PTSD Spirituality: Resisting the Holiday PTSD Triggers

Here we are at another round of Holidays and still grappling with PTSD.  It feels more as if we are in Holly-Daze from around the time of Thanksgiving through the first week of New Years.  Ironically, just when we are supposed to be love-dovey, patient, kind, giving (forgiving?), and embrace a higher level of compassion we get zapped with heightened PTSD triggers.

For the PTSD-sufferer the holidays are often times of heightened stress and activation of unhealthy PTSD coping behaviors.

Last year I wrote about the “PTSD Holiday Danger Zone.”  I have noticed that essay is getting read more recently than it was in the previous couple of months.  If you have the time, it may be worth a read if you have PTSD or if you care about someone who has PTSD. 

The culture of holidays wants to force us to be around people who we might not otherwise socialize with comfortably.  Worse, we are expected to be sociable and sharing at the drop of a hat.  Some people ask us questions about our traumas that are way too graphic and personal.  Yet, we are supposed to display the “Christmas Spirit,” which, by the way, is not defined spending more money.

High expectations of socialness can trigger our PTSD.

While we do want to avoid total isolation, neither do we need to be immersed in mall crowds and swarms of relatives.

During the Holidays We Are at Heightened Risk.

Our PTSD-Triggers Are Much More Sensitive.

We Need to Give Ourselves Some Extra Breathing Room.

Expect to Have Some Difficulties.

Have a Plan (Escape Route) From Functions that Are Too Crowded.

Have a Plan (Escape Route) From People Who Are Too Toxic and Who Lather Themselves in Sinful Gossip.

Essentially, you need the opportunity to escape the noise, glitz, plasticity, gossip, and mercantile hypocrisy, which forms so much of the holiday culture.  You need an escape route to a place where you will not be bombarded with negative PTSD-producing triggers.

Retreating from Inauthenticity

There is nothing wrong with fleeing the noisy crowds.  The Gospels indicate that Jesus tried to escape the crowds from time to time.  He needed some place where he could escape the inauthentic demands people tried to make of him.  One of the landscapes Jesus escaped to was the spiritual terrain of prayer.  Jesus often withdrew from the crowds so as to pray.

Refueled with prayer, Jesus was able to be in the crowds.  For those of us with PTSD this is salient information.  We should add to our prayer the hope of not being triggered this holiday season.

The more we converse with God, write in our personal notebooks, and talk with a trusted friend, then the more we can withstand the PTSD triggers which seem to get doubled or tripled in the holiday season.

While the holidays can be more stressful than the non-holiday periods, we can get through them.  It helps to plan some escape routes and to talk with someone about how crowds and loud noises can trigger our PTSD.

We need to resist any urge to total, 100% self-isolation.  But neither do we have to go to every party and get together.  It is okay to say “no” to the crowds and events. 

There is nothing wrong with having a “quiet holiday.”  There is nothing wrong with politely turning down the invitations (and any demands) to functions with toxic people.

There is everything right about making yourself “safe” from holiday triggers.  There is everything right about escaping from the crowds so you can get some peace and quiet.

If Jesus could recognize a need to get out of the crowds and re-charge with prayer, then so can we.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

[As time permits, take a peek at the “Holiday PTSD-Danger Zone” from last year.]


  1. Thanks Doc!

    Good reminder, and great advice.

    Hope all is well with you and yours. Hoping we all can remember the soooooo many things we take for granted, and be truly thankful.
    I still love to watch CLEAN water come out of the faucet…
    (that also means you have a faucet).
    Make your own list.


    • Thank you very much! I am puttering around the house today, doing a bit of writing, a bit of reading, conversation with my much better half.
      I like what you have to say on clean water and faucets. Reminded me of how our drinking water had to be trucked in and how grateful I am now that I don’t have to translate between the water guy and our guys and then quietly wonder just how clean the water really was.
      Very glad – very blessed – to be here now, where that is only a memory and no longer one of my persistent worries.
      A blessed holiday to you and yours. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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