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Planning a Sober and Happy Holiday Season

Planning a Sober and Happy Holiday Season

One challenging aspect of winter festivities is managing expectations. We have to find the perfect gift, make incredible food, decorate with abandon, be exceptional host, have the best-behaved children, and so on. It’s as though whatever bad happened from January through October will magically disappear if the holidays are festive and bright. But what you may have learned during residential treatment is that the only thing you’re really responsible for is recovery—and that intention will help you plan a sober and happy holiday.   

Step 1: Identify and Manage Your Stressors

Many people experience numerous triggers during the holidays. Sometimes they’re the result of all the activities, traveling, spending, preparing, and generally being overwhelmed. The reverse is true as well: people are excited to celebrate with family and friends and want to partake in all their favorite traditions. 

Harvard Medical School indicates that without question, our brains function differently during the holidays, and we have to prepare for them. This is known as “shifting set…updating or shifting cognitive strategies to respond to the changes in our environment.” To be successful at this process, an individual “must have the cognitive flexibility to shift attention between one task and another and to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. Shifting set—which can be hard for us at any point in the year—is particularly pervasive at the holidays.” And it’s especially difficult if you’re trying to stay sober.

Then, there are more personal triggers. Some people are a little sad or blue if they’re missing loved ones. Others struggle with relationships, especially involving family members, that might bring up previous conflicts. Families feel extra stress if they step out of bounds on the holiday gift budget—or they don’t like being on a budget at all. And occasionally, there are individuals who battle feelings of loneliness or disconnection already, but the holidays heighten these emotions. These and numerous other factors can make it challenging to stay focused on recovery. 

So once you know what’s really bothering you during the holidays, manage your triggers by remembering the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired: 

  • When you’re hungry, enjoy a holiday treat or two and savor every bite. 
  • If you feel angry or lonely, go for a short walk, write a little bit in a journal, talk with a sponsor, or phone someone in your sobriety support network.  
  • If you’re tired, slip away for a 20-minute nap or to meditate for a few minutes. 

Staying a step ahead of what might cause you to react allows you to consciously act. 

Step 2: Detail Your Time

When we’re caught up in the joy of the season, it’s easy to let time slip away. However, for some people, this might threaten their essential recovery routines. So schedule things with plenty of wiggle room—and maybe a little grace—so you don’t feel pressured. This might include planning your time around: 

  • When you’ll shop
  • Who you’ll see
  • What you’ll make from scratch vs. buying prepared foods
  • What customs you’ll observe
  • How many parties you’ll attend

Video call certain relatives if you can’t make it to every gathering, and consider planning other events for after the first of the year. 

Step 3: Take Care of Yourself

The proverbial hustle and bustle of the holidays strains even the most thoughtful self-care efforts. But you know sobriety is easier if you stick to your priorities. For some people in recovery, this may be attending more support meetings or calling a sponsor twice a day instead of daily. It may also include prayer, meditation, or another form of quiet reflection.

Keep your immune system strong by maintaining a regular sleep schedule, consistently exercising, and eating as healthfully as you can.

Also remember to pay attention to your instincts for centering yourself. Take a moment to watch snow fall or the palm trees sway or whatever moves in your environment. Step away from party chatter and stare quietly into the soft glow of a candle flame for a few minutes. If a relative-stuffed house feels smothering, take a short walk outside. These gifts you give to yourself during this season are just as important as what you bestow onto others.

Learn to Live Healthfully at Ivory Plains

Our addiction rehabilitation program in Adair, Iowa introduces residents to 12-Step principles, behavioral modification, trauma-informed care, and other techniques that provide a solid foundation for recovery success. Our board-certified clinical team understands that the mind and body not only need time to heal, but also require deliberate focus to stay on a healthy course. This helps you build recovery resiliency so that any time of year is a good time to celebrate your sobriety.

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