10 Ways to Navigate the Holidays with Confidence in Recovery
The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time of year for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental health issues. The festivities surrounding most holidays can feel overwhelming, regardless of one’s stage in the recovery or treatment process. How can patients, families and professionals protect recovery during the holidays?
Danelle P. (Eating Recovery Center Alumna) and Robyn Cruze (ERC National Recovery Advocate) share their thoughts on the stressors of being in recovery during the holidays and how they have coped:
Robyn: “What I realized is that I had to just focus on me and what the “next best thing” to do for my recovery was. I couldn’t think about how I was supposed to act, look and/or feel for others. I had to simply work on my recovery, one moment, one meal, one step at a time. It is my hope that you will give yourself the gift of being present during these holidays.”
Danell: “I look at the holidays as a time to celebrate that I can actually celebrate and enjoy them with my family in health. I have spent most holidays in the past years in treatment. So the fact that I am now home and in recovery and can spend them with my family in happiness, I make sure I really appreciate and enjoy the holiday as much as I can.”
Additionally, no matter where you are in your journey, consider these strategies to help you navigate the holidays and avoid potential triggers in recovery:
5 Strategies for Those in Recovery
- Focus on your values, rather than the event or outcome. Consider how your values fit into your holiday season. Where do family, friends, spirituality, creativity, etc. fit in? Allow for flexibility in following a schedule, make adjustments as needed, and create a dynamic of self-compassion towards any struggles or slips.
- Pick and choose which holiday functions have meaning. Sometimes we can have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. In advance, share your holiday plans with your team and ask them to help you identify areas that might need to be revised. Give yourself grace if you need to skip a holiday tradition. Consider that you may be able to revisit it at a later time.
- Practice mindfulness. Notice your emotions, thoughts and physical reactions without judgment. Remember, you’re allowed to leave if something becomes too triggering or stressful. You can practice grounding techniques when you feel anxiety rising by focusing on the five senses: carry an essential oil to smell, focus on hearing peaceful music, or wear something you can feel like a smooth necklace.
- Strengthen your social relationships with those who can offer you recovery-focused support. Openly and honestly discuss your challenges, victories and goals with members of your supportive network. If needed, bring a trusted family member or friend with you to holiday gatherings.
- Educate family/friends about how they can best support you. “I know that we can become very conscious of what our loved ones may be thinking about us at this time of the year. We may even feel 'watched.' Of course our families are concerned about us; they love us and want to see us recover,” says Cruze. “Share the tips below with your support network and help them understand how they can support you and champion your recovery during the holiday season.”
5 Strategies for Family Members and Friends of Those in Recovery
- Relax. As much as you want to re-engage your loved one into all of your holiday traditions, ease into the holiday season by focusing on values rather than accomplishing a strict timeline, particular activity or outcome. Focus on your values, such as connection and time together or another specific intention that fits you and your family best.
- Be mindful of the needs of your loved one during holiday gatherings. If your loved one doesn’t feel as though they can attend an event, support them in this decision even if you feel disappointed. If your loved one is willing and able to attend a holiday gathering, support them if they need to “escape” for some fresh air to keep their emotions in check, and be willing to leave early if the festivities begin to feel overwhelming.
- Plan ahead. Provide as much information as possible to your loved one regarding holiday activities — where, when, what. Information and preparation can help your loved one in recovery plan ahead, practice flexibility and avoid situations that might be triggering.
- Consider scheduling family therapy sessions when family members are together. Ask your loved one if it would be appropriate to invite relevant family members to participate in therapy sessions when they are in town for the holidays. Make use of holiday vacations spent together to address important issues, or use therapy sessions to learn how to help the entire family navigate the holidays while supporting your loved one’s recovery.
- Make your loved one’s recovery a priority. Altering holiday traditions in the short-term can significantly impact your loved one’s well-being in the long-term. Changing traditions or creating new traditions to meet the needs of your loved one in recovery can feel disappointing and scary, but remind yourself that his or her recovery is fragile and that you have the power to help protect it.
By Robyn Cruze, MA, National Recovery Advocate and Katie Bendel, Alumni/Family Liaison