The holidays are meant to be a time to bring people together, to celebrate, and to give thanks. Yet, for someone struggling with addiction or other mental health complications, it’s not that easy. Holiday mental health can be a very important component of your overall well-being. If you don’t take steps now to protect your mental health and do so throughout the holiday season, you may find yourself simply overwhelmed. For some, this could put recovery in jeopardy.
Know the Risks That the Holidays Bring
One of the first steps to take, whether you’re an individual struggling with addiction or a family member, is knowing what the risks are. The fact is, relapse is a real concern for many because of the constant exposure to triggers. These are instances in which an individual with an addiction is more likely to take a drink or use their drug of choice. A key part of recovery is removing these triggers from day-to-day life. But the holidays bring about some situations when triggers are constant.
Being in early recovery can exacerbate these problems. Statistics indicate that a person who’s within three years of ceasing drug or alcohol use runs the highest risk of relapse. Those more than three years out are less likely to relapse. Still, everyone can benefit from this guide to holidays and mental health.
Know Your Triggers
One of the keys to your success is understanding what your triggers are. What makes you more likely to use again? There are many things that can fall in line here. These are just a few examples.
- The stress of rushing around, baking, buying gifts and trying to find time to see every member of your family (plus a few old friends) in a limited amount of time can add a huge burden for anyone already feeling stressed over the holidays.
- Certain family members may be more likely to trigger feelings you struggle with, and during the holidays, you may be more likely to come in contact with them. If this is a concern, be sure to excuse yourself from activities if they put pressure on you.
- Along the same lines, when families get together, certain topics may come up that aren’t normally discussed around the dinner table. Topics like politics and gossip can create significant sources of stress for anyone who feels like they’re being marginalized or attacked.
- Being around alcohol and drugs is generally discouraged for all individuals. During the holidays, you have less control over this. Again, you may need to leave the room or occupy yourself with those you know can support you.
- Holiday shopping can force people who have issues being around large groups of people to confront those fears head-on.
- The holidays also create situations where you may be alone, tired, angry and hurt. All these feelings are likely to push you to the brink. The key here is to encourage you to obtain routine counseling and, importantly, not to try to hide your feelings during this time.
- In addition to more family being around, the holidays typically mean that other people you may not have seen in a while can be around — maybe you’re shopping for last-minute Christmas dinner supplies and you run into an old ex-partner. You have to be prepared for any situation.
Focus on you. It will always be important to you to focus on what you can do to remove yourself from these high-risk situations. Prioritize your health and well-being foremost.
Maintain Mental Health During the Holidays
There’s a lot to do during the holidays. At any stage of your recovery, you may find yourself immersed in the holidays. You may be decorating a tree. You may be visiting with loved ones more often. For some, it means working longer hours. No matter what’s happening, you simply must work hard to maintain your mental health during the holidays. How do you do this?
Visit Your Team Frequently
Everyone in recovery — at any stage — should have a counseling team to help them. Even if you’re busy, make these appointments. You also want to be sure you’re attending all your group therapy sessions. Go to your meetings. Doing this simple act can open the door for new and exciting opportunities. It allows you to talk about your feelings but also gives you the ability to discuss the stressors you experience this time of the year.
Look for New Support Options If You Need Them
If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one. Even if you’re still seeing your therapist or counselor regularly, you may need additional support at this time when it’s difficult to cope for a variety of reasons.
Look around for additional outlets to supplement your sessions. There are plenty of local support groups that deal with general loneliness, and you even may be able to find a group that brings together people who struggle with the holiday season. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Focus on Your Nutrition
Believe it or not, eating well during the holidays isn’t always easy to do. However, you may know the importance of boosting your health through nutrition. During recovery, your body needs good nutrition in order to thrive. This often means ensuring you’re taking in ample nutrients. Use this time to get your health back in check. You don’t want to eat too many of the wrong foods and find yourself struggling with weight and negative emotions.
Find a Way to Give Back
For many, there’s a sense of guilt during this time period. You may not even want to talk about it, but you feel guilty about the world you left behind. You’re doing good for yourself, but that doesn’t mean others can’t do the same. This may be a good time for you to open your heart to some volunteer work.
Of course, you don’t want to put yourself in the same place you used to be, so avoid the areas, people and experiences where you commonly used your drug of choice. However, you can find a way to give back. Volunteer at a food bank. Donate a few gifts or coats to those in need. Doing some little things like this can not only help others but can also help you feel good about yourself.
Don’t Be Afraid to Put Yourself First
Many people in recovery are fully aware of the stress and anxiety that will come when they face the annual holiday season. Yet they still do it because it’s common to feel that seeing family over the winter holidays is something that a person just “has to deal with.”
While learning to tolerate stressful situations is a virtue, that doesn’t mean you should subject yourself to anything that will present a legitimate health risk to you. Learn to say “no” — if your family or friends truly support you, they’ll understand you’re only doing what’s best for you.
Deal With What Happens When It Happens
A big part of holiday mental health is being aware of what’s happening to you throughout this period. Take note of the following to know when a problem is surfacing:
- Do you find yourself getting anxious and angry? This means something isn’t right.
- Do you find yourself making excuses not to visit certain people or engage in certain activities?
- Do you tell people you hate the holidays?
- Perhaps you simply don’t want to even think about the holidays. Some people focus just on working during this time.
- Do you experience feelings of loneliness and emptiness?
These are all indicators something needs to change. In short, the way you act and feel should give you some indication it’s time to get help. Visit your counselor to find out what the underlying problem is. Sometimes, you may not even know why you’re feeling this way.
Maintaining holiday mental health is never easy. Year after year, you will get stronger. It may not bother you as much when you see this as a time of rebuilding your life and not something to dread. Nevertheless, it’s critical that you work consistently toward renewing your commitment to living a clean life. Allow your professional counselors to help you to continuously achieve this goal through routine visits and treatment.