The holidays are a complicated time of year. Some find joy in the togetherness of the season, and others find themselves in the middle of family conflict or feeling alone. Because this time of year is so complicated, we want to take the time to acknowledge how difficult it can be to maintain your recovery. The holidays bring higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression for many, and studies have shown that mental health disorders are linked to substance use disorder (National Library of Medicine). In a recent survey it was found that around 94 percent of respondents, people in recovery, reported being moderately to overwhelmingly stressed during the holidays (American Addiction Centers). Knowing this, it’s no surprise that relapse rates increase during the holiday season.
Expecting potential added pressure during the holidays and planning ahead can help you to maintain your recovery. With an increase in events where drinking is present, past friends show up and holiday-induced stress weighs heavy, we’ve prepared some ways for you to stay on track this season. In this post we’ll cover a few ways that you can plan ahead to lower your risk of relapse this season, and some resources to turn to if you’re finding it difficult to maintain recovery.
What Makes the Holidays So Stressful?
The holidays can be stressful for many reasons, some common sources include the following.
- Loss of a loved one
- Family and social pressures
- High expectations
- Dietary concerns
- Loneliness or separation from family members
- Financial limitations
- Changing traditions or loss of traditions
- Change in routines
Knowing these potential triggers, we’ve put together some recommendations to help lower your risk of relapse.
How to Lower the Risk of Relapse
Create a Holiday Season Plan
Maintaining healthy habits with a consistent schedule is an important part of many recovery plans. Knowing that the holiday season shakes up your usual routine, creating a plan specifically for the season can help you stay on track.
Decide ahead of time whether or not you will attend holiday events that you’re invited to. Remember that you can always say no, and you should say no if it compromises your recovery. If you know that your cousin’s gift exchange always leads to drinking late into the night, then it might be a good idea to decline the invitation this year. Being intentional about which events you attend will reduce any stress that comes with last minute planning, and keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
As mentioned earlier, overcommitting to events can overwhelm you this holiday season. To avoid unnecessary stress and triggers, try committing to important events that won’t add pressure to your recovery plan.
Your recovery is number one, and saying no to certain events is always okay to do. Period. Being selective with which events you do attend can also leave more time for your usual routine. Maintaining a sense of normalcy this season will be helpful in keeping your recovery as priority number one.
Maintain Your Routine
Do you usually attend meetings twice a week, every week? That’s great! Don’t give that up this holiday season because you seem short on time. Are you working out every day because it keeps you focused and feeling good in your body? That’s part of your healthy routine, and should be prioritized during the holidays just the same.
Again, you have every right to decline invitations to holiday events. Especially if it means you will be compromising your typical wellness routine.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself this season. While the holidays may bring up negative emotions, stress or feelings of loneliness, have fun where you can this year. Create new traditions if the old ones no longer work. Reach out to new friends in recovery and get a group together for a recovery event. Enjoy the holidays in recovery, they get to be an entirely new and beautiful experience now that you’re in recovery!
Let Yourself Feel How You Do
As we’ve discussed, the holidays can bring up so many emotions. Let yourself feel everything that comes up, and have compassion for yourself and others. It may be uncomfortable to sit with those feelings, but it’s an important part of recovery to acknowledge and accept emotions as they are.
Keep An Open Mind
As difficult as the holidays may be for some, we’re hoping that this guide will help you feel more secure as you approach the season. There is so much joy to be found in recovery, from new friendships and traditions to visiting with family in a healthier way. We’re so excited for you to find new ways to celebrate the holidays, and we’re here to support you as you navigate that.
Looking For More Support Now?
Certified Peer Recovery Specialists (CPRSs) work one-on-one with individuals in recovery to help them maintain their healthy recovery. CPRSs provide a range of services to their clients, and are a great support to lean on in challenging times. Read more about what services our CPRSs offer, or sign up to begin receiving support now! Looking for more resources? Read our list of resources for the holiday season here.
American Addiction Centers. “Holiday Highs and Lows”. American Addiction Centers, February 9, 2022. https://drugabuse.com/featured/holiday-highs-and-lows/. Accessed 8 December 2022.
National Library of Medicine. “Cocaine Addiction: Relationship to Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institutes of Health, 2009. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1342039/. Accessed 8 December 2022.