The holidays can be a challenging time for many, especially for those in treatment and recovery. In general, the holiday season can be stressful for anyone; with the hustle and bustle of crowds, making travel plans to appease both sides of a family, and perhaps dealing with money woes, it is no wonder that the end of the year can seem overly hectic and exhausting for many people.
Now add in worrying about going to treatment, staying sober from drugs and alcohol, avoiding triggers, and trying to make family and friends proud.
Those struggling with addiction often have a more difficult time getting through the holidays than the average person. Dealing with the stressors of life around these times can be triggering for many and may influence some to relapse—but it doesn’t have to.
Discovering what coping skills to use during the holidays in order to stay sober and practicing them should be a number one priority for someone working on their recovery.
Does any of this sound like what you may be going through? Or maybe it refers to someone close to you, like a friend or family member. Whether you are in an outpatient alcohol treatment program, outpatient substance abuse treatment program, an IOP rehab, a sober living program, or simply working with your therapist or treatment team to continue your recovery, coping skills are for you.
Keep reading to learn more about coping skills to stay sober along with how to get support from others in order to use them more effectively.
What Coping Skills Are and What They Are Not
Think of coping skills as individualized tools in your very own toolbox that you personally put together. You may have gotten help from your treatment team, friends, or family while adding in those tools; but in the end, these are all coping skills that you have agreed upon and ones that are realistic and effective for you to use in the various circumstances that life throws at you.
It is important to understand that choosing to use coping skills is all about self-care. Both of these things are intertwined. Using an effective coping skill to stay sober over the holidays is self-care.
The experts at Psych Central have a clear and simple definition of what self-care IS and what it IS NOT.
What is self-care?
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.
What self-care is not?
Knowing what self-care is not might be even more important. It is not something that we force ourselves to do, or something we don’t enjoy doing. As Agnes Wainman explained, self-care is “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” Self-care isn’t a selfish act either. It is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves, being subsequently, able to take care of others as well. That is, if I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be in the place to give to my loved ones either.
Specific Coping Skills to Use Over the Holidays
If you’ve been in treatment for some time—or have been to a therapist even just once—you are probably well-versed in what some of your coping skills are.
Maybe when you get home from work, instead of grabbing a cocktail, you get out of the house and go for a run or a hike to unwind. Or perhaps you call your sponsor or a supportive friend when you have an urge to use. As stated above, each individual will fill up their metaphorical toolbox with coping strategies that will work specifically for them and will toss out ones that are no longer effective, which can happen from time to time.
What are some holiday-specific strategies to use when trying to stay sober?
2. Choose your support wisely. During the holidays, people often travel to see friends and family they have not seen in a while; and unfortunately, sometimes these people have been a part of your addiction in the past and may trigger you. Depending on where you will be over the holidays and who you will be with—ensure that you have a solid list of individuals you can rely on for support and try your best to avoid people you know might trigger you into relapsing.
3. Create new traditions with friends and family. If your past addict-self used to celebrate the holidays with abusing substances, find new, meaningful ways to enjoy the sleigh bells and mistletoe.
Need creative holiday activity ideas?
- have a gingerbread house competition
- try out a holiday escape room
- drive around to see holiday lights
- binge-watch cheesy holiday movies
- host a sober tacky holiday sweater party
- shop for those in need and donate the items
- have a holiday craft night with friends
- go bowling or axe throwing with family or friends
- soak up the winter sun while skiing or hiking
4. Change those negative-thinking patterns. When you have a thought that pops up such as “I feel like such a loser compared to the rest of my family,” or “I’m such a failure; I just can’t do this!”—challenge them with positive self-talk. There is so much research out there on how changing your thinking to the more positive side can physically change your brain structure, which in turn over time will help your brain automatically go toward positive-thinking rather than the negative. Instead of those negative thoughts, think “I’m struggling right now and I will get through this,” or “I should not compare myself to others right now—I am doing my best and am on the road to full recovery.”
Of course, there are many other coping skill ideas to practice when you are in a bind. Don’t let the craziness of the holidays overwhelm you to your breaking point. Know your limits and set them with friends and family; being honest with those around you about your recovery and your needs is the best thing to do during this time. Only keep coping skills in your toolbox that are realistic and that are actually effective at keeping you sober. Keep supportive friends and family close and educate them on the strategies that you use to avoid triggers and stay on track.
Even if you are in treatment or are working on staying sober, you can still have an amazing holiday season. Celebrate and enjoy everything the holidays has to offer while staying healthy and sober!
Do you want more information on outpatient treatment and IOP rehab options? A recovery center you can be confident in is Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado. Go to their site to learn more.