Stress is a major contributor to relapse after treatment. The holidays are a difficult time for many, but according to Peter Gaumond, Chief of the Recovery Branch of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, they're particularly stressful for those in the early months of recovery.
Gaumond points out that people in early recovery are often in the midst of difficult financial and personal circumstances and have heightened, unresolved feelings of guilt, shame, resentment and anger concerning family members; on top of that, they're new to coping with social situations without alcohol or drugs. Just the prospect of engaging in holiday activities without a drink in your hand can be stressful.
Prioritizing Sobriety During the Holidays
You've come a long way since you first entered treatment, and maintaining the momentum and motivation you gained during and after rehab requires mindful attention to your thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, particularly during the holiday season. You owe it to yourself to do what's right for yourself during the holidays, rather than worrying about meeting the expectations of others.
These essential tips will help you stay focused on your continued sobriety as you approach the end of this year and move gently into the next.
Meditate to Reduce Your Stress
During times of excessive stress, the brain's natural dopamine reserves are depleted, and that, in turn, affects the activity of other brain chemicals that affect your mood, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. When this occurs, depression and anxiety may be magnified, and even a minor stressful event can be a major trigger for relapse.
Meditation can go a long way toward reducing holiday stress. Spending just fifteen minutes each day in quiet, mindful reflection can help you more effectively monitor your thoughts, attitudes and behaviors and enable you to make adjustments before they compromise your sobriety.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, relieve depression and anxiety and reduce the intensity of cravings. It also has a positive effect on the self-regulation of emotional states and social functioning.
Identify the high-risk situations that could compromise your recovery, and prepare yourself in advance for coping with them. Whether you have to travel, attend gatherings where alcohol will be served or spend time with people who seem to get your blood pressure up, visualizing ahead of time what could go wrong and how you can prevent or defuse certain situations will help you handle them in ways that won't put your sobriety at risk. If you feel a particular event may be too much to handle, don't be afraid to send your regrets. There's always next year.
Avoiding feelings of isolation and frustration during the holidays is crucial for getting through them with your sobriety intact. Your support group is an invaluable resource for helping you stay connected to others and focused on your recovery, and you may find that attending more meetings than normal during the holiday season helps you better cope with the stressors and triggers you may encounter. Spend quiet, quality time with those you love and who fully support your recovery, and find festive activities to engage in that don't involve drugs or alcohol, such as attending a holiday concert, enjoying a drive to see the lights, or attending small gatherings with others in recovery.
Give of Yourself
Helping someone else through a rough spot can help you stay focused on your own recovery and on the true meaning of the holiday season. Volunteer your time at a homeless shelter, work with a charitable organization to gather gifts for children living in poverty, or simply reach out to a peer in recovery who's having a rougher time of it than you.
The holidays are what you make them. Keep your focus on spreading love and joy this year instead of on material things. Let go of old resentments and practice forgiving yourself and others for past wrongdoings. The peace and joy you offer will come back to you multiplied, and you'll soon find yourself on the other side of the holidays with both your sobriety and your sanity fully intact.