Trick or Trauma: Halloween and Trauma Triggers

by | Oct 29, 2017 | Trauma, Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s that time of year again. The rather innocent, fun, yearly tradition of jack-o’-lanterns, candy, costumes, pumpkin picking and carving, and all things ghoulish. Yes, we are talking about Halloween, and for many, this is a very fun and enjoyable holiday.

For others, Halloween and the days surrounding it can be a very difficult time. For trauma survivors, it is very possible that everything that goes along with Halloween can trigger images, memories, or nightmares about past traumatic events. The very nature of Halloween is filled with gore, scary things, and fear. These are the very things that can remind a trauma survivor of their past experience and invoke a trauma response.

If you have never experienced trauma, it might be hard to imagine having any experience other than fun on this holiday. When you are a child (or even as an adult), going to a haunted maze, a haunted house, or watching a scary movie can be a very fun way to celebrate and honor this holiday. However, if you have experienced trauma, these are some of the very things that you are likely to avoid and if exposed to, become fearful and feel unsafe.

{Take for example a sexual assault survivor whose perpetrator wore a mask. Or perhaps someone who was robbed at gunpoint by a person wearing a mask. Then imagine the amount of distress this person experiences when they open their door to trick-or-treaters who are wearing masks of all sorts. This is just one example of how Halloween could be triggering for persons who have experienced trauma.}

Be Aware of Others During Halloween

For those who have never experienced trauma, it may seem like a good and festive idea to setup sound effects outside your home, or the mass casualty scene in your front yard. To the unsuspecting neighbor who has PTSD, this can be incredibly terrifying and send them into a whirlwind downward spiral of trauma symptoms. Needless to say, it is important to be mindful of your neighbors. If you know your neighbor was in the military and was deployed to a combat zone, be sensitive to this.  Generally speaking, don’t put up anything that others could be exposed to unless it is in a place where the person would have to walk or enter through out of their own will (and not just when they are checking their mailbox).
The decorations you have set up on your front yard can be appealing, festive, and enjoyable to many, but are triggering for the person who has experienced trauma.

Getting Through Halloween with PTSD

  1. Remain aware that the holiday is approaching. When you are unprepared, you are more likely to have a stronger reaction. Keep in mind that the 31st is approaching and use that information to tame your stress and to remind yourself that the things you are seeing are not indicative of a true dangerous situation, but in the spirit of the holiday.
  2. Practice mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness can help you to ground yourself in the moment, which can be extremely important and useful (particularly if flashbacks to the traumatic event were to occur).
  3. Use grounding techniques. These help you to stay connected with the moment, remind yourself where you are, and can be very helpful at remaining aware that you are safe, and the traumatic situation or event is in the past (and not happening again in the present).
  4. Use cognitive-behavioral therapy strategies. If you have been working with a therapist on recovering from trauma, or have ever worked with a therapist for this purpose, chances are you were exposed if not taught CBT. Utilize those skills to challenge your thinking and produce balanced, realistic emotions.
  5. Expose yourself to other stimuli. For example, instead of watching a horror film, watch a comedy or action movie. Listen to upbeat music. Read a book. Exercise.
  6. Talk to a therapist. Yup, that’s right. And make it a trauma specialist. Certainly not the last strategy, but it can be helpful to share fears related to the approaching holiday or perhaps discuss reactions that occurred after the holiday. Therapy is critical for those who have experienced trauma. If any post-trauma symptoms re-emerge or worsen around Halloween, talk to a trauma specialist who can provide you with treatment options.
  7. Contact Tampa Therapy. Dr. Barbash is a trauma specialist. We can help you.

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