When Holidays Aren’t So Holly Jolly

As joyous and exciting as they can be, we must admit that holidays can also be stressful or even painful for most of us – particularly if you are struggling with addiction, early recovery, mental illness, eating disorders, grief and loss… the list goes on. The bottom line is that it’s important to know how to take care of yourself during this time of year.

Know Your Triggers

What causes you distress during the holidays? Many people struggle with being around certain friends and family members that may be strained, toxic, or unsupportive relationships. The abundant presence of alcohol and food may also be difficult if you are in the early stages of recovery from addiction or an eating disorder. Maybe you are going through the first holiday season after the loss of an important person in your life. Stress and anxiety from travel, financial concerns, family conflict, etc. may also exacerbate mental health symptoms. You likely already know what potential situations will be distressing to you – what we call “triggers”. By knowing your triggers, you can be better prepared to avoid them or manage them. This is also a great opportunity to practice setting healthy boundaries if needed, such as declining an invitation or walking away from an unhealthy situation.

Know Your Warning Signs

You know you better than anyone else. Pay attention to signs that let you know that you are becoming distressed – increased anxiety, muscle tension, difficulty or excessive sleeping, fatigue, headache, stomachache, cravings, anger, isolating yourself, neglecting self-care rituals, etc. It’s important to watch for these signs so that you can start working to address them right away, rather than waiting until they get any worse.

Know Your Coping Skills

It is so easy to get distracted from our self-care and coping skills during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Whatever you already do to take care of yourself, KEEP DOING IT during this time of year. Be intentional about making this a priority, regardless of whatever else is going on. By practicing good self-care early and often, you may be able to avoid some distress altogether. If you find yourself becoming distressed (as discussed above) take a step back from the situation and start focusing on using your coping skills right away. This could be anything that helps you get grounded and let go of stress, such as deep breathing, physical exercise, meditation, prayer, calling supportive people, or attending a support group. Whatever keeps you happy and healthy, do it.

Know Your Plan

Having a plan in place ahead of time for how you will take care of yourself often gives better results than trying to plan on the fly. Make a list (Write it down if you must!) of the self-care rituals or coping skills that are an absolute must during the season. Know who you will call if you need to talk (friends, parents, partner, sponsor, etc.). You can even talk to that person ahead of time to let them know that you may need to call them. If you attend support groups or 12 Step meetings and you are traveling away from the groups you usually attend, look up whether you can attend any similar groups that are local to your holiday plans. As they say: “Know before you go”.

Making your well-being a priority can help you fully enjoy the holiday season; it just takes a little planning and preparation. Use your skills to take good care of you and ask for help when you need it! Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.


Take care!

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