Trauma Responses In Everyday Life :: Surviving the Holidays Edition

Trauma Responses In Everyday Life :: Surviving the Holidays Edition

This time of year, many of us confront varying degrees of stress related to the holidays. Whether you are choosing to gather with your extended family or in-laws, you don’t have family to gather with, or you are choosing to say no to attending certain family gatherings, you may find you experience some types of trauma-related responses. There are expectations to manage, grief and loss can become more intense, and old wounds from our childhood can get re-opened or triggered.

And as moms, we often feel responsible for managing not only our own stress but also our kids’, partner’s and even extended family! Often we want everything to go perfectly and for everyone to get along. Maybe you put pressure on yourself to create the kind of loving and abundant holiday you didn’t get as a child. Maybe you are expected by your extended family to play a certain part/role that you no longer want to play. Maybe you’ve lost close family members and this complicates your feelings about the holidays. Whatever might come up for you, you are NOT alone!

Recently, I have been working on healing a very old, very deep emotional wound. The kind of wound that when triggered, results in very childlike behavior/response (I actually experienced the emotions I had when I was a child and reacted as if I was still that child!) Then I had emotions ABOUT my emotions and behavior. It’s been rough, and I am trying to be ok with sitting in the discomfort, sitting with the vulnerability.

And I share this because many of you may have also experienced similar trauma responses in your day-to-day life that can result in you feeling incapable of doing things you would normally be able to do, feeling like hiding, running away, or shutting down. These are often more intense or more likely to occur around the holidays/ family gatherings.

I want to first start out by normalizing all of this.

None of us have escaped traumatic experiences, and many of us grew up with varying degrees of dysfunction in our families. Many of us have also experienced painful loss.  So it’s more likely the norm that you also experience some trauma reactions, what Janina Fisher calls the “living legacy of trauma.” And by trauma, I’m not only talking about abuse, neglect, or horrendous near-death experiences. I’m also talking about more subtle and insidious forms of trauma that may have occurred in our early years when our parents – often doing the best they could with the awareness and skills they had at the time – unintentionally neglected our emotional needs, modeled unhealthy relationship dynamics, and/or shamed us for things out of our control.

Several of the many trauma responses we experience as part of this living legacy of trauma are:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Decreased concentration
  • Numbing
  • Loss of Interest
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional Overwhelm
  • Loss of a sense of the future, hopelessness
  • Shame and Worthlessness
  • Few or no memories
  • Nightmares, flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance, mistrust
  • Anxiety, panic attacks
  • Chronic pain, headaches
  • Substance abuse, eating disorders
  • Feeling unreal or out of body
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Loss of sense of “who I am”

Above list from Janina Fisher’s book Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists 2021

Any of this sounding familiar to you? I bet it is.

So what do we do with this information? Why is it important?

Well, because knowledge is power. Once we know why we are reacting and responding in these ways and when we are triggered, we can then seek support to get some healing around these old wounds so that we can better manage our emotions and behaviors. We can also better anticipate and plan for potentially triggering events.

I have been working hard on utilizing my supports and reminding myself that while it’s really hard work sometimes, I am now much more capable of caring for myself when triggered. As we prepare for the holidays with my extended family, I talked through different anticipated triggers with my husband and came up with a plan for what to do so that we are better able to care for ourselves and each other. When I do this, I can react and respond to others in more appropriate ways. And the more I practice, the easier it gets. The more benefits to my mental health and my relationships with my kids, spouse and others in my life. The more I am able to be comfortable in my own skin, maintain integrity, and accomplish the things I feel called to do!

I hope this helps bring you more understanding and awareness. And that it allows you to feel more compassion towards yourself when you do experience increased stress and/or trauma responses in your day to day life. As we head into one of the most stressful times of the year, I encourage you to identify trusted supports, make a plan for what to do to avoid or cope with any anticipated stressors/triggers, and if a situation becomes really unhealthy, remember— you don’t have to stay. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and your own family.

Solidarity, Mamas!

If you are looking for trauma support or other resources, you can visit the US. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for more information.

About the Author

Hollie FrenchHollie is a trauma-informed Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Art Therapist in private practice in Lafayette. She specializes in using art and the creative process to increase self-awareness, improve mood, heal old wounds, and more. In addition, she offers flexible transformative online programs that help exhausted, weighed down and burnt-out moms to reconnect with who they really are, heal the wounds that hold them back, and create the life they’ve always dreamt of. Hollie loves using creative expression in her work, and is deeply passionate about helping moms begin to heal the wounds of generational trauma, addiction, and family dysfunction. You can learn more by visiting her website


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