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How To Stay Sane And Sober Despite Holiday Stress

The holiday season can be stressful to pretty much everyone, but especially to people who are in recovery from substance abuse or who struggle with other mental health challenges. Between the drink-laden family dinners, the upset to all normal routine, and unrealistic expectations of having the perfect holiday, it’s easy to see why some people get overwhelmed. 

So perhaps the first thing to understand about holiday doldrums is that you’re far from alone. While this can be hard to lose sight of against a backdrop of compulsory holiday cheer broadcast throughout the mainstream media, 64% of people with mental illness report feeling as if their condition is made worse by the holidays. 

Over half of participants in a National Alliance on Mental Illness survey also reported feelings of dissatisfaction during the holidays due to causes like financial strain, separation from loved ones, too much pressure, and loneliness. 

Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some people may also be dealing with grief over lost loved ones, or other changes that make this year different than years past, including those that may come with recovery. Staying positive through the holiday season may not be an entirely realistic goal for many people, so instead of beating yourself up for feeling sad, anxious, or stressed, you should prepare for these feelings to arise, and take extra precautions that will help you to cope with them when they do. 

First and foremost, you should make extra effort to avoid any personal substance abuse triggers and to stay committed to your healthy habits, like exercise, regular, nutritious meals, and plenty of sleep, which will help keep your mood more steady and willpower higher.

You should also keep up with any addiction or mental health treatment you are currently undergoing and with regular attendance at other supportive activities like twelve step meetings, maybe even adding more to your schedule to help keep your sense of connection to sobriety and the sober community high—no pun intended!

While old rituals may have revolved around champagne toasts and holiday punch, maybe you can develop new, sober rituals on your own or with recovery pals that can give a similar sense of specialness and fun to your season, like baking festive treats, decorating your home, or going holiday sightseeing. 

It can be easy to lose sight of your long term goals in the heat of a stressful moment, or to decide that you can allow for “just one” while forgetting the havoc that “just one” is bound to wreak. So, you can buffer yourself against that temptation by making and sticking to a game plan that allows for any and all contingencies, like arranging check-ins with sober buddies and having a list of “safe” friends to call in case of an emergency. 

In that vein, you should also avoid the temptation to overdo it and push yourself past your limits trying to create the perfect holiday for others or for fear of missing out on social opportunities, and risk throwing yourself off-balance in the process. Instead, try to set and keep to a schedule that allows plenty of time for relaxation, self-care, and reflection—you can always catch up with friends and family in less stressful one-on-one settings rather than a more chaotic holiday milieu. 

Finally, you should also remember that as big of a fuss that some people make over the holidays, in the end, they’re only as important as you make them—so, if you want your Christmas to be just another day, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be! 

If you are religious, you may also find it rewarding to focus on the season’s spiritual underpinnings rather than its cultural consumerist trappings and to delve into ways to express your faith. If you are not, you can still give a sense of meaning to your holiday by focusing on cultivating gratitude for your recovery or for other positive forces in your life, and perhaps on giving back to others as a way of paying this positivity forward and making a practical difference in others’ lives. 

Finally, if you do find yourself struggling to achieve or maintain control over your substance abuse this holiday season, there’s no reason to be ashamed of reaching out to professionals for guidance. To learn more about how Reco Intensive’s top notch intensive outpatient program can help you find or maintain your footing in sobriety, feel free to reach out to our treatment team anytime at (561) 464-6533. There’s no reason to wait when it comes to getting back on the path to a brighter future.

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