How to Handle Holiday Stress in Recovery

November 2, 2020

The holiday season is quickly approaching and the events that occur around this time of year are filled with champagne pops, peppermint schnapps, and a set of social norms that grant heavy drinking not only acceptable, but expected. Even though this holiday season is bound to look different this year, you may be spending more time at home with your family and close friends, which can mean more stress, more triggers, and more obstacles in your recovery. If you are new to addiction recovery or have not yet gone to rehab for substance abuse, the holiday celebrations have an additional layer of stress invisible to family and friends.

So, how do you maintain your addiction recovery while navigating challenging social situations during the holidays? There are plenty of seasoned sobriety-pros who have helpful tips and tricks to stay strong in alcohol addiction recovery. Even if you are the only sober person in the room, you are not alone in your struggles. Thankfully, now more than ever, there are a number of ways to stay connected with your support system who will help you remain sober and safe. Here are a few tangible tips for navigating the holiday season and your own recovery.

1. Keep yourself accountable

For the first gift of the season, give yourself an accountability buddy. That can be a friend, a family member, or a fellow sobriety-seeker. Whether your addiction recovery is a secret or this is the first holiday your family is seeing you sober, dealing with the influences of others can be difficult. Consider going to a Twelve Step meeting before or after a holiday party or calling your accountability partner before and after the event to make sure you stay on track. By having someone to check-in with, you are more likely to stay away from alcohol and other harmful triggers.

If you are not currently seeing a therapist or other mental health professional, this may be a good time to start. You can talk through your concerns surrounding your family and the holidays and they can help you come up with a successful game plan to stay on track. Getting professional help sooner can prevent a detrimental relapse following the holidays when things begin to die down and the novelty of the new year wears off.

2. Know your triggers and how to handle them

If you know your brother-in-law is going to encourage everyone to have a drink, avoid being around them alone. If your aunt is one to ask too many personal questions about rehab and recovery, stay away from her. Be prepared to tell people you don’t want to talk about sobriety right now and have a few questions of your own to get the conversation moving in a new direction. While family will want to catch up and learn about how your life is going, people love talking about themselves, so have a few go-to questions for your loved ones. Take it a step further and make a game out of it: create a list of holiday-themed polls to ask everyone about and tally up the results at the end. That way, everyone can enjoy the festive fun.

3. Bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverages

On that note, bring your own non-alcoholic drinks to sip on and share with your loved ones. There are tons of drink ideas you can find on Pinterests from warm peppermint mochas to fruity kombucha mocktails. If someone else says they will make you a drink, watch to ensure there’s no added alcohol. Keep some kind of non-alcoholic drink in your hands at all times to avoid that uncomfortable question of “do you need another drink?”.

4. Prepare a list of things you can do with family that doesn’t include alcohol

Not every holiday event needs to revolve around alcohol. There are plenty of festive activities to get the whole family involved in like: creating a holiday-themed photo booth, holding a gingerbread house contest, decorating cookies and baking treats, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or hosting a movie marathon. These activities are also perfect for children, so if you and your immediate family decide to throw your own socially-distant holiday party, keep these ideas at the top of your list.

5. Refine your self care practices

A lot of us tend to over-schedule ourselves around the holidays. Even if this year’s calendar includes less traveling and less social engagements, make sure you don’t put too much on your plate. It’s easy to get swept up in online gift shopping, lengthy Zoom-dinners, and trying to make this year’s celebrations just right. Plan a few enjoyable self care activities to do throughout the week like reading a new book or watching your favorite movie. Continue to eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, and move your body too, these simple acts of self care can have the biggest impact on your mental health and recovery.

6. Have an exit strategy

If all else fails and you need to prioritize your recovery by leaving a gathering early, don’t be hard on yourself. Your recovery is allowed to come first. Make sure you’re able to leave someplace quickly if you need to; whether that means someone comes to pick you up, you drive yourself, or you call for an Uber. Don’t stick around a toxic environment if it’s jeopardizing your own wellbeing.

7. Consider seeking a higher level of care 

While some people might want to push off their recovery until after the holidays, it’s important not to wait. Substance abuse tends to increase during the holidays because of the extra stress and chaos. One of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your family is your own recovery. Know that you have options: outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential inpatient, and detox provide you with group and individual therapy, access to medication, a team of doctors, and a community of others going through the same thing. Reach out to us at Buena Vista Health and Recovery Centers to talk with a treatment specialist now about beginning treatment and start off the new year with a brand new outlook.