Does the smell of warm spiced cider bring up challenging emotions for you?
Do you feel sad or even angry when you imagine engaging in your normal holiday traditions (that no longer feel normal)?
Do you break down weeping when you hear “Silent Night” on the radio? Do you dread going to church in December because you know they will sing that at some point?
Would you like to feel safe, centered, and even happy throughout the holidays, despite these jarring reactions to things that used to bring you pleasure?
Are You Triggered?
I used to think these reactions were all triggers, but the definition of what triggers are is a little more specific than the broad range of emotional responses we can have in these situations.
According to the Psych Central website: “Triggers are sensory reminders that cause painful memories or certain symptoms to resurface. If you experienced a traumatic event, you likely remember certain sounds, smells, or sights related to that experience. Now, when you encounter these sensory reminders — known as “triggers” — you may get a feeling of anxiety, unease, or panic.”
So, is feeling sad when you think of wrapping presents a trigger or is it a normal response to the loss of a feeling of connection and meaning that you used to have?
I think the best answer is a solid: “It depends.” Some questions to consider include: Is the feeling coming up because you remember a time that something traumatic happened while wrapping gifts? Is your response out of proportion to the situation you are experiencing now? Or are you sad that it feels so different this year because your family structure has shifted so much?
Does It Matter in The Moment?
In the moment that you are experiencing the reaction, what it’s called may not seem important. Simply being aware that you are having a less fun response to a situation that, in past years, you would have called an enjoyable experience is a really great start.
What if you give yourself the grace to feel the emotion – whether it’s pint-sized or monster-sized? I believe all emotions are helpful in some way – even when they feel downright terrible when going through them. At some point, though, when you decide you’ve felt that emotion enough for now, you could try turning toward the emotion and really seeing it.
Sometimes, recognizing it is enough to shift it. You could say, “Hey Sadness, I see you! I really appreciate you showing up for me. Feel free to tell me what you want me to see about this situation.” Wait and see if you get any thoughts about a bigger picture or a different perspective of what’s happening. Then see how you feel afterwards. For non-trigger sized emotions, that might do the trick! You could also add some deep breathing, take a brisk walk, or maybe do an all-body shake (like when a dog shakes off water) to help your body let go of the physical part of the emotion.
For monster-sized emotions, you may want to try a few other things to help bring them back into perspective. The good news is that there are as many ways to soften monster emotions as there are people who experience them. Another nifty thing to note is that most people have experienced emotional triggers at some time during their lives. So, you’re in good company!
Some ways to help you reduce the power of the emotions over you could include the following:
- Using curiosity to create new brain connections for those triggers (here’s an example of how to use curiosity to shift your emotional responses).
- Using tapping (formally called Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT) to reduce the “charge” on the trigger and then creating a new association you prefer. You can learn how to do EFT for free at eftuniverse.com. You can also just search for tapping videos on YouTube – there are literally thousands of options for you to learn from (including my videos!). You can also get the free Tapping Solution app and tap along with free guided tapping meditations. Using tapping to stay in a place of peace no matter what is happening around you is a wonderful way to stay centered for the holidays!
- Using gratitude to transform the feeling to one you might enjoy more (stay tuned for a blog about using gratitude as a super power later this month!).
- Finding the place in your body where the trigger feels strongest and choosing a way to release that feeling through movement, sound, or even visualization.
Most of these solutions when done in a self-help sort of way will help you soften the symptom of the intense emotional response to a trigger so you don’t have to live in that pain (and mostly likely in a state of dysregulation) for too long. I love how this article describes what happens when you gain new skills in addressing your triggers:
“When we develop the tools to handle our triggers, we transform a two-part experience into a three-part practice:
trigger → reaction
trigger → reaction → resource.
With enough practice, it can become a better two-part experience:
trigger → resource.
Triggers thrive on the illusion that we can’t trust ourselves. But once we have access to inner resources, we can learn to catch ourselves instead of reacting blindly. Then we can trust that we can handle what we feel.”
Keep looking and testing new ways to create space between the trigger and your reaction while also softening the strength of the reaction.
To get at the core of the trigger and address the original event, working with a professional (whether a therapist or someone that is skilled in the particular healing modality that interests you) is always a good idea. They can help you approach the original trauma gently and safely so that you don’t have to re-experience the event that activated the trigger in you.
Remember that YOU CAN shift a wide variety of triggers and thought processes that feel overwhelming or impossible to address. Start exploring and practicing now (and yes, it does take practice!) so you can have your best holiday season ever – even amid more chaos and uncertainty than you have ever had before!
Tell us below what method you find most helpful – maybe it will help someone else have a better holiday season, too!