How to notice your needs this holiday season with compassion

Wow, it’s December — how did we suddenly get here?

Perhaps by not noticing ourselves? By not slowing down to be present in the moments?  Time seems to fly by even faster when we aren’t tuned into our own needs — and guess what? This is a common situation for trauma survivors.

Let’s make the year ahead slower, allowing us to be more present, and more intentional. Let’s move in a way that deeply considers ourselves — and let’s start now!

As we come to the fast-paced holiday season, I encourage you to ask yourself:

What do I need? What do I want?

Ask yourself this regularly, even as all the to-dos, plans, and needs of loved ones start to pile up.

Ask: What do I need? What do I want?

Sure, time flies by for everyone. And trauma survivors, especially, can spend large amounts of time in a triggered or dissociated state where they are not present in the current moment. If you don’t feel safe, it’s not comfortable to be there for very long, is it?

Of course, this is not your fault. Maybe emotions have been too tough to notice, feel, hold, and pay attention to? Maybe, because of childhood trauma, being elsewhere is something your body has become wired to do as a protective mechanism. 

Though joy and celebration are everywhere on social media feeds, the reality is, the holidays come with many challenges, too — and most don’t show off those difficult times for the world to see (and validate that you are not alone!). The holidays tend to bring more togetherness (whether wanted or out of feeling obligated), which can be triggering or bring up difficult, even scary feelings. There can be more use of alcohol, substances, and other dissociative mechanisms to help avoid. More trauma. More flashbacks. And for many, more isolation, meaning loneliness and sadness.

What does the end of the year signify for you? Is this time of year especially tough? Is it a time you try even harder not to feel?

For those who wish not to feel, it’s fairly easy and socially acceptable to keep yourself uber-busy with details and a million things to do. It’s easy to indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms. It’s easy to get caught up — and skate through the holiday season without feeling a thing, and…is that what you want?

What would it look or feel like to slow down? 

Could you get your needs actually met?

Could you be present for some of the joy that is available?

It’s quite possible. And I think it’s worth investigating.

What do you enjoy about the holidays — and want to participate in? And what do you prefer to skip?

Here are some ideas about how to notice your needs this holiday season:

  1. Slow down and notice. Be curious. What do you need? What does your wise adult self need today? Perhaps it’s rest, or not being with family. Perhaps it’s being with friends, instead. Do you enjoy the chaos, or would you rather stay home in your pajamas? Maybe this relates to what you want — or don’t want — to receive as a gift! Simply noticing what you want and need is a huge first step. It’s something you may have never done during a holiday season before. If your survival mechanism is to make yourself ultra-busy and just make it through — can you notice that?
  1. Hold your needs with compassion. Once you figure out what you need, can you hold that with self-compassion? Without shame or guilt or shoulds? It’s okay to put yourself ON the list! In fact, it’s necessary. Remember, you matter and your feelings matter!
  1. Decide how to get your needs met. What can you do to notice what you need, hold it with compassion and look for a plan to meet those needs? Relationships — safe relationships — are about compromise. We don’t always get to do exactly what we want, and it’s important to know what we want so that we can get as close as possible. If it’s very important to your spouse to attend holiday events that you don’t want to go to, what will your approach be? Will you mutually decide to go, skip it, or spend a predetermined amount of time? Will you attend one event, and take a break the following day? If you have trouble making decisions, read this.
  1. Use your voice. Speak up and share your needs. Nobody will know what you want or need unless you tell them. Your voice matters!
  1. Set boundaries — and then hold them. Set boundaries to take care of yourself and the important relationships in your life. If you need to stay home, do so and if you want to go, do so. Clearly share the information that takes care of you and your important relationships, so that no one builds resentments. 
  1. Notice how it feels. Yes, you are going to start and end this process with noticing.  It is one of the key elements to taking care of yourself — noticing you exist! You might be able to notice how this boundary or decision made you feel happy, or sad, or BOTH. (It’s normal to feel more than one emotion at the same time.) And having that information can inform your future decisions. Most of all, it’s important to notice that you actively decided to take care of yourself. That is something to celebrate!

It seems like this is the first holiday season in a while, where there is a lot of expectation of “normal.” Therefore, needing to state your wants and needs clearly, versus being able to use COVID as such the reason. Things seem to have ramped back up — maybe even more than before. Events. Socializing. Expectations. It’s full speed ahead!

This holiday season, let’s give the gift that keeps giving — let’s compassionately notice ourselves and what we need and want before anything else!


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