Most people know the holidays can be a period of emotional highs and
lows. Loneliness, anxiety, happiness and sadness are common feelings,
sometimes experienced in startling succession. The bad news is the
holiday blues can trigger relapse for people recovering from alcoholism
and other drug addiction. The good news is the blues can be remedied by
Why do the blues hit during this otherwise festive season? Doing too
much or too little and being separated from loved ones at this special
time can lead to sadness during the holiday season. Many recovering
people associate the holidays with memories of overindulgence, perhaps
of big benders that resulted in relationship problems or great personal
People experience feelings of melancholy, sadness and grief tied to
holiday recollections. Unlike clinical depression, which is more severe
and can last for months or years, those feelings are temporary, says
Sue Hoisington, a licensed psychologist and executive director of
Hazelden's Mental Health Centers. Anyone experiencing major symptoms of
depression, such as persistent sadness, anxiety, guilt or helplessness;
changes in sleep patterns; and a reduction in energy and libido, should
seek help from a trusted mental health professional, she adds.
Whether you're in recovery or not, Hoisington suggests developing a
holiday plan to help prevent the blues, one that will confront
unpleasant memories before they threaten your holiday experience. Your
plan should include improved self-care, enhanced support from others,
and healthy ways to celebrate. Hoisington offers a few suggestions to
achieve a happy, sober holiday season:
Good self-care is vital. Remember
to slow down. Take some quiet time each day and work on an attitude of
gratitude. Plan relaxation and meditation into your day, even for a few
minutes, no matter how busy you are. Relax your standards and reduce
overwhelming demands and responsibilities.
Don't overindulge. Go easy on the
holiday sweets and follow a balanced diet. Monitor your intake of
caffeine, nicotine and sugar. Exercise regularly to help maintain your
energy level amid a busier schedule. Don't try to do too much. Get
plenty of sleep. Fatigue is a stressor. Maintain some kind of schedule
and plan ahead; don't wait until the last minute to purchase gifts or
prepare to entertain.
Enhance your support system. Holidays
are a good time to reach out more frequently to your therapist,
sponsor, spiritual advisor, or support group. If you're in recovery,
spend time with fellow recovering people. Let others help you realize
your personal limits. Learn to say "no" in a way that is comfortable
Find new ways to celebrate. Create
some new symbols and rituals that will help redefine a joyful holiday
season. You might host a holiday gathering for special recovering
friends and/or attend celebrations of your Twelve Step group. Avoid
isolation and spend time with people you like who are not substance
users. Don't expose yourself to unnecessary temptations, such as
gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment. If there are
people who have a negative influence on you, avoid them.
Focus on your recovery program. Holidays
are also an important time to focus on your recovery program. For
example, ask, "What am I working on in my program now?" Discuss this
with your sponsor.
Release your resentments. Resentment
has been described as allowing a person you dislike to live in your
head, rent-free. Resentments that gain steam during the holidays can be
disastrous for anyone, especially recovering people. The Big Book of
"Alcoholics Anonymous" refers to resentment as the No. 1 offender, or
the most common factor in failed sobriety.
Holidays may also be a time to evaluate your spirituality and find a
personal way to draw support from the spirit of the season. Return the
holidays to a spiritual base, and stress the power of unselfish giving.
Recovery is serious work, but it is also important to have fun.
Laugh a little and a little more. Start seeing the humor in those
things that annoy you. Take from the holiday season what is important
for you and leave the rest.