Guest Post by David Wilcox

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects roughly 24.4 million people in the United States. Each of these individuals has unique triggers, trauma, and management techniques. They will also have to face the holiday season and whatever discomfort it may bring. For some, the holiday season represents the anniversary of their trauma. Others simply struggle with the many difficult aspects of the season. If you suffer from PTSD and are not sure how to navigate this time of year, here are a few things you can be doing.

Be Sure to Seek Treatment

Handling a stressful time, such as the holidays, requires proper symptom management skills. If you are suddenly triggered and do not have an effective coping response, things can very quickly get much worse. PTSD has the potential to cause angry outbursts, breakdowns, or other negative reactions. The most common symptoms of PTSD such as depression, hypervigilance, and intrusive memories can make holiday get-togethers extraordinarily stressful.

The best way to keep the festivities fun and enjoyable is to be sure you are receiving treatment. Whether that means doing yoga, taking medication, or speaking with a counselor regularly, it is critical that you consult a professional and learn the best ways to manage your condition. With treatment, you will be equipped with the necessary tools to manage your symptoms and enjoy the holiday season to its fullest.

Have a Strategy for Parties

Holiday parties or gatherings tend to place more strain on people with PTSD than they do on the average person. The close quarters, simultaneous conversations, and the potential for sudden sounds can make attending these events particularly stressful.

One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself in these situations is to create a plan. Establish which coping strategies will be most practical and prepare yourself for likely triggers. It is also a good idea to talk to the host. Being open about your condition may be difficult, but it is beneficial for the people in your life to understand the disorder.

If you know the host will be empathetic when you need to leave the party early or take a break from mingling, it becomes much easier and less stressful to excuse yourself from a difficult situation.

Build a Support Network

Getting through the hectic holiday season is a massive undertaking if you don’t have a solid support network. The people who care about you should ideally understand your disorder and know how to help you through challenging circumstances. Plus, if you’re hiding your diagnosis and symptoms, it becomes much harder to tend to your needs effectively.

PTSD service dogs are also a wonderful addition to your support network. Service dogs are specially trained to help people with PTSD and other mental health disorders cope with their symptoms and avoid potentially dangerous situations. For example, a PTSD service dog might be trained to recognize a flashback or intrusive memory and nudge you back to reality (also called “grounding”).

Service dogs can also remind their handler to take medication, wake their handler from nightmares, and lead them away from potential triggers. These dogs make social occasions and public outings far easier to manage and reduce their handler’s stress levels during both difficult situations and day-to-day activities.

If you have PTSD, you do not have to cope with a stress-filled or upsetting holiday season. With proper treatment, helpful strategies, and a support network, you can enjoy the season alongside everyone else. Though you may have to think about certain aspects of holiday events that others do not, learning to manage your symptoms will become second nature with time. Of course, having a four-legged companion to be by your side through both the darkest and happiest of days certainly doesn’t hurt.