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Child Abuse Survival Guide

Strategies for Managing Trauma Triggers Over the Holidays

Whether or not you have previously undergone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or other trauma, the weeks leading up to the holidays are a good time to reach out to a therapist or treatment center to schedule some therapy sessions to reinforce your recovery and explore new coping tools you can use for trigger management. Talk therapy and support groups can be very helpful, but you might also choose this time of year to explore therapies you haven’t previously utilized. Splurge on a few sessions of treatment options such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing, equine therapy, art therapy, psychodrama or adventure therapy.

Things start gearing up for the holidays in early November, but you can preempt trauma triggers by taking time in late October to write down all of the potentially triggering people, places and things you might encounter from November through January. You can list problematic people, scenarios, environments and other triggers in a column on the left, and then use the column on the right to make a list of coping mechanisms that will help you avoid or deal with each trigger. This mapping exercise can also help you recognize holiday triggers you haven’t previously considered, and this heightened awareness can help inform other areas in which you may need to protect and nurture yourself. 

For example, if Thanksgiving at your family home is a minefield of trauma triggers, the coping strategy for this one might be to visit friends on this day and make excuses to your family. Alternately, you may visit your family but arrange to either depart early because you have another “event” to attend, or keep a friend or other helper available by phone that day so you can call them to talk through issues that come up. Similar strategies can help you avoid or get through the annual holiday party at work, emotional reunions with old pals, and more

If you aren’t obligated to “make the season bright” for children who look forward to all the trappings of a traditional holiday, you can break with tradition and make the season more about catching up on the things you love most. Create a meaningful annual ritual for yourself. If you are a hobbyist or crafter, designate the holidays as the time of year when you devote extra time to doing those things. Stay home and get busy (or un-busy) creating things with your hands, or recharging your batteries by catching up on your reading or favorite TV shows. If you love travel and have the budget and freedom to do so, get out of town and explore another environment. People from many other cultures don’t celebrate the same holidays, which makes it possible to choose a destination free of Christmas chaos.

Since the holidays are the time of year when most people tend to travel and visit family or go on family excursions, it is common for others to assume you’ll be doing the same and ask what you’ll be up to over the holidays. This question may be a stress or trauma trigger for you. If so, come up with a couple of brief, acceptable answers you can give to reduce a potential stumbling block to just a tiny hurdle you can glide over. If you are planning to stay home and avoid holiday travel and get-togethers, trauma therapist Sara Staggs LICSW, MPH, suggests you can say something like you’re “getting some much needed rest,” “catching up on personal projects” or “spending time with friends,” which is true even if your friends are crafts, books and movies.

You may not be able to avoid family gatherings or other events over the holidays, but you can employ strategies that help you stay grounded before, during and after attending them. Besides abstaining from any foods or drinks that might trigger you, there are measures you can take to ease yourself through the situation.
If you know that a certain relative will say or do something that pushes your buttons, plan ahead by bringing along a coping tool to help minimize your reaction to this trigger. For example, carry or wear a meaningful item that you can hold in your hand to calm yourself during tense moments — perhaps a locket on a chain, a pocket stone, or a piece of paper that has a calming message like “breathe” written on it. These tokens can serve as reminders to step out of the room and reground yourself, take a few deep breaths, and choose to react differently to things. It can also help to know that after the event, you can decompress and soothe yourself by taking a warm bath, lighting some candles, playing soft music or reading from a book of meditations or inspirational quotes.

Last but not least, share your burden with someone else. Fight the urge to isolate, which can worsen trauma symptoms. As the holidays approach, reach out to a trusted friend, sponsor or family member and let them know that this is a tough time of year for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them you might need some daily mood-lifting texts or silly messages from them, or perhaps a weekly phone call or chat over coffee. These can boost your mood and help you find some joy and peace in the holidays despite past troubles.

Excerpt  By Sara Schapmann
How to Manage Trauma Triggers During the Holidays. Promises, December 2016. 
Katie Volk. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2013. 
How to Deal with Holiday Triggers. After Trauma with Sara Staggs, LICSW, MSW MPH. Psych Central, December 2013. A Holiday Blueprint 
for Tackling Trauma and Anxiety. Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC. Good Therapy, December 2013.



There are many ways we can work to prevent child abuse among our children. Knowing the signs and reporting suspicions of child abuse could save a life.  Below are links to other helpful information about child abuse and ways to help maintain a healthy environment for children and teens to grow. For more information please visit one of our locations or call our main office at (301) 609 – 9887.


Maryland Child Abuse Statistics

10 Ways to Help Prevent Child Abuse

Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know

Preventing Child Emotional Abuse

Preventing Child Neglect

Preventing Child Physical Abuse

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

Advice for New Moms and Dads

Promoting Child Development by Supporting Families

Child Abuse

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Healthy Families/ Prevent Child Abuse America
A nationally recognized evidence-based home visiting program model designed to work with overburdened families who are at-risk for adverse childhood experiences, including child maltreatment.

Early Years

Maryland Family Network
Works with parents, child care providers, advocates, employers, and policymakers to expand and enhance the early childhood education and child care available to Maryland’s children.

Parents as Teachers
Offers a variety of resources & information for parents.

Zero to Three
Resources for the parents of young children ages 0-3

Service Provider Databases

Maryland 2-1-1
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 180 languages. Connects MD residents to health and human service resources for challenges regarding housing, utility shutoffs, family crisis, financial, legal, employment, and other problems in your community. Simply dial 211 to be connected to a live trained specialist.

Maryland Community Services Locator
Helps service providers and the general public to more easily access local programs and resources.

Substance and Alcohol Abuse

Substance Abuse & Behavioral Services Treatment Locator

Maryland Drug Rehab Facilities

Addiction Center: Teenage Substance Abuse Prevention

Addiction Resource

Resources for Students

Suicide & Depression Awareness for Students

Depression and Anxiety: College Students

National Resources

Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland (CBH)
CBH improves the health of Maryland’s children and adults by advocating for and providing support and technical assistance to Maryland community-based behavioral health service providers and their constituents.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Strategy for Suicide Prevention
A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General and of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention