For a recovering addict, the holidays can be an extreme challenge. The toasting with alcohol, the pressure of family gatherings, the stress of gift giving, and the temptation to resort to old habits can all add up to anxiety and relapse potential.
So how does a person trying to maintain a sober lifestyle relax and get through this challenging time of year? Here are seven tips to help you get some rest and relaxation so you can enjoy the holiday season.
1. Yoga and Meditation
These two traditional mindful practices are powerful tools for achieving relaxation whether you are a recovering addict or not. They have been used for centuries to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and to relax. Even five minutes of sitting quietly and clearing your mind of the chaos around you can help you realign your thoughts. The art of focusing attention in the present to help achieve inner serenity and provide clear awareness about your life can calm both the body and mind.
When a person uses drugs or alcohol, the substance triggers the reward system in the brain and causes chemicals associated with reward and pleasure to flood the body. When the cycle of abusing drugs and alcohol stops, exercise can provide a natural substitute to get that “high.”
Exercising decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and produces endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Exercise also helps release adrenalin, serotonin, and dopamine. Together, these chemicals help to elevate mood. The body learns that it is capable of regulating its own brain chemistry and emotions in healthy, natural ways.
The trick is to find a variety of exercises you enjoy. Some people find motivation by joining a sports team like a softball league or basketball pick-up game. Others find something that connects them with nature like skiing, snowboarding or surfing to be rewarding. Even a stroll in your neighborhood can promote renewed feeling of well-being and happiness.
3. Lighten Up
Addiction recovery is a very serious topic, but allowing yourself to laugh and look at the bright side of things can help you relax and enjoy the holidays. When you laugh, you adopt a more positive attitude, which helps in your overall recovery. It creates an atmosphere that makes others comfortable.
Even if you have to start by faking happiness and laughter, it will likely develop into something real. Having an optimistic attitude also inspires others to do the same. Almost everyone wants to be around someone who’s upbeat.
There is great value in “taking a deep breath” in the midst of everyday situations. Something as simple as breathing can reduce negative feelings. Adding deep breathing exercises to your routine is a great way to handle the stresses of the holidays.
It’s simple to do; start by inhaling through the nose for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of four. With time, this cycle can be prolonged to counts of eight as you inhale, and eight as you exhale.
The holidays are an ideal time to donate your time and energy to a cause you are passionate about. Giving to others and being grateful for your recovery go hand in hand and will provide intangible joy. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter or spend time with a neighbor who is confined. There are many people in your community who are less fortunate than you. You will be helping not only the needy, but yourself as well. That is the gift of giving.
6. Get Sound Sleep
Sleep is vital when recovering from any addictive substance, and is especially important during high-stress events which may occur around the winter holidays. Lack of sleep can have serious consequences, including anxiety, depression, mood changes, and poor decision making. Even just one night of sleep loss can result in a decreased ability to effectively make decisions. If you find yourself having trouble at night, check off each item on our list of 10 ways to maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
7. Plan Ahead
Though the holidays can be hard, they don’t have to be miserable. Keeping yourself organized during the holidays will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
Just as it was during rehabilitation treatment, structure and planning are necessary to stay sober during the holidays. Plan ahead for cravings and situations that tempt you to use drugs and alcohol and create a strategy for staying sober at parties. Perhaps invite a sober buddy to go with you to provide support at times when you feel tempted to drink or use.
Whenever you have a down moment, old thought patterns are likely to creep in. Try your best to stay as occupied as you can. Help cook, wash dishes or decorate the house.
A Final Thought
The holidays can be a period of emotional highs and lows. By following these tips and staying focused on your ultimate goal of abstinence, you will be able to retain your sobriety, find peace of mind and enjoy the holiday celebrations. Most importantly, remember that as with anything in life, it’s normal to find ourselves in a struggle, as it is perfectly OK to ask for support.