by Kristin Kaserman, LMFT, REIKI Master, NTS

The holidays can be a time of great stress and great joy. This time of year can be especially difficult for those in recovery from drugs and alcohol, or suffering from depression, anxiety, or grief and loss.

As we move through the holiday season it is beneficial to remember this time of year is a celebration. The celebration begins with a time for being grateful for what we do have, examining our lives and focusing on the positive and meaningful aspects. This is followed by a celebration of life, honoring each day as a gift to be cherished and used. The celebration season ends with New Years and the process of letting go of the past and moving forward into the coming year. Being able to re-frame the season as a positive celebration can offer peace, comfort and increased resiliency through an otherwise stressful time of year.

Here are some holiday survival tips to help make this time of year a happier and sober experience:

Honor your feelings

Your feelings are your own. Recognize in an honest manner what you are truly feeling. Journaling can be an excellent tool to utilize in learning to identify and process your feelings.

Understand your triggers and the fact these can be exacerbated by stress

Triggers can be people places or things. They can be a smell, taste, date or any other stimulus that causes a craving to drink or use. These may also trigger unpleasant feelings such as sadness, anxiety or anger. Knowing your triggers before hand empowers you to plan for them.

Be realistic

Know your limitations. This is not the time to start ‘testing’ your recovery or your threshold for particular people, places or things. This also refers to time management and finances.

Set aside differences

Every family has their own unique dynamics. If you are a part of an unhealthy dynamic, explore your role in this dynamic and let go of the dispute for the holiday season.

Stick to a budget

Finances can be a huge stressor this time of year. This can be a very uncomfortable topic for people to look at. The more honest with yourself in regards to what you can comfortably spend over the holiday season the less stress you will feel. People in your life will be understanding if you weren’t able to spend money on them and instead made them a card filled with thoughtful sentiments.

Take a breather…..literally, deep belly breaths

An easy gauge for deep breathing is placing one hand on your chest and another on your belly, breath in deeply filling your belly, watch your lower hand rise and fall with your breath while your top hand stays steady on your chest. Spending just a couple of minutes breathing deeply everyday can greatly reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.

Have an escape plan

Get togethers can feel overwhelming and having a plan to politely exit early if need be is a reasonable plan. This may be something as simple as driving yourself and parking in such a way you have an easy exit.

Have someone ‘on call’ for additional support

If you are in recovery and have a sponsor let them know when you are going to be in a stressful place and might need them on speed dial. Keeping a close friend or family member on speed dial and calling them if unpleasant feelings become overwhelming. Let your on call support people know ahead of time that you might be utilizing their support so they can understand your needs better.

Avoiding Drinking

Keep tasty non alcoholic beverages in hand, alcohol is a depressant and has been known to lead to faulty decision making
If you have a drink in hand no one will be offering to get you a drink.

Volunteer your time

Giving of yourself is a mutually rewarding experience. There are a lot of great organizations in need of volunteers this time of year. Pick a cause that speaks to you and seek out the opportunity to donate your time.

Come up with a standard response for not drinking/using.

Example: “I am the Designated Driver”

If you have one simple clear statement to easily say no then you will be more likely to stick with it. You do not owe anyone any sort of explanation as to why you aren’t drinking or using so finding a phrase you are comfortable with and practicing it can make the difference in maintaining a sober day.

Pick and Choose Events

Be choosy about the holiday events you attend and avoid people pleasing by not saying yes to events you do not need nor want to go to. Your time is your own. The holidays can be a busy time for many people and most people are understanding if you politely decline an invitation. Feeling confident in yourself and maintaining a healthy self-esteem will make this process easier.

Find new holiday activities that do not revolve around drugs, alcohol or high stress

You are allowed to create new holiday traditions that are happy and healthy for you.

Final Parting Words

Last but not least; take exquisite care of yourself! You are worth it! make sure you are getting plenty of sleep, eat healthy food, regular exercise etc…if you have healthy routines in your life, stick to them.

Have a happy and safe holiday season!