The holiday seasons can be filled with feelings of exuberance and joy. Families gathering together to share a meal, share company and share in rich family traditions. Hallmark movie-esque images of snow-covered Christmas trees, fireplaces, and finely decorated homes in full celebration of the holiday festivities float in the heads of many.
The impending New Year brings hope and encouragement for a better tomorrow while a chance to reflect on the things to be grateful for from the past year. For many, the holidays represent a season of hope and happiness.
Unfortunately, for many Americans, the holiday season does not bring such joyous images and memories. For some, holiday get-togethers become stark reminders of those loved ones who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend. While in some cases, family get-togethers are wished to be avoided because of unresolved family trauma or resentments.
The Holidays Can Be A Trigger
Depending on how one chooses to look at things, the holidays can be a greater reminder of what a person does not have as opposed to what they do. The pressure to live up to self or culturally imposed expectations of what the holiday seasons are supposed to be can often lead to difficult emotions such as hurt, depression and anxiety which result in the use of unhelpful coping mechanisms such as over-spending, over-eating or drug and alcohol abuse.
In order to combat the “Holiday Blues” exercise new coping mechanisms to manage stress and avoid relapse. The following are a few suggestions on how to change thinking and managing stress during these holiday times.
Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues and Beyond
As stated earlier the holidays, with all their traditions, can be a reminder of those not currently with us. The traditions of the holidays conjure up resentments and comparisons and often leaves us dwelling on the past or the future. While many utilize coping mechanisms to deny these feelings, it is vitally important to recognize and validate these emotions. These emotions are real, and you have every right to feel and experience them.
Start New Traditions
You also have the right to advocate for yourself. If the current traditions are too painful, start new ones. You do not have to attend every holiday gathering, if it is too much you can say no, and it will be ok. Surround yourself with people, or animals, who are positive and supportive.
In all that you do, choose yourself. Make sure that you are ok. While this is very different and radical thinking for most, it is the necessary step to change unhealthy behaviors into healthy behaviors.
Visualize the Positive
During the holidays we will more than likely experience some stressful people. These types of people can instantly raise anger and stress. Changing the way we see the person and the situation can be very helpful in these situations.
Rest the Body
Take care of yourself and monitor your body responses. The holiday season, with all its hustle and bustle, can be very overstimulating. It is important to keep your body regulated. Blue, violet, or indigo light creates calming sensations. And, candles that produce earthy smells, such as lavender or pine, produce calming effects.
Stimulate the Senses
Stimulate the five standard senses as well as your additional senses of vestibular and proprioception. Light rocking in a rocking chair by the fire will soothe your vestibular sense, while the deep pressure of a weighted blanket calms your proprioception. While the holidays with all the lights and pageantry can bombard the senses, one can learn how to use those same senses and elements to create a soothing environment.
Stick to a Budget
Stress comes in all forms. The holidays are often more than a time to exchange embraces and hugs. People expect gifts. And, while giving gifts grants us that magical feeling, the reality is that there’s only so much money we can spend. The holidays and gift giving can become an ironic symbol of upcoming debt and lingering stress. But, not if you stick to a budget.
The notion of seeking help gets stigmatized, even for those who formerly sought it. There’s no harm (or shame) in seeking help. On the contrary, a lot of harm, guilt, depression, or worse can come from remaining inactive. Seek help. That could look like telephoning a friend or former counselor, considering a return to rehabilitation, or taking a few moments to survey your feelings and ensuring you make the best decisions for your health in moving forward.
Relapse Prevention is Lifelong
The holidays can be tough, but they do not have to be. Creating environments that invoke positivity and comfort can help keep one calm through the stress of the season. Creating new memories and traditions can help manage the grief that comes from no longer being able to perform traditions of old.
Wellness is a lifelong journey, regardless of past trials and triumphs. While the holidays signal joy, this time of season can create triggers for some. Continue to celebrate wellness and introduce healthy habits in the upcoming year. Celebrate a whole body approach toward wellness and seeking treatment.
Having been on both sides of active addition, both the person using, and the person affected by a loved one using drugs and alcohol, Lucas has been involved in recovery since 2009. He has been working in the treatment industry since 2013. Using his personal experience and wealth of knowledge learned from professional development and immersion in the recovery field, he has spoken with thousands of families and helped hundreds of people attain long-term sobriety. In 2020, the opportunity presented to join in and start Illuminate Recovery. Understanding the importance of personalized treatment plans and the complex nature between substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, has helped Illuminate Recovery build a strong curriculum and a phenomenal staff. Illuminate Recovery now has a medical doctor who is board certified in addiction medicine and a psychiatric medical doctor who works side by side with independently licensed therapists to provide compassionate and effective treatment.