The holidays can be a period of emotional highs and lows. Anxiety, loneliness, happiness, and sadness are common feelings, sometimes experienced in startling succession. The bad news is the holiday blues can trigger a relapse for people recovering from alcoholism and other drug addiction. The good news is the blues can be remedied by planning ahead this holiday season.
Why do the blues hit during the holiday season? Doing too much or too little and spending time away from loved ones during the holiday season can lead to sadness. Many people in recovery associate the holiday season with memories of overindulgence, perhaps of big benders that resulted in relationship troubles or personal losses.
When recollecting past holidays, some people may experience feelings of melancholy, sadness, and grief. These feelings are temporary, unlike clinical depression, which can be more severe and can last months or years. Anyone experiencing major symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, anxiety, guilt or helplessness; changes in sleep patterns; and a reduction in energy and libido, should seek help from a mental health professional.
Whether you’re in recovery or not, it’s important to develop a plan to prevent the holiday blues – one that will confront unpleasant memories before they threaten your experience during the holidays. Your plan should include improved self-care, enhanced support from others, and healthy ways to celebrate. Here are a few suggestions to achieve a happy, sober holiday season:
Remember to slow down and take some quiet time each day and work on an attitude of gratitude. Plan meditation and relaxation into your day, even for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Relax your standards and reduce overwhelming demands and responsibilities.
Go easy on the holiday sweets and follow a balanced diet. Monitor your intake of caffeine, nicotine and sugar. Exercise regularly to help maintain your energy level amid a busier schedule. Don’t try to do too much. Get plenty of sleep. Fatigue is a stressor. Maintain some kind of schedule and plan ahead; don’t wait until the last minute to purchase gifts or prepare to entertain.
Holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to your therapist, sponsor, spiritual advisor, or support group. If you’re in recovery, spend time with fellow recovering people. Let others help you realize your personal limits. Learn to say “no” in a way that is comfortable for you.
Create some new symbols and rituals that will help redefine a joyful holiday season. You might host a holiday gathering for special recovering friends and/or attend celebrations of your Twelve Step group. Avoid isolation and spend time with people you like who are not substance users. Don’t expose yourself to unnecessary temptations, such as gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment. If there are people who have a negative influence on you, avoid them.
Holidays are also an important time to focus on your recovery program. For example, ask, “What am I working on in my program now?” Discuss this with your sponsor.
Resentment has been described as allowing a person you dislike to live in your head, rent-free. Resentments that gain steam during the holidays can be disastrous for anyone, especially recovering people. The Big Book of “Alcoholics Anonymous” refers to resentment as the No. 1 offender, or the most common factor in failed sobriety.
Holidays may also be a time to evaluate your spirituality and find a personal way to draw support from the spirit of the season. Return the holidays to a spiritual base, and stress the power of unselfish giving.
Recovery is serious work, but it is also important to have fun. Laugh a little and a little more. Start seeing the humor in those things that annoy you. Take from the holiday season what is important for you and leave the rest.