Domestic Violence and the Holidays: A Survivor’s Guide
by Nancy Vega, MA, LPC

The holidays are often thought of as the best time of the year. It is a time for loved ones, celebration, and joy. However, for victims of domestic violence, the holidays can be a very dark and scary time. Unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and the increased consumption of alcohol can raise stress levels, which can contribute to incidents of domestic violence.

Since the holiday season is supposed to be the best time of the year, many people have high expectations.
These can include giving the best gifts, balancing time effectively, getting along with family, and having an abundance of holiday spirit. Many people can become stressed while trying to live up to these heightened expectations, and feel devastated if they fail. Before the holidays, it is important to set realistic expectations and realize that things may not go as planned.

Financial pressures and the stress of having a tight budget can feel more overwhelming during the holidays. The expectations of buying the best gifts can increase anxiety about how to handle the many added expenses. Some simple steps can help with stress management during the holidays. One way to help with financial strain is to develop a holiday budget and plan of action. Be realistic about gift giving; give gifts that your budget allows, whether that includes store-bought or homemade items. By prioritizing gift giving and resisting external pressure and the internal urge to overspend, holiday stress can be decreased.

Another component of the holidays is the serving and drinking of alcohol. Sometimes, individuals will use alcohol and other substances to cope with holiday stress. However, drinking as a coping strategy often doesn’t help because the ability to cope decreases as the amount of alcohol consumed increases. While hosting holiday parties, offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages and stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends. Consider attending Alcoholic Anonymous or Al-Anon if you or a family member have struggled with alcohol dependency. The meetings can be one of the most important steps to reduce the level of stress during the holidays. Seeking out further assistance, such as addiction counseling, can also help you handle the stress of the holidays.

Domestic violence is more likely to occur when stress levels are high. During the holidays, unrealistic expectations, financial strain, and alcohol can increase stress, and therefore, incidents of domestic violence. If you find that you are in a domestic violence situation, it is important to have a safety kit in case you have to exit a dangerous situation quickly. This kit should be hidden in a safe place and should include emergency numbers, a bag of clothing and toiletries, important documents such as birth certificates and a driver’s license, medication, prescriptions, car keys, house keys, and cash.

There is help for persistent stress, worry, anxiety, depression, or overall negativity during the holidays. Finding the right therapist where you can have a safe place to get support and empowerment during difficult times can be helpful. Therapy can help with stress management, mood and relationships, and confidence and empowerment.

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