“I don’t really celebrate Christmas,” a friend said to me as we chatted about holiday plans. “Really?” I asked. “Why not?” “While growing up, the holiday season in my house wasn’t a happy occasion,” she said, “so as an adult I chose not to celebrate.”
For another friend of mine, the holiday season isn’t “official” until he hears the song, “This Christmas,” sung by Donny Hathaway.
For both of them, the holiday season is a trigger.
Recognize your triggers
Triggers are anything, or anyone, that elicits thoughts or feelings that take us back to past events, places, or times in our lives that were significant. Triggers take many forms; a song, a scent, an event, specific foods, a person, a movie, a location… The list can go on and on.
How we respond to triggers often match the memory that the trigger produces. If it’s a negative memory, our response might be fear, anxiety, hurt, anger, or sadness. If it’s positive, we may have a comical, pleasurable, or self-assured response.
Problems occur when our response to a trigger results in unhealthy feelings, words, and/or behavior that harm us or someone else.
The trick is to manage how you respond to triggers, which can only happen if: 1) You know that your thoughts and/or feelings are coming from a trigger, and 2) You choose to think and act differently.
For my friend whose holiday begins with the song, it reminds him of celebrating Christmas with his mother. Because she’s passed away, the song creates nostalgic feelings and some tears. But as the pain from losing her continues to heal, his tears may eventually stop.
The friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas relocated to an area where she has several close friends whom she invited to her new house for Thanksgiving dinner. She had such a good time hosting the event at her home that she’s already looking forward to sharing Christmas dinner with them.
Healing unresolved thoughts and feelings from past hurt, or replacing bad memories with good ones, are ways that you can manage how you respond to triggers.
Do the work
If you find that you need some help with unhealthy triggers, it’s a good idea to contact a licensed counselor/therapist. No matter what you decide, it’s important that you patiently work to identify your triggers, heal their causes, and choose healthy responses. Doing so will safeguard you mentally and emotionally and, in turn, your relationships.