The door opens. I’m immediately assaulted by the sound of people talking over one another, music playing, kids squealing and of course, a couple of barking dogs. As a smile makes it’s way across my face, my fight or flight response is screaming at me to run. Instead, I hug my dad and head into the house.

For those of us who deal with depression, addiction, trauma, post traumatic stress disorder and any other “ism” not listed above, what should be a joyful holiday celebration might instead trigger a variety of negative emotions and situations. So how do you find joy in the midst of chaos? How can you minimize your exposure to stress and maximize your enjoyment of others?

A trauma survivor myself, I spent years developing tools and relationships to maintain a feeling of ease when I’m out of my comfort zone. This is my personal list of do’s and don’ts during holiday gatherings.

  1. Don’t lubricate yourself before driving to and/or attending any event. I’ve heard so many people talk about the need to drink or use something with a sedative effect before a party or gathering. BAD IDEA! Not only will you endanger yourself and others if driving, you’ll have less control over what you say and do. Your reactions may be dulled and you have less inhibitions regarding your behavior. How many of us know someone, or is the someone, who got drunk and stupid at a Christmas party?
  2. Always have a way out. I prefer not to ride with anyone to an event or function. I want the ability to leave a gathering if I’m not comfortable. Driving yourself allows you to leave when you want, to not be bound by someone else’s priorities. You may also avoid conflict with a drunk or buzzed driver who won’t hand over the keys when it’s time to leave.
  3. Find a safe space when you arrive. This one is critical for anyone easily overwhelmed. My safe space is usually a bathroom. Most are roomy and bright, offering a place to sit and a chance for some alone time. What you do with the time is your choice. I like to pray before sitting in silence. When I can’t get a prayer out, I practice four-count breathing, drawing air in deeply before slowly exhaling, as long as it takes. That’s the great thing about larger functions. You can take more “you time,” when people are so preoccupied they won’t notice your absence!
  4. Carry ear buds with you at all times, or any other type of listening device you want. If I need to unplug and can’t find a quiet enough place, I’ll turn on some music, something quiet and soothing. I like songs to play quietly so I can still hear people around me. My favorite is the Trekz Titanium bone conductor Bluetooth headphones. The sit just in front of the ear, conducting music/sound through the jawbone and are virtually unnoticeable. They are designed to hear what’s going on around you while enjoying music. This way I hear the music without offending people with noticable ear buds in place.
  5. Find and rely on a mentor. When I feel discomfort about meeting or an event I am required to attend, I have a mentor I talk to who can help me break down the fear of being uncomfortable. She is someone I can call, anywhere, any time. Often there is a good reason why I feel the way I do, but I like to have another person’s perspective. My mentor has become more like a mom/friend/mentor. Establishing a healthy, personal relationship with a mentor meant we had to spend a good amount of time together, to really know each other. The result is the incredible relationship we now share. I can take anything to her, and she to me, without judgment…without question…without hesitation. The best thing I can do for myself when feeling awkward and out of place is to ground myself in the truth of who I am. An unbiased mentor talks me down from my heightened state of anxiety, gently reminding me I’m safe, as we work through what caused my fear to pop up and how to walk through it.
  6. Know how to say no. If you have a hard time with saying no, practice. It’s a great activity to work on with your mentor. I had a hard time saying no to anythingmost of my life, as a girl and an adult. I wanted to make people happy and thus became a people pleaser. This trait can be dangerous for an adult. Someone who can’t say no to anything might end up in some painful, awkward places. It helps to be conscious of your motives, the reason behind what you do. So many times we are operating out of fear, either of losing something we have, or not getting what we want. There are only two states of being. We are acting out of love or fear. Anger, embarrassment, jealousy and depression are simply different expressions of fear.
  7. Know your triggers. This is probably the most overlooked trait in people with PTSD or who have some type of trauma in their background. What triggers you to react or behave a certain way? What happens when you are triggered by a face, a scent or a memory? If you know how you generally react when triggered, you can confide in a friend or family member privately about it, or use your mentor. Let someone help you look out for people and events that may trigger your PTSD. They can also provide reassurance if you do have a reaction to something.

Anticipating how you may react in a situation before you’re in it can help you develop techniques to slow or stop your reactions. The more you practice, the more emotionally mature you become. In time, you can slay all your demons with some solid self awareness. You become more relaxed when you are out. You start to have fun instead of erecting a wall for protection. As you enjoy other people more, you’ll want to be around them. Some simple mindfulness tips have the power to transform you, and in doing so, your life.

I wish you a very happy Christmas and a fabulous 2018!

Originally published at