The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a joyful time filled with family and fun. It can also be a stressful time, and it’s important to practice good self-care and healthy boundaries to make your holidays as calm and enjoyable as possible.
During this time of year, our normal routines become less predictable even as our To-Do lists grow with gift buying, getting together with family, holiday events and parties, and more. For people in recovery, it’s especially important to be mindful during this busy time of year, and there are several ways to do this but it helps to be prepared!
Accessing tools to manage stress and prioritizing self-care make it easier to tap into joy and avoid the people, places, and things that drain you. You may not be able to steer entirely clear of all things that push your buttons, but doing what you need to remain calm and mindful can help you take everything in stride.
Five Tools to Stay Mindful During the Holidays
Don’t Say Yes When You Mean No: There are many demands on you and on your time during the holidays, and remember you do not need to say yes to everything. Giving and giving without taking time for yourself isn’t selfless – it’s precarious and puts you in jeopardy of relapse, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. The least selfish thing we can do for ourselves is to take care of our needs, so we can be fully present for the many joys of the season. Pay attention to the “shoulds” – if you find yourself thinking I really should go to that party or I really should buy more gifts, that word ‘should’ is a sign that you may be taking on more than you can realistically handle. Don’t be shy about protecting your recovery and your sanity.
Keep Expectations in Check: This time of year it’s easy to fall into the Perfection Trap. We are constantly inundated with the sights and sounds of the season; it can feel like everywhere you look there are images of people creating the ‘perfect holiday’. We can start to feel like everything has to look, taste, feel, and be a certain way. While it is nice to take the time to create pleasing experiences, try not to get caught up in the idea of a ‘perfect’ holiday, whether that has to do with how things, look or how things will go when we get together with family and friends. Be sure to take time to mindfully reflect on what matters to you – whether it is a pair of warm socks, laughter with friends, the crackle of a fire, or a good night’s sleep. Paying attention to small joys instead of focusing on getting everything just right helps you stay mindful throughout this chaotic season.
Plan an Exit Strategy in Advance: While we all want everything to go as smoothly as possible during the holidays, it’s important to have an exit strategy planned in advance that you can use to remove yourself from any stressful situation. Bring your own vehicle when you attend holiday parties and events, so you are not reliant on anyone else to leave if you need to. It’s impossible to anticipate how we will feel in any situation, and sometimes we don’t even know exactly why we don’t feel right, and if you don’t have a pre-planned exit strategy at your disposal you are less likely to disengage. This is especially important if you are attending an event with alcohol or other substances that may trigger you. Bring a support person with you whenever possible, to help you stay sober and have fun. Don’t be afraid to use your exit strategy either; there will always be other events and gatherings and nothing is worth putting your sobriety or your sanity in jeopardy.
Stress and Family Anxiety: During the holiday season we typically spend more time with family and friends than usual. This is pleasurable and fun in many ways, but it can also bring up difficult memories, emotional wounds, or create situations that cause anxiety and/or stress. There are some things we can’t control, however pay attention to how much of your stress/anxiety is anticipatory. Past not-so-pleasant experiences, combined with the upcoming impending mix of different people and personalities, can cause us to project about family dysfunction rearing its ugly head. Do your best to stay in the moment, whether through meditation, taking a walk, breathing deeply, or taking a moment to count your blessings, practicing staying in the moment can alleviate any anticipatory anxiety. If you find yourself in the midst of a stressful situation, don’t be shy about using your exit strategy to gracefully remove yourself.
Practice Wellness During the Holidays: Your wellness is especially important during the chaotic holiday season. Staying active, hydrated, eating healthy food, and good sleeping habits are critical to keeping your emotional and physical wellbeing in check. Eating mindfully – taking the time to thoroughly enjoy good food – helps you slow down, enjoy each moment, and avoid a cycle of over-indulgence and guilt. As you are planning your day make sure to carve out time for a nice walk, good conversation with a trusted friend, deep breathing, or any other tool that helps you stay grounded. Carry a water bottle with you so you can easily stay hydrated. Moderation during the holidays can be difficult, but if you stay mindful you can enjoy the treats the season brings and keep your overall wellness top-of-mind.