Christmas and New Year can be a stressful time for many people and for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, this time of year can feel particularly challenging. All of us have our unique set of strategies – usually on a spectrum between healthy and less healthy – which help us to cope with difficult times. Christmas is a time when it might be helpful consciously to consider what existing coping strategies are going to serve you well, what you might adopt to get you through and what feels possible to you.
Here are some thoughts of what might help:
1. Being realistic: The myth of the perfect Christmas always disappoints one way or another, there really is no such thing as the perfect Christmas, unless you choose to see and experience it from that perspective. Setting realistic expectations of how things might be will protect you from feelings of disappointment and a sense of failure.
2. Being self-compassionate: This is very different from being self-indulgent or letting yourself off the hook. Practice being your own best friend, challenge yourself when you find yourself locked in self-judgement or harsh self-talk.
3. Being present: It can be tempting ‘to check out’ of life, either through using substances, dissociation or simply absenting yourself emotionally. Being present can feel like a real challenge but can really help you to stay connected with the good things in life, especially this season.
4. Being healthy: This can be a challenge at Christmas! The urge to over-indulge is usually strong around this period and is socially validated. But we all know that the short-term enjoyment soon turns into a medium to longer term fall out. Choosing a few things which you particularly enjoy and really savoring them in moderation can feel so much more satisfying. Balancing eating with exercising, relaxation with activity will help you to maintain a sense of balance which ultimately will leave you feeling so much better.
5. Being connected: There is so much emphasis on connection at Christmas – families, romance, partying and this can re-emphasize a sense of disconnection, loneliness and isolation because it is possible to be amongst people, loved ones, and still feel alone. But we are relational beings and need to connect. Think who you can reach out to this holiday and notice the small connections in your life which can lift your spirit – the kind person in the shop on your street, a neighbor saying hi, someone laughing at the bus stop, that special guy you look forward to running into, etc.
6. Reach out: As I write this, I am only too aware how easy this is to say and what a challenge it can be to do in the mess and confusion of life being lived. If you are finding this time of year painful and difficult, please remember, you are not alone. Sometimes it can feel too hard. If you’re struggling, reach out for help. We are here for you.
If you’re having a difficult time, perhaps you’re dealing with flashbacks, depression or any of the other common feelings and effects survivors experience, but you don’t feel like talking about it with anyone, then hopefully one of these links will be able to offer you some help.