As the end of the year approaches, many people are consumed with holiday preparations. Whether that is buying last minute gifts or hosting a large family gathering, the holidays can be both mentally and physically draining, especially for those in recovery. Keep your mental health in check and manage holiday stress this festive season with a few important tips.
Holiday Challenges for Those in Recovery
There are a number of triggers that may put someone at risk of relapse during the holidays. For one, this time of year is known for being very family oriented. Some individuals in recovery have strained relationships with loved ones, so being around family and friends can increase stress and tension. Not to mention, encountering a toxic relative can unearth triggering memories and put you on edge the entire night.
On the other hand, there are also people who find themselves alone for the holidays. This can be especially painful for a person recovering from addiction as they watch others celebrate happily with friends and family. The holidays can stir up feelings of loneliness and shame and make it difficult to practice healthy coping mechanisms.
Moreover, whether it’s at office holiday events or family parties, alcohol is most likely being served. There is also more financial stress with people exchanging gifts and social situations that might require someone to talk openly about their recovery – not everyone is comfortable with this. It’s no wonder that the most “wonderful time of the year” can quickly turn into one of the most stressful. Below is a list of the most common stressors and triggers to look out for:
- Holiday parties
- Financial impact
- Family conflict
- Emotional distress
- Time management
- Seasonal affective disorder
Ways You Can Reduce Stress During the Holidays
While people recovering from addiction need to be extra mindful during the holidays, it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy them. Use these tips to cope with holiday stress and keep recovery your main priority.
Learn to Say “No”
It’s the holidays, and it’s normal for you to want to make everyone happy, but you shouldn’t overexert yourself in the process. For example, if a coworker asks you to oversee the planning of the office holiday party but you know it will cause you unnecessary stress, then politely decline. Let them know that you have no room in your schedule to take on that project, but you’ll be glad to help in a smaller way.
As much as the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, if you have a toxic family member or friend, you may want to limit the time you spend around them. Surrounding yourself with negative individuals will reflect in your mood, raise stress, and could even trigger you. Set boundaries for yourself to only spend time with positive people who care about you and your recovery. Katherine Nugent, Recovery Coach at Mountainside, says that if you intend to avoid or limit your alcohol consumption and know that someone may offer it to you, prepare to encounter that situation and hold your boundary by declining (repeatedly if necessary). Lastly, for the sake of your own well-being, be selective about who you decide to spend time with during the holidays.
One thing that does not help lower your anxiety levels during this time of year is feeling unprepared. The uncertainty of “can I get this done?” and the many what-ifs that enter your mind can be overwhelming. That is why it is important to lay everything out on the table so you can assess your concerns since anxiety feeds on uncertainty. “Plan multiple days and times to go shopping, make gifts, wrap them, decorate, cook, clean, or any other extra activities that may be necessary and put it in your calendar or write a note for yourself,” Nugent says. You can leave post-it notes around the house and check your to-do list each morning to determine what still needs to get done. This will take the ambiguity out of the situation and help you determine what steps you need to take to meet your goals.
Stick to a budget
While the holidays are not about who gifts the most elaborate presents, there is often unspoken pressure to show our loved ones how much we care with our wallets. So, another way to reduce holiday stress is by sticking to a reasonable budget. Remember, no one is going to want you to give them an expensive gift if it keeps you from paying for the essentials like food or housing. A larger price tag does not necessarily make something a better gift so consider making one instead. You can even cook or bake something like your favorite holiday dish. After all, it is the thought that counts, and regardless of what you give, the recipient will appreciate it because it came from you.
Plan ahead of time for a holiday party
If you’re comfortable with making an appearance at your friend’s party, there are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid any potentially risky situations. Bringing a sober buddy can help you feel more at ease if other guests decide to drink. You can also develop an escape plan to leave early in case the situation becomes uncomfortable. Always carry a drink in your hand, whether it’s water or a non-alcoholic beverage, so no one can offer you anything. For more information on safely attending a holiday party, click here.
Reach out to your support system
Filippina Graziano, Recovery Coach at Mountainside, shares that if you’re hosting holidays in your home, don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones for support. Ask guests to bring a meal or help with shopping, cooking, or cleaning.
On the other hand, it’s acceptable to stay home if you’d rather avoid large crowds or putting yourself in a potentially triggering situation. However, it’s not healthy to completely isolate yourself during the holidays either. Doing so can lead to ruminating on negative thoughts and emotions. So, while you might want a quiet night alone to watch your favorite holiday movie or bake a dessert, ensure you keep in touch with your support system too. Call your friends, family, or even the AA and NA national hotlines. You can also make it a point to schedule extra therapy sessions or attend more support groups to work through any thoughts weighing you down.
Find time for self-care
During the holidays, stress is one of the biggest energy zappers. Even when things seem to be going smoothly, there is always the possibility of something going wrong. You can be prepared for unexpected stress by practicing self-care beforehand. The idea is to keep your mental health strong by routinely doing mindful tasks so you can be ready to conquer those tough moments. Listen to a song that makes you feel good or drink something soothing like tea. Engage in more productive activities like exercising or cleaning your home. You can also create a gratitude list to offset the negatives that may come to mind in times of stress.
Nugent also recommends using the helpful acronym STOP in times of high stress. Literally, stop everything you’re doing. Take three deep breaths. Observe what you are feeling and experiencing in a nonjudgmental way. Proceed with mindfulness and self-awareness. This allows us to act out of a place of balance rather than intense emotion or panic and to find a sense of realignment.
Although the holiday season can bring unexpected stressors, there are ways to feel more prepared. By applying the tips above, you can manage the challenging emotions that come with the holiday season and get back to enjoying quality time with loved ones.