By Trish Russell
As a child, Christmas was filled with wonder and magic because of my mom. She worked tirelessly to create an environment with tiny details; such as, cookies for Santa. Alabama Christmas or Amy Grant playing in the background, and Christmas Eve Mass with candles. And presents. Even when we lived $80 above the poverty line, she was able to find ways to have gifts under the tree.
We never knew we were poor. The magic and wonder was real.
Until I joined the military. Between deployments and night shift the joy and beauty of Christmas slowly melted away. The wonder of the lights and anticipation in the air is replaced with the noise of large crowds, ridiculous social expectations, and unnecessary expenses.
Over time I started to believe Scrooge had a point about the whole Christmas thing.
Then I became a mom. I remembered how Christmas season used to be for us and I knew something had to change. I can’t say it happened that first year. Or even the second one. Slowly, over time, my heart was re-awoken to the mystery of Christmas.
To be honest, the season’s expectations are still immensely overwhelming. My brain has a difficult time processing all the activity, which I logically know to be normal with PTSD, but it sometimes still feels disappointing.
Like last Christmas. We were at my sister-in law’s house for a beautiful Christmas morning with both sides of her large family. By noon I found myself sitting with the kids staring at a tv to escape socializing. Then I was curled up fast asleep on the living room couch by 5pm, too exhausted to enjoy Christmas dinner and evening activities. My brain simply could not handle all the new people, excitement, and stimulation.
Which has led me to create a cheat sheet for myself on healthy ways to cope with holiday events.
1) Write down a list of activities. Then post it on your fridge.
It’s easy to either do nothing or overcommit during the holiday season. Neither one is a great option. So, I make a list of 5 activities for us to do as a family based on what each of us wants to do. A few examples are driving through a local light show, attending a Christmas production, and putting lights on the house. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now. The holiday season goes on until January 1st.
2) Put your phone away.
Our brains are firing on all cylinders during the holiday season. When we are in social situations it is very tempting to take a break from the social demands and escape into our phone. In fact I tend to find this to be physically painful.
While I am “taking a moment” on the phone my brain is being stimulated with this snazzy device. Then someone asks me a question and it feels like I hit a brick wall. Engaging with this person, answering their question, requires me to switch gears and process their words. This takes energy I don’t have to spare.
Do yourself a favor, put your phone away and find one person to talk to at the social gathering. Not in the mood to talk? People watch. Give your brain a rest from multitasking.
3) Set a food and alcohol limit.
Your body will thank you in the morning. Overeating, drinking more sugar or alcohol than you are used to leads to annoying consequences the next day. Instead of waking up bloated, dehydrated, frustrated with yourself, set a realistic limit you can honor and make it a game with yourself to honor it.
If you are looking for a starting point, my limits are two desserts (come on, it’s the holidays), one meal serving, and no more than three alcohol or sugary drinks.
These coping techniques help me stay a better version of myself through the holiday insanity. They make it possible to tolerate small talk, have the energy to build wonder for my kids, and remember the magic my mom worked so hard to create for us.