How to Handle Holiday Stress

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As the end of the year approaches, many people are consumed with holiday preparations. Whether that is baking cookies or hosting a large gathering, the holidays can be both mentally and physically draining.  Learning to recognize common stressors will help you take control of the holiday season and eliminate any unpleasant surprises.

Learn to Manage Family and Social Pressures

This festive time brings joy and happiness to many people, but for others, that joy can quickly turn into stress when their family and friends arrive. Your loved ones might have annual traditions or high expectations that plans run flawlessly. It’s not surprising that a recent survey found 88% of Americans feel the holiday season is one the most stressful times of the year. In addition, societal norms around the wintertime can pose even more stress and make people feel that things should happen a certain way. For example, if you live in close proximity to New York City, many people associate the holidays with going to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. If you’d rather not make the trip, then start a new family tradition — understand that you have the power to make your own decisions.

Many often become so concerned with pleasing people and accounting for all the small details that the happiness of the holiday season is ruined for them. If your friends have an annual tradition of cooking a giant feast for Friendsgiving, maybe this year you can let them know you will be bringing take-out food because you don’t have the extra time to cook an entrée but would still enjoy being a part of the gathering. And instead of stressing over expenses, you could suggest an alternate plan, such as a game night, which is fun and less costly for everyone.

Maintain a Holiday Budget

Sometimes the end of the year revolves around traveling and connecting with friends. Maybe you usually fly across the country to see your extended family or attend special holiday events with friends, and this year, you can’t swing it financially. That’s okay. Your family or friends should understand if you need to save money for more essential expenses during these next few months.

And of course, presents are the topic of almost every conversation during the holidays. People become obsessed with finding that expensive luxury purse or shiny new Rolex watch. Rather than worry about gift-giving, gratitude is one of the greatest things you can share with your family this holiday season. If you’re at a family gathering, go around the table and share what you’re thankful for. Being together and having everybody alive and healthy is enough.

Strike a Healthy Balance and Don’t Overschedule

Of course, you might want to spread holiday cheer and lend a hand to those in need; however, make sure you don’t overexert yourself in the process. Create a schedule to remain on track with your deadlines for work and important dates to prepare for holidays. For example, if your family is coming to visit for two weeks and you don’t have the time or space, suggest cutting the trip down to one week. You’re not obligated to agree to every request.

With the rapid succession of year-end holidays, some individuals might get caught up in all the hustle and bustle that they unintentionally start to overlook their physical health. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even setting aside 20 minutes a day to go for a walk outside or on the treadmill is enough. If your weekdays are jam packed, you may also neglect to eat nutritious meals. Meal-prepping at the beginning of the week is a great way to ease stress and save time.

Many individuals are so focused on pleasing one another that they forget to care for themselves. Remember, you don’t have to make plans every single weekend. If you’d rather take a mental health day and put on a face mask and watch a Christmas movie, that’s okay too. Reflect on the positives happening in your life. Read a book, start a new hobby, or just pop in some headphones and listen to your favorite artist. Maintaining a healthy routine and balance is always important, especially during this festive season.

Holiday Stressors for the Recovery Community

Although the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time of laughs and living in the present with friends or family, this is not always simple for recovering individuals. Many of the common stressors that anyone can face are heightened for those in recovery, putting their sobriety and well-being at risk. However, it becomes easier to manage when you know what to expect.

Build a Support System While in Recovery

For someone in recovery, going into the holiday season alone may feel daunting. There are plenty of other individuals looking for someone to talk to as well. Instead of forcing yourself to attend a stressful party or family gathering, consider other options. Reach out to sober friends or a trusted loved one if you need someone to talk to or try giving back to your community. For example, you can help out at a homeless shelter during Thanksgiving or spend time with an older neighbor who may appreciate the additional companionship. Small acts of kindness can eliminate stress and help you get into the holiday spirit. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need extra support, Mountainside offers virtual and in-person support groups every day throughout this season.

Don’t Let Estranged Relationships Stress You Out

Making amends is part of step nine in the 12 Step process and involves righting a previous wrong. Oftentimes, during active addiction, the individual may unknowingly cause harm to family and friends around them. The holidays could be the perfect time to start repairing those damaged relationships. If you feel you are not ready for that process yet, take your time.

During holiday events, some relatives might bring up triggering stories from the past, opening old wounds. If you’re concerned about seeing certain family members, maybe it’s best to stay home from that event because maintaining your sobriety comes first. If you don’t want to fix the estranged relationship, just do what’s best for your mental health. And if it’s something you want to move past, consider reaching out to a professional family therapist after the holidays, so you can resolve the conflict.

How to Attend a Holiday Party in Recovery

Some in the recovery community might refer to the consecutive Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hannukah, and New Year’s Eve holidays as, the “Trifecta of Terror,” but they don’t have to be. If you’re comfortable with making an appearance at your friend’s party, there are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid any potentially risky situations. Bringing a sober buddy can help you feel more at ease if other guests decide to drink. You can also develop an escape plan to leave early in case the situation becomes uncomfortable. Always carry a drink in your hand, whether it’s water or a non-alcoholic beverage, so no one can offer you anything. You know your comfort level and you shouldn’t explain yourself to anybody if you want to keep your recovery private.

What if You Want to Spend the Holidays Alone?

During the holiday season, it’s likely that individuals in recovery will experience mixed emotions as well as anxiety, especially those early in their recovery journey. It is important to remember, you have control over your life, and you have the power to decline any party invitation that comes your way. Maybe plan to have a self-care night eating your favorite meal or watching your favorite movie.  It’s acceptable to stay home for your own well-being. However, it’s not healthy to put yourself in isolation and remain entirely alone. As a precautionary measure, plan to keep in touch with others in recovery, friends, family, or even call the AA and NA national hotlines.

Holiday Stressors for Families with Recovering Loved Ones

Parents, siblings, and other family members may be eager to introduce a recovering loved one back into holiday traditions and festivities. However, each recovering person is different, so it’s important for families to recognize and be ready to address some of the following stressors during this season.

Keep an Open Line of Communication

Communication doesn’t always come easy for everyone. Sometimes, being open and honest is difficult, even with immediate family members. If your child or loved one is in early recovery, they’re likely experiencing a range of emotions. It’s important to express your feelings with each other during this process instead of being closed off. Have these conversations before the holidays to ensure everyone is on the same page. Showing respect, truly listening, and being attentive are the most compassionate things you can do for someone in recovery

 Make Accommodations for Your Loved One

It’s a great first step when your loved one decides they want to join you at the annual holiday party. But how do you make sure they’re comfortable around a crowd of people? Ask your loved one how much detail of their situation do they want to be disclosed to relatives and friends. Perhaps the individual would prefer you to tell others that, “(Name) is going through a personal matter. Please give them space.” In this instance, it’s particularly important to listen and support your loved one.

Another accommodation to consider is the presence of alcohol at the event. Families may spend hours bringing up stories relating to drinking or reminiscing about the past. Both of these topics may be triggering for someone early in recovery. Traditionally, if your holiday celebrations in the past revolved around drinking, it could be tough to ask all the guests to leave the alcohol at home. But maybe your family is open to ditching the alcohol this year and that’s even better! On the other hand, your loved one could also be ready to attend the party, despite the presence of alcohol, so suggest bringing seltzers or a non-alcoholic alternative to help them feel included.

Don’t Make the Recovering Individual the Focal Point of the Event

When everyone has their attention focused on the person in recovery, it’s likely that person will become stressed and uncomfortable. As mentioned above, decide prior to the event what details you want to tell your friends or family. Let them know that the recovering individual doesn’t need to be treated differently, just be respectful of them. Try switching up the conversation if the topic becomes triggering, by talking with your loved one about a new Netflix show or their favorite hobby. You can also put on a movie, play board games, or ask them to help cook. These activities require little interaction, yet the recovering individual can still participate. And throughout the celebration, gentle reminders like, “I’m here for you, whenever you need to talk,” can show support and mean the world to someone in recovery.

Plan for Surprises and Unexpected Situations

Setting guidelines for your family and friends ahead of time is important to have a successful and safe event. Boundaries are important to those in recovery and therefore, everyone should agree on what the guidelines are. Perhaps you don’t want alcohol at your house, and someone shows up with a bottle of wine anyway. These kinds of surprises may happen, but it’s no reason to cause a scene. Simply ask the person to leave the alcohol in their car. In case a triggering conversation comes up, ask the loved one in recovery if they’d like to step outside and go for a walk. If there are family members or friends that always seem to clash, separate them, and avoid these tense situations for the sake of the whole group. Chances are, no matter how much planning is done, something may go wrong and it’s always smart to be prepared.

Our family support groups are available to help you manage stress during the holidays and begin your healing process as your loved one is going on their own recovery journey. No matter who you are and what you’re facing during this time of year, self-care, gratitude, and honest communication between loved ones can eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress and help everyone enjoy the winter festivities.

 Reaching Out for Help

After learning more about common stressors and tips during this time of year, you may still be feeling overwhelmed. And that’s okay. Whether you or someone you know is struggling and in need of extra support this holiday season, reach out to a mental health expert for help or seek treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.