With the arrival of the holiday season, it’s important to plan ahead in order to avoid any triggers or situations that could jeopardize recovery. For most folks in recovery, this time of year is a mixture of both fun and anxiety.
If you’re finding yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we have a few suggestions to help you plan and enjoy the festivities.
Why is the holiday season a recovery landmine?
What is it about holiday festivities that can interfere with someone’s recovery? You would think that with all that holiday cheer — at the office, your local stores and your own family gatherings — your sobriety would be untested but, unfortunately, that is not the case. The holiday season is rife with triggers.
We are practically programmed to celebrate the holidays in a big way, and during our adult years, that usually means consuming substances. Now that you are in recovery, you need to find new ways of enjoying the holidays. While that sounds simple, the truth is that it is hard to establish new habits during the holiday season.
Try as you might to avoid them, there are unexpected triggers that can cause you to relapse. These can be emotional triggers, stress triggers, substance exposure triggers, expectation triggers and depression triggers, just to name a few.
5 triggers to watch out for during the holidays
It helps to have an awareness of what your triggers look like well in advance of attending social events during the holidays. If you’re unsure of what these could be, consider these scenarios:
- Stress overload: The holiday season can be very busy and stressful. When it comes to protecting your recovery, you must learn how to recognize when you are stressed and how to actively manage it. Some helpful relaxation techniques to try this holiday season are deep breathing exercises, therapeutic massage, practicing mindfulness or taking some yoga classes.
- Exposure to substances: Even if you have stayed on your recovery journey while in the presence of alcohol or drugs, that can change on a when also surrounded by holiday cheer. The desire to join in on the merriment can quickly overwhelm even the most committed person. Either avoid those parties where substances will be present, or plan a quick exit in advance should you feel triggered.
- Your mental health: If you are struggling with a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety disorder, the symptoms are likely to escalate during the holidays. This makes someone in recovery much more vulnerable to relapse, as it may be tempting to use a substance to get you through the season. Take extra care of your mental health during the holidays.
- Expectations of others: Your family and friends may have a minimal understanding of how delicate sobriety is during the early months of recovery. They may have unrealistic expectations of you and assume you are strong enough to attend their parties as you always have. If you feel the need to skip some festivities this year, just communicate that to them versus being manipulated into going.
- Emotions: The holiday months can be highly sentimental, provoking powerful emotions. You may recall sharing the holidays in a past relationship and mourn its loss, or you might feel grief when remembering a lost loved one. If you find yourself struggling emotionally, plan to meet up with your therapist each week during the holiday season to stay on top of problems before they progress.
Remaining on the alert for these holiday triggers is half the battle. To further reinforce sobriety during this time of year, be sure to tend to your recovery needs. Practice self-care, attend some extra meetings and stay in touch with your support system.
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.