The Meadows Blog

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 11:47

Mental Health for the Holiday Season

Joyce Willis, MC, LPC Joyce Willis, MC, LPC

The holiday season is a joyous time of the year to spend with family, attend get-togethers and enjoy the wonder of the season. The holiday season can, also, be a difficult time for those in recovery. The holiday season is a time for fun and excitement, yet this time of year can bring financial stresses, more work and anxiety. For some, the holiday time may bring increased anxiety or depression. This article will address how to cope during the holiday season, maintain sobriety and stay on the path of recovery.

One area that people in recovery often experience anxiety about is holiday parties and get-togethers. We might feel obligated to attend parties and get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues. Guess what? You don’t have to do it all! You can cope with this busy time of year by taking care of yourself and following a few suggestions in regards to get-togethers:

  • Set boundaries! You don’t have to go to every party or get-together. Decide which are important to you and be choosy.   Choose parties in which there will be less triggers for you.   Remember, saying “No” is a complete sentence. Put yourself first.

  • Set time limits.   It is not necessary to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Decide in advance when you will leave. If you are relaxed and comfortable and want to say longer, you can. If you need to leave, stick to the time you chose and leave at the time you promised yourself you would.

  • Have a safe place for every party.   If the person having the party knows and understands your anxiety and/or how important sobriety is to you, you can ask the host if there is a room you can use for quiet time if you need it. If that is not possible, find a place outside for quiet time or leave the party.

  • Bring someone who understands. Bring a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery.   Choose someone who understands that you may need to leave when you say so. This person should also know your safe place. Having a “safe” person there may make you feel more at ease to enjoy yourself.

  • Relax before you go to the party.   Relax ahead of time; perhaps take a long bath followed by silly dancing to your favorite CD.   Wear your favorite clothes. Get ready by listening to soft, relaxing music , thus setting the tone for the party you will be attending.

  • Remember your coping tools. Relaxation and breathing tools can help in any situation in which we become anxious or triggered. Bring small notes to remind yourself of the steps you need to take. There is nothing wrong with needing a reminder to balance ourselves.

  • Remember why you are celebrating.   You are not going to parties because you have to go. You are going because you want to be with people you care about.   Holiday parties are about sharing friendship and happiness, not about trying to do what you think someone else wants you to do.

  • If you cannot go, then don’t! You can say “No” at any time. It is okay if you can’t go.   This is an act of self-care.

Another area that is easy to get caught up in during the holidays is the high expectations of how the holidays should be. Here are some tips to help you keep your expectations reasonable:

  • Don’t judge the value of the gift you are giving by the price tag. The best gifts come from a desire to bring joy to another person. Giving from the heart means your gift will never be too small!

  • Don’t get caught up in the thought that you have to do everything that is asked of you.   Say “No” if you really do not have the time or energy to do something. It is reasonable to delegate responsibility to others in your household. Setting time management limits can keep you from becoming stressed.

  • Share with someone less fortunate. There are several ways to do this; volunteer at a homeless shelter for a day, volunteer at an animal shelter for a day, send cards to those in the Military who are stationed overseas… (Well-wishers who would like to send Christmas and other seasonal cards to U.S. service members should address those cards as follows: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capital Heights, MD 20791.   All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, 6 December 2013 in order to ensure sufficient time for sorting and distribution before the holidays. You can address the cards to “A U.S. Service Member.”)   If you have children, get your children involved in understanding the joy of giving to someone from the heart through service.   Service men and women love receiving mail from children!

  • Remember, your family is a real family. Thus, there will be arguments and skirmishes among siblings. Family members may act the way they have before. The behavior of others does not have to ruin your holiday.   You are not in control of other people’s actions, yet you can control your reactions.   Remember to work on forgiveness and acceptance.   You can always take a time out and allow yourself the time to come back to balance.

  • Things will go “wrong.”   Your children will get dirty and make noise. You might forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey or take the cookies out of the oven. Planes might be delayed and friends or relatives will have other responsibilities. Dogs will jump on you and your clothes with muddy paws. Breathe and face these little setbacks with grace and a sense of humor. You will find yourself having a better holiday with things being “perfectly imperfect” than with everything having turned out “perfect,” because now you embracing your humanity and can relax a bit more.

  • If you cannot see someone special due to military commitments, finances or other reasons, find a creative way to make the holiday time special. Send cookies, a videotaped greeting or gifts to far away relatives. You can arrange another day as your “Christmas,” “Hanukkah” or your designated holiday celebration.   You don’t have to limit yourself to what it says on the calendar.

Last, yet certainly not least, let’s look at ways we can keep the holiday season both sober and joyous! Many people have enjoyed the happiest holidays of their lives sober. Here are some tips for having a joyous holiday season in sobriety:

  • Line up extra 12 Step meetings for the holiday season. You can volunteer to take newcomers to meetings, answer the phone at a clubhouse, be a speaker at a meeting, or help with the dishes.

  • Be the host to AA, NA, CODA….friends, especially newcomers. If you don’t have a place to hold a formal party, take one person to dinner and spend recovery time together.

  • Keep you support lists with you at all times.   If a drinking urge or panic comes, postpone everything until you’ve called your sponsor or someone on your list of supports.

  • Find out about special holiday parties, meetings and celebrations given by support groups in your area and go!

  • Do not attend any drinking occasion you are nervous about.  In your addiction, you were clever about making excuses to drink. Use that talent to come up with reasons not to attend events you are nervous about!   No party is as important as saving your life.

  • “Bookend” parties and events. Call your sponsor before you go and call your sponsor again after the party/event to process how things went for you.

  • Plan to leave parties early if you think there will be more drinking as the night goes on.   Plan your “leave time” and stick to it.

  • Worship in your own way; a way that brings peace and balance to your life during the busy holiday season.

  • Don’t sit around brooding. The holiday time can be a great time to slow down and take “me” time. Catch up on books, museums, walks, emails and letters.

  • Watch those holiday temptations. Remember, “one day at a time.”

  • Enjoy the true beauty of holiday joy and love.   Give from the heart!

My hope is that these tips will re-new your commitment to stay sober and in recovery during the holiday season. Keep in mind that the real reason for the season is spiritual renewal through sharing with others.

*May joy and love be what you remember most for this holiday season*


AA Newsletter – Holiday Issue 2005

Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows. She earned her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful and physiological selves with compassion and respect.

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