If you’re in recovery from addiction, you might be approaching the holidays with apprehension instead of excitement. Although this time of year is normally full of joy and celebration, all the hustle and bustle can come with a host of possible triggers for cravings and relapse. But we’re here to reassure you that you can have a happy holiday season, even while managing your mental health and addiction — all it takes is a little planning, the right mindset and the willingness to put your wellness first. As we enter the holiday season, here are our top twelve tips for staying substance-free into the new year and beyond.
1. Make a strategy
Make a point to sit down — perhaps with your journal, your sponsor, your counselor or a loved one — and spend some dedicated time thinking about the upcoming weeks. Unpack the feelings that you’re having: what, specifically, are you worried, sad or anxious about? Make a list of everything that’s on your mind. Then, you can go through this list and come up with some ideas of how to address each of your holiday stressors as they arise. Having a plan can help you feel prepared and in control, instead of letting your worries compound on one another without a solution in place.
2. Take time to attend support group meetings
Regular meeting attendance is proven to help maintain long-term sobriety. If you already attend a support group in your area, you shouldn’t break that routine in favor of holiday events. If you don’t regularly go to meetings, you may want to consider starting. The extra support around this time of year could be very beneficial. Remember, too, that support group meetings exist nationwide — even if you are traveling for the holidays, you should be able to find a 12 Step or similar group wherever you are staying.
3. Don’t overextend
Feeling exhausted or stressed can lower your mental strength and make you more vulnerable to cravings and relapse. The holidays are always an unusually busy time of year, and it’s easy to fill your calendar to the brim. Our natural human tendency to say “yes” to please others can quickly lead to an overwhelming amount of social engagements — but in recovery, it’s more important to put your own mental health first. Make sure you’re aware of how full your schedule is getting, and don’t be afraid to turn down invitations or rearrange commitments if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
4. Say no to overindulgence
Keeping yourself physically healthy is a key piece of long-term recovery. Feeling good about your health and your body goes a long way toward maintaining your motivation to stay in good shape — which includes avoiding drinking and drugs. But the holidays are notorious for interfering with even the most dedicated nutrition plans. There are sweets and treats everywhere, and they can be difficult to resist. Sticking firmly to healthy choices is a great way to stay on track with your recovery as a whole, and to keep yourself feeling healthy and confident throughout the season.
5. Bring your own beverages
Alcoholic drinks can seem to be everywhere around the holidays. Not only are many customary holiday beverages frequently mixed with alcohol, but celebrations often include alcohol to begin with. You can, however, participate in these traditions without the alcohol. All of these drinks come in non-alcoholic forms or can be replaced with healthier choices — eggnog and cider are delicious without being spiked, and sparkling cider or seltzer water make great celebratory replacements for champagne. Consider bringing your own beverages with you to parties where you think there will be an expectation to partake.
6. Focus on others
The holidays can be difficult for other people, too, and it’s easy to find opportunities to give your time to help others at this time of year. From volunteering at a soup kitchen to helping wrap donated toys at community gift drives, charitable activities are a rewarding and sober way to spend your time while celebrating the true spirit of the season. Putting others first can help take your mind off of your own worries, and change your perspective to a more positive outlook.
7. Don’t assume others are judging you
When you enter a group situation feeling worried about how others will perceive you, you set a negative tone right from the start. You will act more defensively and be less likely to enjoy yourself, and you will only end up stressing yourself out or feeling angry. It’s important to remember that, around the holidays, most of the people you’ll see are your loved ones. These people care deeply about you and your well-being, and they will be excited to see you looking healthy and happy.
8. Practice stressful conversations ahead of time
With all the people you’ll be interacting with over the next month, it’s likely that at some point, someone will bring up a topic that you’re not comfortable discussing. This person may not realize what they are doing, and their questions could be coming from a well-meaning place, but it might still make you feel panicked or defensive. If you know there are some conversations that you don’t want to have, think of responses ahead of time so you aren’t caught unprepared. A topic change or a short, final response will usually be more than enough. You can also always simply excuse yourself from the conversation if you are uncomfortable.
9. Use mindfulness to evaluate your state of mind
Mindfulness is a tool taught by many modern recovery programs because it encourages healthy thought patterns and self-awareness. It’s particularly useful as you enter potentially stressful situations because you can teach yourself to react calmly instead of letting your impulses take over. Whenever you start to feel as though your emotions are becoming overwhelming, take a mental step back and examine why you feel that way. Thinking logically about your reactions can be helpful in making sure you don’t make decisions you’ll regret later.
10. Identify and avoid big holiday triggers
Sometimes in recovery, it’s better to avoid your fears rather than face them head-on. While it’s important to address them and work through them eventually, in times of heightened stress — like the holidays — we can only handle so many things at once. If you know there are situations that aren’t good for you and you’ve already got a full plate, it’s okay to stay away from certain people or places.
11. Use the buddy system
Enlisting the help of a trusted friend or family member can be a great idea to ensure you have built-in support at all of the events you’ll be attending. We are not suggesting a caretaker who hovers to make sure you don’t make poor decisions, but rather someone who is there to help distract you from other pressures or to help you get away from stressful situations. If you need to leave a conversation — or a party altogether — this person can be there to ease the tension and make sure you aren’t alone.
12. Be proud of your progress, not ashamed of your past
Most of all, you should feel able to enter the holiday season with your head held high. You have worked very hard to get to where you are, and simply having the ability to be with your loved ones over the holidays may be a huge step forward for you in your journey with addiction and recovery. No matter what anyone says or how they make you feel, you are stronger than your addiction.
If you or someone close to you is worried about getting through the holidays in recovery, you may want to consider professional assistance. Enlightened Solutions offers flexible outpatient programming and relapse prevention support in the New Jersey area that can help with the stresses that the holiday season might bring. We want you to feel able to fully enjoy the holidays without fear of relapse, and we are here to help. Call us at 833-801-LIVE to learn more.