Healing from trauma is arduous at this time of year. The whole world seems to us to be joyous and happy while we feel exhausted and left out. We have struggled so hard on our healing journey that we do not wish to celebrate.

This article is focused on saying goodbye to 2020 and giving suggestions to those who suffer from both the trauma they have endured and seasonal affective disorder that can make it worse.

2020 the Year of Fear

The year 2020 has brought a leveling of the field when it comes to feeling depressed during the holiday season. Many people in the United States and perhaps the entire world feel deeply distressed because of the COVID 19 virus that has held us all hostage for nearly a year.

I call it a leveling of the field because depression and fear were what someone else felt for most of the population. They had not known the uncertainty and fright that survivors feel every day of their lives. Now they too suffer along with us.

Now, together, we need to face the depression, anxiety, and fear that 2020 has brought with its racial and political upheavals and in the U.S. deep divisions that threaten to tear us apart.

The best part about all the turmoil is that now that we have been so far down, there is nowhere to go but up from here.

Saying Goodbye to the Turmoil of 2020

The year 2020 has been a whale of a year for all of us, myself included. Now it is finally time to say goodbye to the year and say hello to a new one with the hope it will be a better one.

The best suggestion for letting go of 2020 is to look ahead and make plans for 2021. Even if those plans seem unreachable where we are now, making plans is a vital part of pushing through this year’s depression and anxiety.

One method to letting go of 2020 is to not obsess over being positive or happy in 2021. It is often a bad idea to chase after positive emotions, as pursuing happiness can often disappoint and bring about unhappiness.

Besides, the more we focus on our own happiness, the less we focus on others’ happiness, which is isolating and disconnecting. If we chase after happiness, we also need to worry about the feeling that time is slipping away from us.

Another suggestion for letting go of 2020 is to focus on the small things in life that have made you happy. We can often improve our mood by focusing on the small and perhaps mundane things that happen in our lives that bring a smile to our faces each day. To truly appreciate and keep track of these positive things, we should consider keeping a journal as good things happen or at the end of the day.

The third suggestion is a vital one involving balancing social media and news consumption. If we spend all our time focused on social media or watching or reading the news, we are bound to become negative. Using social media to keep tabs and contact with family and friends is critical during COVID 19, but overzealous use is isolating and disheartening. Listening to the news frequently can bring fear and loss of confidence in life.

Relational Trauma and the Holidays

Facing the holidays after experiencing relational trauma is exhausting at best. While the world around us is rejoicing we are stuck in our misery. No matter whether it is trauma related to child abuse, domestic violence, rape, entrapment, infidelity, bullying, rejection, complex grief, or psychological/emotional abuse we feel a deep and unresolved loss of human connectedness.

While the primary treatment for relational trauma and its effects is psychotherapy, we can also use mindfulness, meditation, and prayer to help cope during the holiday season.

In one study researchers found that researchers conducted over eight weeks medical students studying to become physicians were taught to practice a meditation-based approach for thirty minutes each day. They found that the students exhibited a drastically lowered self-reported amount of anxiety and reduction in their depression.

Utilizing any of the three, mindfulness, meditation, or prayer, or a combination can help those of us who are working through the drama and pain of relational trauma get through the holidays.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Holidays

Seasonal affective disorder does not mix well with the holiday season. If Christmas were held in July it would be easier, but it is celebrated in winter when the days are dark and cold when SAD is at its worst and causes people to fall into major depression.

Falling into a bottomless dark pit of despair where there is no way out is a reasonably accurate description of what major depression feels like when it is active and is full-blown. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of major depression that should not be ignored as it can lead to a host of behaviors, including suicidal behaviors and actions.

There are many methods available for SAD, including the following treatment options.

Lightbox Therapy.  Using a lightbox for therapy is a simple method to mimic summer’s brighter sunlight during the dark days of winter. Researchers think that the light generated by a lightbox causes a chemical change in the brain’s neurotransmitters that lifts the mood and helps with the other symptoms of SAD.

The Mayo Clinic advises that a lightbox should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light and emit as little UV light as possible. They state that it is recommended that the lightbox be used within the first hour of awakening in the morning for around 20-30 minutes at a distance of 16-24 inches with eyes open but not looking directly at the light.

Get Some Exercise. Physical activity dramatically enhances the emotional well-being of humans. Even taking a short brisk five- or ten-minute walk increases our energy, mental alertness and puts us in a positive mood. Not only can exercise boost mood, but it can also increase self-esteem and reduce how we experience anxiety.

Plan Chats Online. While we cannot get together with family or friends in person right now because of the pandemic, we can still gather together with them through the many platforms available such as Zoom or Meet Now. The point is to not isolate ourselves away in our homes, watching mindlessly endless hours of television when not working. All humans need other human connections and using chat functions online is the best alternative during the COVID crisis.

Eating Properly When Experiencing SAD

While eating correctly is vital anytime, it is especially so during an attack of seasonal affective disorder during the cold and dreary winter months. Here are some food tips that may, along with the other suggestions already discussed, enhance your holiday season.

Eat More Berries. Everyone should know that stress makes depression symptoms worse and exhausts the body. Any berry type may help prevent or reduce the amount of cortisol entering our bloodstream during stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone that gets our bodies ready for the fight/flight/freeze response when released. Berries can help dampen that reaction so that you can remain calmer and ready to handle the situation better, even in stressful situations.

Keep Close Watch on Sugar Intake. Watching the labels on the foods we eat is the only way to know what kind and how much sugar we are ingesting. If you do, you will notice sugar introduced to nearly every product appearing as syrups or long words ending in “ose.” Sugar may help improve the mood at first, but after a few hours, it acts to slow our brains down, and thus it is important to avoid sugar if we are feeling depressed or overwhelmed. The inevitable crash from eating sugar will leave you feeling worse than before you ate it.

Eat Dark Chocolate. In a study first published in the Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found that eating dark chocolate boosted the mood in the subjects they used in their experiment significantly. The culprit in the improved moods of their subjects is attributed to the polyphenols in the dark chocolate that are a type of antioxidant. So, when faced with seasonal affective disorder or depression of any sort, reach for the dark chocolate bar with the highest cocoa content you can stand.

Mindfulness to Relieve Depression and Other Trauma-Related Symptoms During the Holidays

Above we discussed how meditation can aid in relieving trauma-related symptoms, now let us examine what mindfulness can do to aid us in getting through the holidays.

Mindfulness is a relaxation technique where a practitioner pays close attention to their breathing to remain firmly planted in the present. This method allows us to mitigate our tendency to want to relive the past or project into the future. With mindfulness, we learn to live in the ‘now.’

When we focus on the ‘now,’ right this moment, where we are here, life becomes much easier to handle. There is an old saying, ‘one day at a time,’ this method introduces us to ‘one moment at a time.’

There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness, including an increased sense of well-being, which leads to an increased level of serotonin in our brain that will make us feel good and combats seasonal affective disorder and other trauma-related symptoms.

Wrapping It All Up

When the cold winds begin to blow, and you feel your mood slipping into depression, remember to watch yourself for deepening depressive symptoms that require professional intervention.

If you digress to feeling suicidal, please, seek out medical attention right away.

Seasonal affective disorder and trauma are closely linked, although not all people who experience SAD have had life-altering traumatic events in their lives.

There are many treatments available, including putting into practice methods we can do at home to enhance professional treatments and to not only survive the winter blues but conquer them.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ~ Fred Rogers

“The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.” ~Tenzin Gyatso

References

Pase, M. P., Scholey, A. B., Pipingas, A., Kras, M., Nolidin, K., Gibbs, A., … & Stough, C. (2013). Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of psychopharmacology27(5), 451-458.

Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Bonner, G. (1998). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. Journal of behavioral medicine21(6), 581-599.

If you a survivor or someone who loves a survivor and cannot find a therapist who treats complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, contact CPTSD Foundation. We have a staff of volunteers who have been compiling a list of providers who treat CPTSD. They would be happy to give you more ideas about where to look for and find a therapist to help you. Go to the contact us page and send us a note stating you need help, and our staff will respond quickly to your request.

Are you a therapist who treats CPTSD? Please, consider dropping us a line to add you to our growing list of providers. You would get aid in finding clients, and you would be helping someone find the peace they deserve. Go to the contact us page and send us a note, and our staff will respond quickly.

Shortly, CPTSD Foundation will have compiled a long list of providers who treat complex post-traumatic stress disorder. When it becomes available, we will be putting it on our website www.CPTSDFoundation.org.

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