The holidays are known as a joyful time, but they’re often stressful as well. The entire family is gathered under one roof, there’s financial pressure to buy gifts, and people sometimes have unrealistically high expectations, which often go unmet.
For those in recovery, holiday stress is especially challenging. Stress is a major relapse trigger, as many addicts turn to drugs or alcohol when feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Luckily, it’s possible to manage holiday stress while maintaining your sobriety. Try the following tips to relieve holiday stress—without drugs and alcohol.
Getting organized is one of the most effective ways to manage stress. Plan ahead, make lists, and prioritize.
For instance, make a list of each person you’ll need to purchase a gift for, and brainstorm what you would like to buy them. You can make this process even less stressful by simply asking each person on your list what they want. As you purchase gifts, be sure to check off the items on your list to keep track.
If you’ll be cooking for the holidays, buy all ingredients beforehand. Make a grocery list and double check it to avoid any last-minute panic. Depending on what you’re cooking, you may be able to prepare the food ahead of time and freeze it. If you know that cooking is going to trigger your stress, you can even buy store-bought items.
Think about what makes the holidays particularly stressful for you, and plan ahead to ease this stress as much as possible.
Remember that you don’t have to say “yes” to every request or invitation. In particular, you may be invited to parties where you know alcohol or drugs will be the focus. These invitations may cause you anxiety, as you wonder how well you will manage triggers at the party. Instead of stressing, simply say no. It’s not rude to turn down invitations in order to preserve your own well-being.
If you’re asked to host a dinner, prepare a complicated dish, pick relatives up at the airport during the holiday rush, or anything else that you know will cause too much stress, it’s okay to say no. You can also say “no” to expensive gifts and go for thoughtful, inexpensive presents instead.
Avoiding major triggers, such as stress, is more important than pleasing others. Ultimately, your loved ones want you healthy and should understand.
Manage Your Expectations
What are your expectations for the holiday season? Make a list, and you may recognize some potential stressors. Is there anything that you feel must go right, like a reunion with a relative who hasn’t seen you since your recovery? A dessert you’re cooking that must be perfect? A present for someone in particular that has to be special?
Try to keep your expectations reasonable, and plan in advance for how you will respond if something doesn’t go according to plan. Holiday stress is often caused by reality not matching expectations, so understanding and planning for this can drastically reduce your worries.
You may also feel pressure to be happy during the holidays and not feel negative emotions like loneliness, sadness, or regret. But trying to force yourself not to feel these emotions only makes them worse. If you feel sad or lonely during the holidays, simply accept these feelings.
At the same time, remind yourself to focus on the good things that are happening now rather than the negative experiences you had in the past.
Continue Practicing Self-Care
It’s easy to let self-care lapse during the holidays, but this can exacerbate feelings of stress. Continue exercising and getting plenty of rest. Treat yourself a bit, but try to eat healthy for the most part.
If you write in a journal, practice yoga or meditation, do artwork, keep a garden, or engage in other activities that help you feel calm and relaxed, continue to do so. Exercise in particular, such as jogging, biking, or going to the gym, can help reduce stress.
While it’s easy to neglect self-care during the holidays, remember that taking good care of yourself is especially important at this time of year.
It’s certainly possible to relieve holiday stress without turning to drugs and alcohol. Get organized, manage your expectations, and be willing to say “no”—especially to parties where the focus will be on alcohol or drugs.
Continue taking good care of yourself and paying attention to your stress levels, and you’ll be able to manage holiday stress in a healthy and positive manner.