No one will argue that the holiday season can be quite stressful. The hectic pace, packed social calendar and crowded stores can really take a toll on your mental health. One way to help keep stress under control is maintaining a grateful attitude whenever possible. Unsure of how to use gratitude to deal with holiday stress? Let’s start with some common sources of holiday anxieties .
Sources of holiday stress in recovery
No one can entirely escape stress during the holidays. Along with the sparkling lights and shiny packages comes lots of pressure to keep up with the added tasks of the season. These often don’t have to have anything to do with shopping, wrapping or decorating. Consider these holiday stressors:
- Additional family gatherings: For someone in recovery, these family events can add to the stress of the season.
- Navigating triggers: Attending work parties or gatherings with friends can expose you to substances.
- Financial burden: Extra holiday-related expenses can cause financial stress.
How gratitude is good for you
The concept of gratitude refers to the state of feeling thankful and appreciative for the things in your life that are meaningful to you. Did you know that gratitude as an actual stress reducer has been scientifically demonstrated?
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal “Psychiatry” found that overall well-being scores on various assessments were much higher in participants who expressed gratitude versus those who were neutral.
Another study reviewed the effect of a grateful attitude on physical and mental health wellness. It found that stress hormones were 23% lower in those with a mindset of gratitude. According to Robert A. Emmons, a leading expert in the science of gratitude, “Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”
4 tips to increase gratitude and reduce holiday stress
Acknowledging the positive effects of gratitude, on both our mental and physical health, let’s now explore some ways we can increase gratitude and reduce holiday stress:
- Follow negative thoughts with positive ones: Instead of viewing the stress of the holidays through a negative lens, such as hating the idea of travel at this time of year, find something positive about it. So, something like, “Ugh! I hate going to airports during the holidays, but I must admit that it’s a great time to catch up on some reading.”
- Practice saying thank you: Expressing gratitude is like practicing any skill — it takes time to become good at it. The holidays are a great time to practice this skill — find opportunities to give thanks when someone does something kind or thoughtful. Look them in the eyes when you thank them, or write them a thank you note. If you are a spiritual person, thank your Higher Power for the gift of this person in your life.
- Practice mindfulness: This form of meditation can be done at any time of the day — it involves focusing on the present moment while taking in all five senses. When you practice mindfulness, you find yourself with a heightened awareness of the beauty of the season that is all around you, so it is easy to cultivate a grateful heart.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Sitting down and reflecting on the day can help you notice all the positive things happening around you. Maybe it was the powerful testimony of the newcomer at Alcoholics Anonymous that day or the boat parade complete with Christmas lights and Santa Claus that you’d attended with your kids that evening. Jot them down in your journal to memorialize these blessings.
The holiday season is fleeting and will be over before you know it. Why not embrace the good and minimize the not-so-good aspects of the season by focusing on gratitude?
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.