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Staying Healthy and Safe Over the Holidays

The holidays can be a time which may be triggering to some individuals who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, and related emotional traumas including PTSD, eating disorders, depression, and other concerns. Experts recommend creating plans to recognize triggers, react to them, and keep yourself safe. The following is an excerpt from Reina Gattuso's article Dealing with Emotional Triggers During the Holidays:

"Domestic Violence and Abuse

The triggers

Domestic violence incidents are thought by some experts to increase around the holidays. While it’s hard to find a precise measure of when incidents occur, it is true that increased time with abusive partners or family members at home, while traveling, and during other holiday events can create a risky situation for people experiencing domestic violence.

Survivors who have left abusive relationships may also experience painful reminders of past trauma during the holidays, and may even find themselves missing abusive partners due to holiday themes of nostalgia and family. Meanwhile, for survivors of childhood domestic violence or sexual abuse, the holidays can evoke painful memories, especially when survivors encounter abusive family members at family gatherings.

The plan

The right plan for staying healthy and safe during the holidays depends on your situation. If you’re currently in an abusive relationship, The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests safety planning, including:

  • Make a plan to travel safely. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests sharing your itinerary with trusted family and friends, keeping a stash of money in case you need to get away from a situation, making a specific plan for your children, and familiarizing yourself with domestic violence resources in the area to which you’re traveling.

  • Communicate with trusted family and friends. Reaching out to supportive loved ones and asking them to check in with you can give you a support system in case your safety is threatened.

  • If you have children, make a safety plan with them. The National Domestic Violence hotline is always available to help connect you with resources or to help you plan.

"If you’re a survivor, you can stay healthy over the holidays by:

  • Practicing self-care. While it’s always important to prioritize your basic health and to do things that are healing and that give you joy, it can be particularly important over the holidays. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and taking some time for yourself can make all the difference during this stressful time.

  • Set boundaries. Remember: You never have to interact with someone who has harmed you, or attend a gathering they’ll be at. You are entitled to set your own boundaries and decide your own limits. While you may face pressure from family members to attend gatherings, and it can be painful to say no to family or friends during the holidays, you have every right to prioritize your mental health.

  • Reach out for support. If you do choose to go to a gathering where you might encounter an abuser, or you don’t have that choice (for example, you’re materially dependent on the abuser), take time to reach out for support. Find allies within the family who you trust to be supportive, reach out to a therapist, or call the The National Domestic Violence hotline.


The triggers

Everything is supposed to merry and bright during the holidays — but you’re feeling down. If you have depression, you may find managing it even more challenging.

Even people without depression may find the holidays glum. The pressure to be around family and friends may be triggering to someone who is socially isolated or has recently suffered the loss of a loved one. The social and financial stress of party planning and present buying may have a negative effect on your mood.

The plan

If the pressures of party planning and present buying are stressing you out, flip the script by creating different expectations. Go out to a restaurant if cooking at home feels overwhelming. Set a gift-buying budget or donate to charity rather than buying elaborate holiday gifts. And don’t be afraid to set boundaries (if you feel tired at that holiday party, it’s okay to go home!).

Practicing good self-care can also make all the difference between a cheerful season and a holiday meltdown. Taking time to get enough sleep, finding time alone when you’d like it, and exercising are all good ways to manage holiday stress.

"Eating Disorders

The triggers

Delicious family recipes, rich entrees, and sweet desserts are a major part of any holiday gathering. Sharing food can be a special way to bond with loved ones and keep traditions alive.

For people struggling with or recovering from eating disorders, however, these foods and the pressure to eat can trigger a relapse. If you find yourself preoccupied with diet and weight, find yourself attempting to skip meals or otherwise disregarding your recovery eating plan, or feel ashamed after eating, you may be at risk.

The plan

It’s a great idea to go into the holidays with a plan to keep yourself on the road to recovery. It’s also important to reach out for support. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) recommends:

  • Enlist support from trusted family and friends. Eating disorder justice advocate Kira Rakova, writing for NEDA, recommends making a list of people who you know to be supportive, including loved ones and mental health professionals. Reach out to them as you approach the holidays to let them know your intention for a healthy holiday season. It can be helpful to identify allies in your family or community, so you can have a safe, friendly face to turn to at gatherings if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Eliminate triggers in a health way. Rakova recommends asking family members to remove materials from the house that may be triggering, like scales and fashion magazines. Have a plan in place in case someone begins talking about a triggering topic, like their dieting efforts: You can always change the subject or simply exit the conversation."

These strategies can be implemented for a myriad of mental health concerns. It is sometimes, however not reasonable to stay safe and healthy while around family for the holidays, one survivor, Kemi Chavez writes,

"As survivors, we can sometimes compromise our own healing by minimizing the amount of mental and psychological pain we experience when being around people who trigger memories of our abuse. Have you ever beaten yourself up for feeling less than fortunate to spend time with your family and loved ones during the holiday season? These feelings only aggravate an uncomfortable situation.

"Consider this. During the holiday season, give yourself permission to do what’s best for you. What if you turned down an offer to see extended family, and plan a get together with close friends? What would happen if you planned holidays at a location that feels safe for you? Who would be offended you decided to bring a friend, someone who will “have your back” and help you avoid anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable?

"If being around your family is emotionally exhausting for you, do what you can to either address the issue for resolution or minimize the amount of time you spend with your family.

Think about it this way: It’s your holiday season – you might as well own it."

As always, We Will is here to support you and we encourage you to reach out if you are in need of anything during this time.

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