuuuuuuge during the festive season. Feeling like you have to say yes to things you don’t want to. Going places you don’t really want to be. Feeling like you ‘should’ be out all the time and creating elaborate stories of what it means if you’re not and you’re not posting about all the festive fun you’re having.
If you want to stay in your pajamas until January that is your prerogative my friend!
If your nervous system doesn’t want sensory overload on nights out and you want to chill at home…you do you!
Nobody, I repeat NOBODY will remember that you chose to be in your jimjams instead of going to a party.
There are plenty more and it’s so individual but I wanted to highlight some of the most common.
There is one more I’d like to briefly mention before I go onto some of the ways to handle these things and that is…Board games!
If you know it’s going to descend into rage and destruction…walk away from articulate. Or hide it in advance!
So what are some of the additional reframes and things you can do to make sure you’re feeling as balanced as you possibly can be?
Remember, first up we have the awareness piece.
What tends to trigger you during the festive season? The more you’re aware of it the more control you have over it, than it has over you.
Awareness of your own triggers and being sensitive to what could be going on for others.
Next, decide in advance what could make it easier for you?
That’s nuanced to everyone's situation and I can’t give you the answer to that but for me as an example, when I've been adamant I don’t want a drink I’ve brought my own. I would also often drive meaning I couldn’t drink and the peer pressure was taken off.
I actually love a lot of the non-alcoholic options out there on the market now. My favourites are from Three Spirit and Edi.
When times have been tough I've shopped in charity shops and found really thoughtful gifts. I used to have a budget of £1-3 per person and I’m not kidding when I said I won Christmas. Poundland was my friend back in 2014 when there were 8 nieces and nephews to buy for!
Recognise what a trigger is. It’s an alert system to a previous threat, alerting you that something similar might be happening or about to happen in the present. It’s not necessarily true. It’s trying to protect you.
It’s worth saying we’re not actually talking about ‘Triggers’ in the truest context here as that’s a much bigger subject (a trauma response associated with PTSD or CPTSD, often a sight, sound or smell that triggers the fight/flight/freeze response that can cause flashbacks and physiological effects) but the word trigger has become the word most people understand and associate with a reaction within ourselves to something in the present moment that has reminded us (consciously or unconsciously) of something that has happened in our past or making us feel intense discomfort.
It’s a nervous system response.
Meaning you can intentionally send your nervous system signals of safety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through something as simple as using a longer exhale.
This will also bring your prefrontal cortex back online allowing you the distance between stimulus and response that gives you back the power to respond vs react. You have choice back. You can rationalise and make a different choice if that’s what would serve you better in the moment.
How do you think you could prepare to be around your potential triggers? Can you create yourself a game plan?
Grab your journal and write down all the potential triggers you’re aware of and write down how you could deal with it in advance or in the moment. Look at it from the position of the causal observer, the fly on the wall that has no emotional attachment to it.
What might you recommend to a friend asking for advice on how to handle the same thing?
Do you HAVE to be around the potential trigger at all? Are there any ways that you might not have to be and still keep the peace?
Where can you kindly but clearly set boundaries?
Where could you take a break or get outside for a walk in nature? How can you plan these things in?
When it comes to triggering and stressful times it comes down to making sure you’re doing MORE of what works.
What normally supports you day to day that might fall to the wayside in the festive season?
Is it exercise? Journaling? Meditation? Being out in nature?
It’s easy to see the festive season as ‘time off’ for certain things, especially positive habits but I would argue it’s a time to double down and make sure you’re supporting yourself in the best possible way.
It really comes down to 8 core things.
Boundaries, with yourself and others.
Communicate your thoughts and feelings.
Asking for and allowing support.
The more you can regulate your nervous system, the better.
Grounding, breathwork, Orienting using your senses (what can you see, hear, smell, feel, taste) Heartmath (in for 5, out for 5), meditation, using a device like Sensate (information is in my link on Instagram). If you’re a member of the Positive Pants Toolkit and have the app, dive in there!
We have a lot of tools and resources at our disposal. We just have to remember to use them.