Oh, those lovely PTSD holidays! I remember when, in the depths of my PTSD days, holidays only added yet another layer of anxiety – another day I had to fake it that I was all right; another day I had to smile when I was barely holding myself together; another day I had to try act to normal; another day I had to be around actual happy people. Another day I had to deal with my own demons and deal with everyone else – all day, all night, all weekend.
The stress I felt before the holidays even began was just as bad as the stress I felt during their occurrence! During my PTSD years I tended to dissociate a lot; the holidays only made this happen more. Plus, a lot of my stress made its presence known by settling in my stomach, which made it very difficult to hide: No way to avoid everyone’s curiosity on Thanksgiving when you refuse to eat any turkey!
But there are definite coping strategies we can use to make those stressful days easier to deal with. Dr. Marianna Lead (author, speaker, workshop leader, transformational coach, clinical hypnotherapist and hypnosis instructor) was generous enough to converse with me about stress-reducing techniques. Here’s what she suggested:
“First,” she says, “recognize that it’s normal to feel stressed. Sometimes, it’s a sign of being alive.”
(As PTSDers, I believe, we can actually use stress as a way to ground us in the moment. I had a tendency to always drift away inside my own head, to observe myself and everyone from outside of myself, from somewhere much removed. But: while stress can induce this, we can also see stress as a way of attaching us to the moment we’re in, which is a good exercise for us. Normally, I was rarely connected to the moment as it was happening. Stress has the ability to force us into the moment as much as it can induce us to escape through our PTSD mechanisms.
This year, take your holiday stress and use it to your advantage. Recognize it, honor it, own it, feel it, get close to it – and then control it. Bring it back down to size. Literally, stress is defined as ‘the importance or significance attached to a thing.’ Well, guess what? We determine what gets us. We attach the importance. We decide to be ruffled, riled or at peace. We can experience, or transcend. We decide to be undone, or to rise up against something with all of the strength of ourselves. Use this year’s holiday stress to practice the development of your Superself.)
“It's important to remember,” Dr. Lead continues, “ that our perspective gives meaning to events and people around us. So, stay positive and exercise your sense of humor!"
Dr. Lead also suggests that we figure out what helps us most to manage the stress we feel.
Here are her Top 5 Stress Management Tips:
1. Listen to your body and allow yourself to have rest when you need it. Sometimes, you may need only a few minutes of having your eyes closed and some deep breathing.
2. Exercise regularly and eat healthily. Make your own self-care an on-going and rewarding experience despite the holiday interruption to your routine. Get up a little earlier to go for a walk or a run; slip away to the gym while everyone watches the big game.
3. During the holiday continue to do things that make you feel centered and grounded. Take a hobby with you (ie. knit, crochet, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, a book etc.) or a pet who will need care so that you have something upon which to focus and distract your mind from the stress you feel.
4. Learn relaxation techniques before the holidays begin. For example, learn to meditate and then slip into a quiet bedroom for 15 – 30 minutes of restorative practice.
5. If you have an ongoing stress, ask yourself what is the root of it. Awareness is the first step to changing our responses. If you know where your stress comes from you can anticipate it, prepare to manage it, and interrupt it.
OK, don’t roll your eyes and sigh and tell me, “Easier said than done, Michele.” I know that! My own out of control PTSD stress drove me crazy for 25 years.
But if we always see the tough part, if we only focus on the negative difficulties of healing, then we ourselves make healing impossible. It takes only one positive thought, one positive effort to launch us on a path toward healing. That’s not so much to do considering all the bad things we do for and to ourselves that negate our healing efforts.
Now, one last tip before I fly off to California for a family holiday in which I am going to eat lots of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, and during which I am going to laugh and participate and be present in the moment because I can, because I choose – every day, by determining the focus of my mind – to not let PTSD get back in control of me:
In regard to managing stress Laura King, my hypnotherapist, suggested this to me about a year ago: Think of a place where you feel at peace. Now, DO NOT GO THERE IN YOUR HEAD, but take that feeling and hold it close to your heart. Immerse yourself in that feeling as if you are experiencing it right in the moment.
This was tough for me to do at first. I was so used to escaping the moment by going somewhere else in my head that it was difficult to go there without, well, going there. But I began to practice: I love the beach. I feel at peace at the beach. In moments of stress, instead of escaping to the beach in my head I began to summon the beach to me in the moment. It takes time, but we can develop any skill. By utilizing this summoning technique we learn to use good memories and places and feelings to instruct ourselves in the moments of bad ones. We learn to take charge of the moment. We learn to rise up and tap an inner strength. We exercise power over the parasites.
When we choose, we control. When we control, we progress. When we progress, we win!
II. Let it be thy earnest and incessant care as a human being… - … to do whatever you undertake with true and genuine gravity, natural affection, freedom, and justice. As for all other cares, and imaginations, find a way...
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