4 Ways to Avoid Additional Holiday Stress When You Have Alcohol Use Disorder, According to Therapists

Published on December 23, 2020

Canaan, CT – The holidays may look different this year, but even without the large gatherings, for those struggling with alcohol use disorder, triggers to sobriety are still a concern. From general stressors like finding the perfect gifts for everyone to awkward questions from family members about sobriety, the holidays can be a delicate time for those in recovery. Stir in fears about the pandemic, and this holiday season can become a recipe for disaster. Mountainside treatment center asked clinicians Marissa Bascom and Alyssa Unikewicz how to handle the challenges associated with this time of year. Here are four of their tips:

  1. Focus on the thought, not the price tag. Purchasing the ideal present for others can create stress for anyone, especially those new to recovery who may already be preoccupied by other concerns or struggle with money management. For many, gift-giving is a symbol of affection toward another person. Yet, “The way a person gives love is not always the way another receives it. The gift-giver can take their time picking out the perfect present, but the recipient may place a higher value on words of affirmation, for example,” says Unikewicz. “To gauge another’s ‘love language,’ it can be helpful to start a dialogue with loved ones by asking, ‘What is the greatest gift you could receive, if you could have anything?’ You may be surprised by the responses.”
  2. Squeeze in five or ten minutes of “me time.” Getting ready for the holidays can be exhausting, which can cause people to forget to take care of themselves. Some may assume that self-care has to be an hours-long process, but there are plenty of mood-lifting activities that only take five to ten minutes. For starters, Unikewicz recommends thinking about the five senses and how to appease each of them. If a person has just ten minutes to set aside for self-care, they can go for a walk, try out a yoga routine, use breathing techniques, or perform a meditative body scan. Activities that take only five minutes include muting electronic devices, practicing better posture, enjoying a mug of hot chocolate, playing a favorite song, and using essential oils.
  3. Avoid uncomfortable situations when possible. When a person in recovery is not in the emotional mindset to discuss their sober status, the thought of navigating questions from friends and family can become overwhelming. If a relative begins asking invasive questions, Bascom suggests politely stating, “‘I’m not ready to talk about that right now, but how are you doing?’ This deflection technique takes the attention away from the person’s sobriety and helps them create and maintain healthy boundaries. The choice to share personal experiences is entirely up to the person struggling with addiction.” Bascom’s other tips include having a seltzer in hand to reduce the likelihood that others will offer a drink, and having an exit strategy to leave early with a trusted loved one if situations take an unpleasant turn.
  4. Gather strength from tradition. Many customs, such as meeting with extended family for the holidays, have been upended this year. When everything feels uncertain, it can be comforting to hold onto what has remained the same.Tradition brings connection and allows people to know what is to be expected,” says Bascom. With limited places to go or people to see in person, try smaller but still enjoyable activities, such as recreating an old family recipe or decorating the house (where many will be spending the bulk of their time this holiday season). Additionally, this holiday season may be the ideal time to create new traditions at home or with a virtual network.

“While making the most of a difficult year, at the same time, avoid setting unrealistically high expectations,” Unikewicz adds. “There likely will be stress around the holidays, but if negative emotions feel debilitating, reach out for help.” This could mean enlisting the guidance of a mental health professional or anonymously requesting input during a virtual support group.

For additional assistance during the holidays, dial Mountainside’s Holiday Helpline at 833-200-6665. Trained addiction treatment professionals are available to provide support for easing stress, anxiety, and triggers to sobriety.