As fun and joyous as the holidays may be, they can also be tough. The sometimes counterintuitive stress of attending and hosting social gatherings, seeing family, and mandated celebrating can be tiring and—for many—emotionally taxing. This is especially true for those in recovery, as the intense focus on family, friends, and over-scheduled socializing can rouse emotional and environmental triggers of their addiction or mental health issues. Here, we present three tips for a stress-free, sober holiday that will help you navigate through the entire holiday season.
In addition to the stress-relieving techniques that work for you in your day-to-day routine, like exercise or meditation (which may be interrupted by your holiday plans), here’s some food for thought:
Don’t set up unrealistic expectations. Nothing’s perfect or exactly what you expect it to be. If your family flagrantly goes through multiple bottles of wine at Thanksgiving or plays the same Christmas album year after year, chances are they will do those things again. After all, the holiday season is a time of tradition and revelry! Expect it, and prepare for it if possible. Bring yourself a bottle of sparking apple cider so you don’t feel left out or buy a new Christmas album with a sound you like as a stocking stuffer. It’s okay to feel annoyed, but if you can avoid that by being proactive or simply “brushing off” these little things, you should. Why set yourself up for disappointment? Also, if you host a gathering this year, expect things to go wrong… and be okay with it. No matter how much micromanaging and planning you put into a party, the dog could still knock over the biscuit basket when you turn around, and there will probably be some bickering or argument among your guests (especially if you’re serving alcohol). Remember, these things are not a reflection on you, and you can’t control them. They are just things that happen, aka “Life.”
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE “COMPETITION”
A lot of times when we get together with family and friends, it feels like everyone’s trying to one up each other. “Our little Michael is on the honor roll again.” “Yes, I lost 15 pounds in a month, can you believe it?” “Have you seen the new car yet? Come take a look.” Being an individual in recovery, the monotonous highlights of others’ lives can be especially exhausting, but it’s important to remember that they are just that: highlights. Not to mention, no one really cares about a second grader’s report card, right? Recognize the absurdity of people’s image crafting and instead of letting it get you down, laugh instead, because if it is a competition, it doesn’t matter how much your friend made in returns last quarter or how many dates your brother’s had in the last month—the happiest person always wins.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
It’s important to remember to take care of yourself during this time of giving and gathering. There are a number of simple ways to combat stress that can help you this holiday season, and the rest of the year in general. If you’re attending an event and you can bring guests, invite a trusted friend or buddy in recovery for support. You can also make “appearances,” instead of staying from start to finish. No one will be counting the minutes you’re there, so if you show up a few minutes late or leave early, few, if any, people will even notice (and if they do it shouldn’t be a big deal). There’s also the matter of calories, which add up quickly during the holidays. You’ll see people skip meals in anticipation of having larger portions, multiple desserts, and more drinks, but the truth is our bodies don’t work that way. Skipping meals significantly slows down metabolism, and binging (no matter what time of day or the quality of food you’re eating) is always unhealthy. Instead, opt for smaller portions and stick with one dessert per day. It’s okay to splurge a bit, but if you’re really concerned about potential weight gain, go ahead and say no to a second helping of au gratin potatoes. And if you can’t say no, make sure you get your exercise in the next day. Exercise on its own is a stress reliever, not to mention a great way to get a minute alone.
With all the hubbub during the holidays, try your best to find some time to be by yourself to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Exercise is an easy way to do that, but you can also read a chapter in a book, take a cat-nap, or find a few minutes to reflect on your day before bed. It’s important to carve out some healthy “me” time! Sometimes this can feel impossible with all the errands, cooking, cleaning, and social events, but even if all it means is lighting a candle and sitting in a room by yourself for a few minutes, you’ll feel better for it, and be glad you did.