Whether you’re newly sober or in long-term recovery, the holiday season can be both full of joy and full of stress. It’s easy to be boxed in by lofty expectations, even with the best intentions. If you use a 12-Step program as one of your sobriety wellness tools, it’s easier to understand why even the holidays should be framed with a “one day at a time” attitude.
The Importance of Managing Expectations
Any one of us can fall into “this will fix everything!” thinking when the holiday season approaches. If we could only have the perfect meal, the most decorated home, the best gatherings, or the top zazzy gift, all negativity will dissolve.
The holidays can certainly soften the harsh edges of the world for a time. However, stretching our boundaries and exceeding the stress line compromises wellness—and not just for people in recovery. The American Psychological Association shared a study that details just how stressful the holidays can be when we try to do too much. WebMD also points out that lowered immunity, unhappy memories, pressure to provide, and toxic relatives are some of the contributing factors to experiencing holiday stress. When you develop awareness of how certain expectations contribute to a stressful state, you can then rely on trusted coping skills learned in treatment to make a plan that’s right for you.
On the other end of the spectrum is loneliness. When faced with Hallmark-like scenes of happy holiday families, it’s challenging to accept that some people simply won’t experience a particular type of togetherness. Fortunately, there’s no need to force yourself into trying to recreate a stereotypical situation when you have other options.
A Sober Holiday Season: Plan, But Be Flexible
To enjoy a sober holiday season often requires forethought and planning. These practices are essential to help avoid triggers, handle the rush of activity and busyness, and find joy in simplicity.
Plan ahead to avoid triggers
You understand from your treatment education and therapy that triggers can pop up without warning. But depending on how much of a deep dive you’ve taken into your psyche, your triggers are probably not mysteries.
- If you know a certain relative will attempt to step on your last nerve at a holiday gathering, accept the feelings that come with this and practice calming techniques in preparation so you don’t react.
- When you want to accept a holiday party invitation, talk to the host ahead of time. You can discuss whatever might be an issue for you or make you anxious, such as standing around making small talk, feeling you have to stay no matter how you feel, or having nothing to do while other people consume alcoholic libations. A friend or family member who respects your sober choices will take time to work out some options that allow you to feel comfortable and enjoy the occasion.
- Create a chain of support within your 12-Step group with people you can turn to via a text, call, or visit if you’re feeling pressure. And remember: your outreach might be a valuable connection for someone else, too.
Structure helps manage the flurry of holiday activity
It’s easy to become swept up in the hoopla, but a lack of structure isn’t always the best scenario for someone in recovery. Your essential routines and rituals are even more important now.
- Reinforce your dedication to the wellness habits you’ve embraced in recovery, such as proper nutrition, proper sleep, and exercise. This foundation allows you to feel more centered when the lists and schedule become full.
- There’s no need to crush everything into a six-week window. Scheduling a coffee date with friends after the first of the year or arranging a gift-opening session outside of the usual big days might be better options. WebMD has other “just say no” tips.
- In addition to establishing physical boundaries on time and commitments, recognize the importance of your emotional boundaries, too. For example, you have total control of the narrative when choosing to discuss your recovery with friends and relatives.
Enjoy moments of peace and simplicity
If you want to have the most Griswoldian house on the block and it brings you great joy to create it, go for it! But in keeping with a “one day at a time” philosophy, it’s often the more subtle moments that help you make the most of the holiday season.
- Make time to create small, purposeful actions instead of grand resolutions. This is another way to manage expectations effectively and build various levels of achievement.
- Think about other ways to make the seasons bright by exploring what the holidays mean to you now and how they reflect your deliberate choices for sobriety and wellness.
- Recognize the importance of gratitude, forgiveness, and soulful service. These might be the greatest gifts you give to yourself and others. The Greater Good Magazine offers some interesting mind-body concepts for cultivating these elements.
We Are Here to Help
Handling the holidays during recovery doesn’t have to be stressful. We hope our extension of information and goodwill helps you enjoy the weeks ahead in ways most meaningful to you. If you’d like to reach out or are a former resident in need of extra support, please look for us on Facebook or download our CaredFor App.