While the holidays can be a difficult season for many, this time may be particularly challenging for those in recovery, especially when social-distancing guidelines have disrupted our usual holiday routines. If not well managed, heightened seasonal feelings of stress and anxiety can trigger substance abuse. To promote mental wellness and avoid relapse triggers during the holidays, consider the following strategies:
Understand Your Relapse Triggers
Relapse triggers can be people, places, things, thoughts or emotions that lead you to think about using. Common relapse triggers include environmental cues, fatigue or exhaustion, self-licensing and stress or other negative emotions.
While avoiding these and other relapse triggers is ideal, total avoidance is not always possible. Understanding your triggers can help you start each day with a plan and a few healthy ways to cope should relapse triggers arise. For instance, if boredom is a relapse trigger, it may be helpful to identify and practice a few holiday activities that you enjoy.
Structure can help us feel more stable, especially during the holidays. Consider how you usually incorporate activities that help promote total wellness like exercise, time with family, mindful eating, time outdoors, meditation and journaling and continue to make time for those self-care strategies. During this busy season, don’t forget to practice self-compassion and prioritize whatever allows you the mental and emotional space to feel your best.
Stay Connected with Your Support System
A lack of in-person time with your support system, especially during the holidays, can be challenging. While there is no replacement for connecting with people in-person, leveraging technology to attend a few extra meetings can be extremely helpful during the holidays. Many support options, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are offering ways to connect virtually, including marathon meetings during this time.
It is normal to feel stress during the holidays. And this year, families around the world are facing the added challenge of social distancing guidelines which can have real implications for physical and mental health. During this time, it can be helpful to implement stress management strategies that have worked well for you in the past. Be aware of your personal signs of stress and consider practicing your preferred stress-management strategies should they arise.
While there is no one-size fits all solution to managing stress, maintaining routines, participating in fun holiday activities, cultivating hobbies and focusing on the things you can control, can all be helpful. Practicing relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, stretching, meditation, journaling and other self-care activities, may also help mitigate, minimize and prevent stress.
When faced with adversity, people who practice gratitude experience improved health outcomes and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Taking time to appreciate, enjoy and express gratitude for the things that make life meaningful can also help ground you to the present moment.
Giving thanks for a warm meal, a peaceful moment, another year, or any other gift of life is a great way to fight feelings of loneliness. Calling loved ones to express gratitude together can help cultivate joyful feelings, even if you can’t be with them on a certain holiday.
Monitor Relapse Warning Signs
Relapse warning signs are subtle clues that a person in recovery may be moving towards a relapse. Recognizing and monitoring relapse warning signs can help you intervene and prevent a relapse from happening. If you or a loved one is experiencing relapse warning signs, confide in your support system and seek help.