The holidays are often a tough time for those with anxiety, depression, and substance misuse issues. Even in normal years, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s often bring unwelcome guests — stress and depression. This year, the challenges are particularly overwhelming. The escalating COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, election fatigue, the continuing addiction crisis, and widespread mental health concerns are all prevalent in our communities.
The year 2020 has provided plenty of disruption and triggers for people with mood and/or substance use disorders. Two new studies released in September 2020 revealed the extent to which Americans have turned to psychoactive substances in an attempt to alleviate the severe stress brought on by the pandemic.
Attempting to ease holiday and pandemic stress with increased drug and alcohol use is a dangerous proposition. If it leads to addiction, the resulting biopsychosocial disease will be much worse than the emotional pain the substances were supposed to numb.
People in recovery from addiction have to be extra mindful during the holidays, warns The Recovery Book: The holidays are “also a time when temptations to jump off the wagon seem to multiply.” Holiday stress can cause individuals struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to resume or intensify their substance use. It can also spark a substance use problem aided by the ease of access to alcoholic beverages during holiday celebrations.
The good news is that with the right attitude and awareness, these risks can be minimized. Be aware of triggers and avoid emotional drains!
Recognizing environmental triggers can be part of a positive emotional response. “Triggers can be welcome or scary,” says Recovery Ways’ chief medical officer, Dr. Hans Watson. “The only long-term way to successfully eliminate a negative trigger’s ability to overwhelm us is to recognize the emotion that is underlying the response and identify a healthy way to work through such emotions.”
Recovery Ways’ chief executive officer Jaime Vinck recommends avoiding the following seven energy drains:
- Skip the alcohol – alcohol can exacerbate any feelings of situational depression while drinking, even the day after. Many use alcohol to numb the pain or sorrow of depression, when in fact, drinking makes it worse. Drinking also makes navigating difficult social situations even more difficult when one is impaired. How about suggesting an alcohol-free holiday celebration, or better yet, an alcohol-free season?
- Pass on the sugar – eating too many cookies and cakes can create feelings of lethargy, like an emotional crash. These crashes can exacerbate feelings of depression.
- Stay as present as possible – stay in the moment to keep peace of mind. If opportunities arise to talk to family members about challenges, remember to talk about potential solutions instead of focusing on problems alone.
- Avoid overspending – the rush of giving extravagant gifts can backfire with depression when the bills arrive after the holidays.
- Reframe resentments – holding resentments is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. If you are going to invite Uncle Bob to a holiday dinner and there was tension last year, examine what can be done before family gatherings to reduce tension. Clearing emotional space will make for a more pleasant time with family members.
- Leave self-comparisons in the past – looking at another’s life and making comparisons can result in unnecessary bitterness, depression, and resentments.
- Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable – acknowledge sadness, hurt, and grief. Prepare to make changes in the new year. Acknowledging feelings starts the healing process. Holding them in can create illness, making anxiety and depression worse.
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, Recovery Ways wants to help. We are dually licensed to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Don’t delay seeking treatment because of the holidays. Our admissions coordinators can recommend a plan of action, suggest an interventionist, or speak with your loved one. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.