Festive family dinner

Counting the Days: 6 Tips for Surviving Holiday Gatherings


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Festive family dinner

We've entered what is referred to as the “season of happy.” It started on Halloween, then proceeded to Thanksgiving, then Chanukah, and now, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The holidays are known as the happiest time of the year. Nevertheless, this can also become the season of temptation, high anxiety, and negative emotions. A national survey found that 42 percent of adults actually find the holiday season more stressful than joyous. So if holiday cheer makes you feel downbeat or somewhat depressed, know that you are not alone.

Addiction doesn't take a holiday break. Here's what you need to stay happy and sober this season.

Many Americans develop some sort of season-based mood anxiety this time of year and, for some individuals, the pressure of the holidays can almost be too much to handle. During this stressful time, it’s important that you persevere. If you’re able to drown out the holiday noise, there could be a fully enjoyable season in store for you.

Here are 6 tips to help you avoid caving in to the stress and getting through the madness with a positive frame of mind.

1. Have an Upbeat Outlook

You will be surprised at the difference even a minor attitude change can create in your perception this time of year. One thing that can help put you in a positive mood is making a written list of everything you’re grateful for in life. It’s an exercise that can keep you upbeat about the holidays.

You can also actively change your personal view on holiday gatherings—from occasions filled with temptation and dread to a chance to be with people who actually care enough to invite you to join their celebratory events. Take some time to think of why these individuals are important in your life. Focus on the people around you and tell them that you’re thankful for their place in your life as well as all the good feelings they bring you throughout the year. If your holiday plans we're canceled this year as many were, you can view it as an opportunity to stay close to home and spend some quality time with yourself.

2. Fake it Until You Make it

Yes, this really works. During this hectic season, you may feel pressured to face family and friends whom you haven’t been in contact with for a long time. For some in recovery, this stirs up feelings of pain or guilt. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed with self-doubt, the best thing you can do is to fake your confidence. Believe in yourself even if you do not feel worthy in the moment. Once you start projecting some confidence, you’ll slowly begin to feel it for yourself as well.

The purpose of this exercise is to avoid getting stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy of insecurity. If you pretend and imagine you have the skills and act self-assured, you will gain the experience and tools necessary to project actual confidence. And always remember, no one feels competent 100 percent of the time, whether they are in recovery or not.

3. Be Thankful

Gratitude is a powerful emotion. For many people in recovery and their families, just the knowledge that they are here to celebrate another new year is comforting.

Studies show that people who experience a feeling of gratitude are actually 25 percent happier in their lives. Plus, these appreciative individuals are more optimistic about the future and feel better about their lives.

Results of additional research suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits. It reminds us to look forward and accept where the journey of recovery is taking us.

4. Keep Moving

Here is a practical tip. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the number of people surrounding you, or if you are caught in an uncomfortable conversation, you can actually physically move away from the stress.

Rather than turning to alcohol or emotion-numbing drugs, consider a bit of exercise as soon as you feel anxious. If you feel tension during a holiday dinner or there is too much pressure to answer questions about your recovery, excuse yourself for a quick stroll in the cool night air. The simple activity of walking can reduce stress hormones and stimulate mood-enhancing neurochemicals that improve feelings of well-being.

5. Set Reasonable Expectations

Often we expect nothing short of perfection for ourselves. It is common for us to judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others. You must learn to let your recovery (or your loved one’s recovery) unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. Unrealistic expectations result in losing faith in the healing process.

Especially during these people-packed holidays, set short-term, realistic goals and decide in advance what you can comfortably handle. Then let family and friends know how you want to approach each situation. If in the past you handled the responsibility of the family dinner or shopping or card writing, consider delegating projects to make room for relaxation and self-care. Your support group of friends and family will understand.

6. Seek Assistance

This may be the most important time of the year for you to attend group meetings or individual rehabilitation sessions. Gather your sober support group. Touch base with them (sponsors, especially) even if everything seems “perfect.”

In most locations, meetings are available throughout the holiday season. And there are always online or telephone meeting options as well. If you are traveling during this time, be sure to bring along the phone number of your sponsor and a few trustworthy friends.

For those in recovery from drugs or alcohol, this time of year can be very tough. If needed, "bookend” your support by talking with key members before going to a holiday event and connect with them afterward. Don’t be afraid to redefine the holidays for yourself and your loved ones. No matter the season, you never have to walk in sobriety alone.

Do you have any go-to holiday survival tricks that you’ll be using this year? We’d love to hear! Please share in the comments section below.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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