The holidays are supposed to be a cheerful time to spend with family and friends, but for those struggling with addiction, holidays in recovery can bring unwanted emotions and memories. Combined with the high stress, high expectations and commitment, those in recovery can feel overwhelmed with dread and despair.
If you’re in recovery and feeling the holiday sadness settle in, it’s important to prepare yourself so you can avoid relapse and restarting the cycle of addiction. For anyone having difficulty with the holidays approaching, here are a few tips for managing the holidays and recovery.
Recognizing Holiday Triggers and Stressors
It’s not uncommon to feel anxiety and stress during the holidays, and being in addiction recovery can compound these emotions. Approximately 64% of adults with a history of mental illness report higher levels of stress and symptoms around the holiday season.
Recognizing triggers and stressors is one of the best ways to cope with depression and sadness. These stressors may include financial issues, hectic work schedules, strained relationships with family and loneliness.
To alleviate the pressure, plan on how much money you can spend and stick to your budget. Avoid family and friends who may trigger negative emotions, and create a relaxing space to retreat to when you need it. By preparing in advance and expecting these issues, you can make them easier to manage.
Coping Strategies for Managing Emotions
Although the holidays are a time to think about others, you shouldn’t overdo it. Take time daily to sort out your thoughts and relieve some anxiety. Think about things you’re thankful for and the holiday stress will seem minimal in comparison.
If meditation helps manage your stress, be sure to put a few moments aside each day to give your mind some quiet time. You can also journal about events happening during the day or take time out to exercise. A short walk can release endorphins and increase feelings of pleasure and happiness.
Moderate Your Diet
To prevent sadness related to brand-new love handles, try to eat in moderation. A diet high in sugars will cause you to crash, amplifying upset feelings or other mood swings. Remember to get some exercise in so that your endorphin levels remain high and your moods are more easily manageable. You can also fight exhaustion with the right amount of sleep, which is vital for mood regulation and can help with unexpected feelings of sadness.
Seeking Support From Loved Ones and Professionals
If you know you’re going to have to manage holidays and recovery alone, it’s important to be prepared. It’s good to know if you’ll be alone in advance because you can plan meetings with nonfamily members who support your recovery and sobriety. Reach out to sponsors, treatment peers and friends who’d spend some time away from their families to help you during the holidays so you won’t have to go through every moment alone.
Celebrating Holidays in Recovery
Those in recovery experiencing the sadness holidays can bring often feel that way because it’s the first holiday season they’ll be spending without the comfort of drugs or alcohol. It’s hard to walk away from tradition, even if that tradition is rooted in drug and alcohol use.
Just because you can no longer celebrate the holidays with your drug of choice doesn’t mean the time is wasted. Find new ways to celebrate the holidays, like attending events you wouldn’t have if you weren’t sober, planning holiday gatherings or going to recovery meetings to spend time with your peers.
The holidays are a great time to refresh yourself on your recovery goals. Determine what you’d like to accomplish in the year with your recovery goals in mind. Additionally, if you know those feelings of sadness can occur, plan to attend 12-step meetings so you can focus on recovery during the holiday season.
Let Go of the Past
Holding past resentments can prove deadly, as they’re the cause of a number of relapses annually. The holiday season is a great way to release the feelings that are holding you and your recovery back.
The holidays are also a great time to focus on your spirituality. Even if you aren’t a religious person, work to understand your spiritual connection during this magical time of year. Once you can identify with a higher power, you’ll find that sobriety will come easier for you, especially during the holidays.
Embracing Positive and Sober Holiday Traditions
It can be difficult to celebrate without being tempted to drink. You may choose to isolate yourself from celebrations to avoid the temptation, but that can lead to increased feelings of sadness and loneliness.
To prevent unwanted drinking, always make your own drinks and carry one around at all times. If you always have a drink in your hand, no one will ever assume you need another. Additionally, if you’re going to a party where you know there’ll be drinking, connect with a peer who can stay sober with you. That way, you can benefit from helpful monitoring and motivation from a friend as you celebrate the holidays.
If you’re planning a party of your own, choose to serve nonalcoholic drinks. Schedule fun activities such as board games, watching a holiday classic or shopping together. Include family and friends in the planning and remember, you don’t need alcohol to have a good time.
How to Seek Help
The most important thing to remember about holiday sadness is that it’s okay to seek help. If you find yourself concerned about a possible relapse, talk to your therapist, doctor or social worker about recovery during the holidays.
Sometimes all it takes is professional support to get you on the right track. Contact FHE Health to connect with a care team today.