Coping with Dissociation and Mental Health Around Christmas

 Xmas Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

Christmas Challenges and Trauma

As Christmas approaches, often hailed as the 'most wonderful time of the year,' we must acknowledge that this sentiment doesn't resonate with everyone. The season unfolds unique challenges for many individuals:

These circumstances can leave individuals grappling with feelings of inadequacy. For some, returning to their childhood homes can be triggering, especially when encountering certain family members. Our homes, repositories of both cherished and challenging memories, pose a unique dynamic. For those who vividly recall distressing moments, being in that environment can be particularly challenging. Interestingly, these memories can exert their influence, whether consciously remembered or not. Bessel van der Kolk eloquently delves into this concept in his book, 'The Body Keeps the Score.' In one of his interviews, he articulates, 'Trauma is much more than a story about the past that explains why people are frightened, angry, or out of control. Trauma is re-experienced in the present, not as a story, but as profoundly disturbing physical sensations and emotions that may not be consciously associated with memories of past trauma.' Understanding this phenomenon is crucial.

Understanding dissociation and how to deal with it if it happens at the Xmas table

At times, even though our brain may fail to recall a memory with precision, our body can vividly experience the distress of the past. During these moments, our body instinctively attempts to discern the appropriate response: should we fight, run, or freeze in response to the emotions we're currently feeling? It's in this 'freeze' response that dissociation often manifests. Dissociation, in essence, means an inability to stay present in the moment, resulting in a disconnection from the surrounding world. If you've ever sensed your body being present while your mind seems elsewhere – not following the ongoing conversation, fixating on one spot for an extended period – these could be symptoms of dissociation. Similarly, observing these signs in others may indicate that they are in the midst of a dissociative episode. Should you find yourself or someone else in this situation, we'd like to share a quick tip to help snap out of it. Grounding exercises, scientifically proven methods for dealing with dissociation, offer a valuable tool. The exercise we're about to explore is a brief yet powerful grounding technique. What makes it particularly remarkable is its versatility – it can be seamlessly incorporated into any circumstance without drawing attention. Imagine you're seated around the Christmas table, engrossed in conversation. Suddenly, a topic triggers a memory related to a past discussion about your job hunt process with your parents at that very table. As you find yourself lost in thoughts, disconnected from the current conversation, the realization dawns that you're in a dissociative zone. To bring yourself back to the present, gently squeeze your palm and press your nails into it for 30 seconds to 1 minute. This simple practice can serve as a lifeline, guiding you back to the moment. I hope this proves to be a helpful tool for all our listeners, providing a pocket-sized strategy to enhance confidence during this festive season.

Tips for a Mentally Healthy Christmas

Take care of yourselves, stay present, and Merry Christmas.

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