We often think of the holidays as a time of joy and relaxation – but for many, they’re also a time of stress and temptation. After all, more than half of all Americans drink during the holidays. There’s an expectation to loosen our belts, take a break from our structured routines, and “eat, drink, and be merry” which can be challenging for those in recovery.
The holidays also add stress: stress from family members making demands on your time (and perhaps your patience), stress over buying the right gift (and the financial stress that generates), stress over packed airports and clogged freeways as you travel to where everyone is meeting. All of these can add additional pressure to cope via substances.
In this article, we’ll talk about holiday stress and lay out some useful tips for staying sober during the holidays.
Why is Sobriety Hard During the Holidays?
Sobriety during the holidays is a challenge for many people, even those not in recovery. Reasons staying sober during the holidays can be difficult include:
- Social pressure — The holiday season often involves parties and gatherings where alcohol is a central part of the festivities. There may be a social expectation to drink, and it can be difficult to resist this pressure.
- Emotional triggers — The holidays can bring up a range of emotions, both positive and negative. For some people, this can trigger cravings for drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Memories and associations — Many people have positive memories associated with holiday celebrations that involve alcohol or drugs. These memories can make it hard to imagine celebrating without them.
- Increased stress — The holidays can be a stressful time for many people, with pressure to meet deadlines, plan events, and buy gifts. Stress can be a trigger for substance abuse, as people look for ways to cope with the pressure.
- Lack of support — During the holiday season, many support groups or treatment programs may have limited availability or be closed altogether, leaving people without access to their usual sources of help.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms — Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with difficult family dynamics or other challenges that arise during the holidays.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder — Many people in the Northern Hemisphere become depressed during the holiday months because of a lack of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD occurs when a person fails to receive enough sunlight, which is linked to many neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of well-being.
Overall, maintaining sobriety during the holiday season can be challenging, but it is possible with the right support, coping strategies, and self-care practices. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, South Coast Behavioral Health can help.
Family and Stress
While Norman Rockwell made his name depicting wholesome scenes of family togetherness over the holidays, the reality is not everyone is close with their family. Even if you generally like your family, it can be stressful feeling you have to accommodate them and make sure they’re happy. It can be draining, and try one’s patience.
More than patience, spending extended time with family during the holidays can cause some to experience stress, anxiety, and depression. For example, a survey done by the American Psychological Association found that 58% of respondents reported that time with family was a leading reason their stress levels went up over the holidays.
- Take part in activities that don’t involve drinking alcohol, such as a sport like ice skating or skiing
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. By doing this, you can keep your emotions under control, reducing the likelihood you will be triggered to drink.
- Try to continue maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine. Routines provide structure and fill out our days, which is especially important for those in recovery.
- If all else fails, go to rehab. Going into treatment is nothing to be ashamed of, especially if the choice is between that and relapsing.
Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
Here are some tips for staying sober over the holidays:
Have a Plan
First and foremost, it’s crucial to have a plan in place. Plan ahead for situations that might trigger you to use or drink, such as family gatherings or holiday parties, avoiding them if necessary. Bring a sober friend or support person with you to events. You can also plan activities that don’t involve drinking, such as ice skating or watching movies.
Establish Healthy Coping Strategies
One important way to stay sober during the holidays is to establish healthy coping strategies in advance. Identify a support network and plan activities that don’t involve drinking or drugs. Talk to a therapist or mentor if necessary, and create an action plan for cravings, difficult situations, and potential relapse triggers.
Practice self-care during the holiday season. Take time to relax and recharge your batteries by taking time alone to practice mindfulness, meditation, or exercise. Additionally, make sure to eat healthily and get enough sleep, as these are crucial aspects of maintaining your overall well-being.
Maintain Your Routine
While relaxation is important, you should also find ways to enjoy the holidays without overindulging or compromising your recovery. That means keeping up a (reasonably) healthy diet and exercise routine, as these things can help keep your body and mind healthy. You should also ensure you continue attending meetings, counseling, or therapy. Don’t get distracted from your recovery.
Go to Rehab
If all else fails and you feel you cannot ensure your sobriety during this time, there’s nothing wrong with going into treatment.
In fact, this could be the ideal opportunity to finally get help, especially if you have been struggling with some substance abuse for some time. Having the courage to enter treatment could be the best gift you give to your family, your friends, and yourself.
South Coast Behavioral Health Can Help
Staying sober during the holidays can be a challenge, but with a plan in place and a commitment to self-care, you can enjoy the holidays without compromising your sobriety. Remember to prioritize your recovery, avoid temptation, and seek help when needed.
If you or a loved one are struggling with staying sober during the holidays, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help: contact us today at 866-881-1184. Our highly-credentialed staff is available day and night, 24/7 to take your call.