Are the Holidays Triggering for You?

Are the Holidays Triggering for You?

The holidays are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year to spend with family. But not everybody has one of those perfect Hallmark families. For some people, the holidays are filled with drama, chaos, and arguments, and the mere idea of heading home triggers painful memories and emotional distress.

Jenna hated going home for Christmas, and she started stressing about it weeks before her annual trip. She was a successful attorney with a nice condo and lots of friends, and she thoroughly enjoyed her life. But it was never good enough for her parents. As soon as Jenna walked through the door of her childhood home, her mother would start up with the needling questions: Why aren’t you married yet? Am I ever going to have grandkids? Did you gain weight again?

Her dad was even worse. He always drank too much and then start yelling at everyone. For Jenna, this triggered traumatic memories of Dad punching his fist through a wall when she hadn’t graduated as class Valedictorian, of him shaking her mother violently when they had shouting matches, and of him throwing a plate of mashed potatoes at the wall one Christmas day when she was just a kid.

Back in this toxic family environment, Jenna’s self-confidence and joie de vivre would immediately start to plummet, and she would revert back to the anxious, depressed, scared child she used to be.

She isn’t alone.

The holidays can be less than merry for many people. For those who suffered trauma or abuse as a child, family festivities can cause old emotional wounds to surface. People who are struggling with alcohol abuse may have trouble staying sober when there is so much focus on holiday cocktails. Anyone with an eating disorder may feel the familiar urges to binge or purge when faced with holiday meals. And individuals who have anxiety or depression may find that their symptoms intensify when the holiday season approaches.

6 Reasons Why Holidays are So Triggering

Aside from family feuds and underlying mental health issues, there are many factors that contribute to seasonal struggles. With a little planning, however, you can overcome these holiday hazards for a more joyous season.

1. ’Tis the Season to be Stressed

Buying gifts, hosting lavish feasts, decorating—there’s a lot that goes into making the holiday season perfect. All of this added stress can take a toll on brain health and lead to increased vulnerability to mental health symptoms.

Holiday Helper: Stay grounded with a few minutes of daily meditation or prayer and don’t take on more projects than you can handle.

2. No Silent Nights

The excitement of the season and holiday parties often lead to less shut-eye and more disrupted sleep. When you aren’t getting your usual 7-8 hours a night, it impacts your moods and cognitive function. Just one night of bad sleep can leave you in a brain fog and make you more irritable, anxious, and depressed.

Holiday Helper: Stick to your sleep schedule as much as possible.

3. Hectic Travel

Sold-out flights, overcrowded airports, and jam-packed highways can mess with your mental well-being.

Holiday Helper: Leave early for your destination, bring some soothing music, and give yourself an attitude adjustment. Put yourself in a “We’ll get there when we get there” mindset.

4. Too Much Feasting

Starting in October, it’s like there’s a free-for-all in the food department. People toss out all their good eating habits and dive into unhealthy dishes that leave you feeling spacy, fatigued, and bloated. The food you eat has an almost immediate effect on your brain function and giving in to cravings around the holidays lowers your ability to handle stress and family drama.

Holiday Helper: If you know that your family is going to be feasting on unhealthy foods, bring some good-for-you snacks with you or offer to prepare a few brain healthy side dishes for the festivities. And if you are going to indulge in something decadent, follow the 3-bite rule.

5. Holiday Cheers

Alcohol lowers activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the area involved in judgment, forethought, and impulse control. Boozing it up at holiday parties or family gatherings sets the scene for drama and discord.

Holiday Helper: To avoid drinking altogether, volunteer to be the designated driver or ask the bartender or host for a non-alcoholic drink that looks festive. If you are going to drink, set a limit and be sure to eat something beforehand to minimize the effects of alcohol.

6. Couch Potato Syndrome

Sitting on the couch watching football with your extended family drains your energy and deprives you of the feel-good endorphins you get when you get your blood pumping with exercise.

Holiday Helper: Start your day with a morning walk or suggest playing a game of touch football (never tackle football!) during halftime.

If you dread the holidays and need help coping with the emotions that surface, Amen Clinics can help. If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome their symptoms at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.



  1. For some this is a lonely time of year. My family and I have disowned one another years ago and I am single. I go through all of the holidays alone but it is what I have chosen. Never the less it still gets lonely…Happy Holidays Anyway!!!

    Comment by Brian K Warner — December 23, 2019 @ 3:52 AM

  2. Holidays always have been lonely maybe because many people make this holidays shopping experience then what really is, for me is about think about what really we celebrate, evaluated our life and days to come and for that some time is good be by you self. Happy Holidays!

    Comment by — December 23, 2019 @ 7:02 AM

  3. Happy Holidays Brian and everyone out there. You can have family and still feel alone. Please reach out to friends this season. Volunteer somewhere. And remember you are not alone!

    Comment by Deb — December 23, 2019 @ 8:11 AM

  4. For me, the holidays are depressing. Theybremind me of the things I still haven’t accomplished, a family that is judgemental and never like anything you get them, and my birthday falls on Dec 23, so it’s another year older for me and I think of the song by John Lennon, so this is Christmas and what have you done…and all that I’ve done doesn’t seem to ever be enough for myself.

    Comment by Kim — December 23, 2019 @ 12:45 PM

  5. Good morning and Merry Christmas This is a long story made short. For 20 years starting with the behavioral observations of Lonnie Athens PhD as described in Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes about the behaviors that proceeded an individuals violent actions to today I have tried to “distil” the process to an easily describable process.

    It is all about the BRAIN of the person whose finger is on the TRIGGER. Pure, simple, straight forward The foundation, the beginning point, such that by deduction what needs to happen to change the outcome , can be easily understood.

    Comment by Thomas Spellman — December 25, 2021 @ 6:02 AM

  6. It wouldn’t be Christmas if my husband didn’t get drunk and verbally abusive. Family Tradition apparently. Every offence, real or imaginary, from decades ago up to the present, gets dragged out and reviewed repeatedly. Literally no one will come to visit on Christmas or any other time of year. He is a sad, angry, miserable person, clinging to his wounds and making sure that everyone suffers with him.

    Comment by Ruth — December 26, 2021 @ 12:08 PM

  7. Lonely and disappointing holidays can be devastating, however they can also be an opportunity to get back in touch with yourself and what really matters. Be careful not to fall into a self pitty party, or feed the anger toward those who have or are hurting you.
    Instead allow yourself to feel the sadness and disappointment and acknowledge it out loud to yourself. Feel the pain and release it. I give it to God. Allowing the feeling allows it to move out of the part of the brain where it is stuck. Let the emotion come and go like a wave. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need. You will have more clarity about what to do do that your needs are met. Forgive the person it will release you. Give or do something for another. Change it up and connect with humanity. You are not alone. We feel alone when our needs are not met or understood. Start by giving what you need to yourself first. All the best to you!

    Comment by Mary — December 27, 2021 @ 8:34 PM

  8. Christmas was always overwhelming. Too much of every kind of demand. and I felt all all alone in meeting
    the expectation expected from others and the desire to be creative and festive with my self with little support from my family. I also learned that in Michigan it snows and snows so I would become very depresses.
    After years I bought me a happy light. It is a miracle I sit at my table with the light on and do my paperwork
    mail and word searches for an hour and it works, No depression when I shine the light on.

    Comment by Paula Thompson — December 28, 2021 @ 8:35 PM

  9. This post was very good.Appreciate the tips!!
    Cheers happy holidays!

    Comment by Shenu — November 29, 2022 @ 9:07 PM

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