How to enjoy the holiday season while avoiding its excesses
Bremerton – Once again the holidays are fast approaching. This is a joyous time of celebration and closeness with families and loved ones, but for some, the holidays can be a difficult time, filled with seasonal stressors. For persons in addiction recovery or coping with mental conditions, holidays can be especially difficult.
Seasonal festivities easily become associated with various excesses and overindulgences for a large number of us. Maybe you overeat, take in too much sugar and salt, drink too much caffeine, increase your alcohol intake, or get stressed out finding just the right gifts and then pay the credit card price later. Some of us struggle to prepare holiday meals that would make Martha Stewart proud, and find ourselves too tired to enjoy the celebration. Many of us rationalize holiday excess by convincing ourselves that come New Year’s Day, we will follow a more sensible diet, exercise more, pay off holiday debts by getting a second job, and cut back on alcohol and other drugs, or go on the wagon all together.
So how do we enjoy the season’s holidays and not set ourselves up for longer term problems? Being honest with yourself is essential to addressing common holiday overindulgence and impulsivity. If you’re a person with compulsive tendencies, preplan and set realistic limits with yourself, so you can have a happy and joyous season. Eat some healthy snacks before a party. Plan what works for you so you don’t overeat or overdrink. Set a realistic budget for purchasing gifts for loved ones. Ask your guests to bring some of the holiday dinner and contribute to the enjoyment. Give your attention to the true meaning of the holidays by cherishing your family and loved ones. If you are prone to stress, take a time out and practice your favorite mindfulness activities, or search for new mindfulness practices on YouTube or Google.
If you don’t have a problem with drinking to excess in the rest of the year then don’t start during the holidays. Super Bowl Sunday tops the list of the top-ten drinking holidays of the year, followed by Thanksgiving Eve, sometimes called “Blackout Wednesday” and New Year’s Eve, so think ahead. Be self-aware and acknowledge how much alcohol is safe for you. One drink (i.e., six oz. glass of wine, one oz. hard drinks, or one 12 oz. can of beer) per every 90 minutes and no more than two or three drinks for men and one to two drinks per day for women is considered to be safe for most. The effects of alcohol are intensified for those with still developing brains, pregnant women, or if you’re taking certain medications. Consuming alcohol at any time is safer with meals and not an empty stomach. If you drink at holiday parties then make sure to partake in appetizers before your meal and switch to water or other non-alcoholic beverages at least one to two hours before leaving the party. Driving while intoxicated or under the influence or “buzzed” is never a good idea. Are you the host? It’s good practice to stop serving alcohol one to two hours before the end of the party. In cases when you have a guest who is not safe to drive, arrange safe transportation for them to get home.
Are you recovering from addictions or any mental health issues? The holidays can be more stressful and the potential for relapse and setbacks tends to increase during the holidays for some. People offering you drinks or drugs during parties, or expecting you to set aside your psychiatric conditions during the holidays can be especially difficult.
Safety tips for those in recovery from addictions or mental health issues:
• If you’re in early recovery, make sure you have an appointment with your provider ahead of the holiday season. Make your appointments before the holiday rush.
• If you take prescribed mental health or substance abuse medication(s), consult with your provider before you stop taking medication(s), especially during the holidays.
• Make sure you have enough of your medication(s) on hand since most providers take time off during the holidays and it may be harder for you to get refills.
• Winter time in our area may cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder that produces complications when the length of daylight is disproportionately shorter than the rest of the year. If you find yourself feeling more depressed in the winter time more than other times of year, you may find relief by increasing your exercise, using bright light therapy, or by getting an artificial dawn lamp. If your depression worsens, seek professional help.
• If you have had a recent loss of loved one this past year the holidays can be a strong reminder of your loss. Everyone experiences grief and loss differently and everyone needs their own time to come to terms with their loss. If you need support, there are therapists who specialize in working with people who experience these issues.
• If you’re in recovery, consider discussing your decision to quit with family and ask they support your sobriety. If your family is not willing to respect your wishes, then you might want limit your exposure to those who celebrate the holidays with mood altering substances; at least until they have adjusted to your recovery needs. This doesn’t need to be a permanent decision on your part and you can always change your mind and modify your decision for future holidays. You are in charge of your recovery!
• If this is your first holiday season in recovery and you can’t easily find a way out of work-related holiday obligations and celebrations, consider attending gatherings with a trusted colleague, a family member, or a friend. Establish an agreed upon signal and if you become too uncomfortable, you can leave the event together. It would also be wise to drive yourself to the party, so if needed you don’t have to rely on someone else. Plan and arrange for a practical exit strategy.
• There are plenty of other tricks that can help you survive holiday parties. During the party, have plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages and avoid questions by filling a glass with fruit juice or sparkling cider, which would help you avoid awkward moments and questions.
Finally, it’s important for everyone to know that no one has to spend the holidays alone. There are hundreds of support groups that offer extra meetings, and with proper planning and supportive resources, you can maintain your recovery and your well-being.
Mosen Haksar serves as integrated substance use disorder manager with Kitsap Mental Health Services. Kitsap Mental Health Services (KMHS) is a private, non-profit organization serving more than 6,500 Kitsap children and adults. For more information, visit kitsapmentalhealth.org.