Handling the Holidays While in Recovery

illustration of dark sky and Santa Claus and reindeer flying across a full moon - holidays and recovery

The festive holiday season is often filled with work parties, gatherings with family and friends, themed activities, and other events. We celebrate certain traditions, cook or bake specialty foods, and enjoy customs that only happen once a year.

The Holidays: Not Just Jolly

As happy as these times often are, they might also be gateways to stress, disappointment, and concern.

It’s not unusual to seem overwhelmed while in a rush to get everything done.

Sometimes, assumptions of how things should look or be are dashed due to lack of time or finances. Frequently, family interactions can be fraught with certain expectations as well or worse, conflict.

For a variety of reasons, many people have difficulty handling the holidays—and not just people in recovery. This is important to remember if you believe something’s wrong because you think or feel the way you do. Emotions, such as depression and anxiety, are so common during winter festivities, several health organizations have provided suggestions for coping with the season.

For example, here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Reduce the rush by creating a plan. Schedule visits, shopping, and other holiday-related activities to avoid last-minute hassles.
  • Stick with your healthy living routine. This includes plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and whole food meals.
  • Make a budget and stick to it. A frequent stress trigger is money. Think about what other types of gift giving have value so you don’t overspend.
  • Manage expectations carefully. Whether it’s engaging with family members or determining how much time or money should be spent, set realistic goals.
  • Give yourself a break. Remember how self-care is vital to your wellbeing, so plan for some quiet time to take a breath and refresh yourself.
  • Stay connected. Whether you’re active in a local church or charity, or have some other type of support network or professional care team, keep in touch and reach out if you need help.

The Cleveland Clinic offers additional suggestions for handling the holidays, such as:

  • Be honest about feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anger. Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t automatically mean everything is merry and bright. There are no “shoulds.” Talk with someone you trust about these emotions and the best way to manage them.
  • Accept any disappointments. If you’ve recently completed a rehabilitation program, it’s easy to get the blues as you reflect on all that happened prior to treatment. Spend time with caring individuals who understand what you’re going through so you can move forward.
  • Remember not to over-schedule yourself. This is your holiday time, too. If you spend too much time trying to plan activities to please other people, you might drain your energy. Do what’s important to you and be open about your commitments. A brief but thoughtful card or phone call might be a better use of time than stretching yourself too thin.

Acknowledge Triggers and Be Prepared

Even if you’re not one who makes a detailed list and checks all boxes one-by-one, it’s important to plan ahead for the holidays. This time of year often triggers a number of people, including those who aren’t in recovery. Unresolved family issues, past hurts, isolation, financial concerns, and high expectations of having the “perfect” holiday season all put a strain on even the most resilient people.

If you’re sober and plan to stay that way, use this time to come to terms with some of the things that may lead to relapse. Devise strategies to stay on course, such as:

  • Keep away from the places and circumstances that and even people who don’t reinforce your sobriety. There’s no reason to be in a potentially compromising situation.
  • Talk to a party host ahead of time about how you can stay active during the festivities such as taking pictures, keeping score during games, or helping to clean up. This way, you’re a valuable part of the activities without worrying about what people may think or ask when you’re not drinking or using.
  • Feel free to leave if a situation threatens how you feel. You might need to tell someone ahead of time that you’ll only stay for a short while. Once you reach that benchmark, you can gauge how you feel and decide if you should stay or go.
  • Reach out to your support team. Once again, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. Rely on your network to help you work through whatever makes you feel uncomfortable.

Make Time for Gratitude

No matter what you’ve been through, use this time of year to identify what you’re truly grateful for, and why it matters. This is one of the best methods to avoid relapse. Psychotherapist Amy Morin writes in Psychology Today that there are seven scientifically-proven benefits gratitude provides:

  • Fosters new relationships when demonstrated through appreciation
  • Improved physical health through fewer aches and pains and a stronger focus on wellness
  • Enhanced mental health by reducing depression and increasing happiness
  • Improved empathy for and sensitivity toward others
  • Better sleep, especially if an acknowledgement of gratefulness happens before bedtime
  • Increased self-esteem and less social comparisons
  • Lessened trauma and an increased ability to ward off stress

Simply creating moments to focus on what you have and what you’ve accomplished helps reinforce true meaning during the upcoming festivities.

Relapse Prevention at Cottonwood Tucson

The behavioral health clinicians at Cottonwood Tucson establish individual relapse prevention plans to help each resident work through potentially challenging emotions and situations. Learn more about what may work for you.

By Tracey L. Kelley

For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, AZ mental health and addiction treatment center, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.



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