8 Tips to Cope with Holiday Overwhelm

in Recovery resources
Olivia Pennelle
Published Dec 3, 2020

This time of year is often the time people celebrate the holidays, get together with loved ones, and look forward to getting dressed up. However, the holidays can also be a stressful time with many folks feeling overwhelmed, bloated, and suffering from decision fatigue. Add in the complication of the pandemic, social distancing measures, and various health precautions, and this is an unprecedented time to be entering into the holiday season.

For people in recovery, the holidays can be especially overwhelming even without being in the midst of a pandemic. Parties — even if they are small gatherings — are often flowing with alcohol. It is possible, however, to enjoy the holidays and stay sober. 

Gallus’ Clinical Director, Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, tells us “The holidays are a really difficult time for people. Whether you are celebrating or just trying to get through them, people in recovery more often than not face increased risk of relapse.”

Tips to cope with holiday overwhelm

We’ve listed our top tips to cope with overwhelm during the holidays.

  1. Limit exposure to substances. Carleton advises that “it is okay to ask a family member to abstain from alcohol or other drugs, or leave early if it doesn’t feel right.”
  2. Learn to say no. Many people in recovery feel like they have to make amends by always saying yes to everything. This simply isn’t true. Part of living a life in recovery is taking care of yourself — you could argue this is the most important part of recovery. Therefore, saying no or declining invitations — even if it is at the last minute — is absolutely okay. You could find yourself saying no to shopping and cyber deals, or stopping the ritual of sending what feels like an endless list of Christmas cards, and you could also be saying no to family drama. Saying no is a skill we develop in recovery and for some it doesn’t come easy. One of the easiest ways to learn how to say no, is to check in with your body: how do you feel when you think about going, or not going? If it doesn’t feel right then you have your answer. And please don’t attend a gathering out of fear of letting someone down. Putting recovery first means putting you, and your needs, first. 
  3. Make a plan. Carleton advises that making a plan is particularly helpful, especially if you are not looking forward to the holiday. “It is best to think through how you will spend your day. Maybe it is just a plan to take a walk, watch a movie, or call/zoom/connect with a friend or family member,” says Carleton.
  4. List your non-negotiables. Non-negotiables are things that are crucial to your health and well-being, and therefore your recovery. These could be prioritizing eating at least two healthy and nutritious meals per day, getting 8 hours sleep, drinking lots of water, hitting a meeting, and exercising for 30 minutes per day three times per week. Studies show that regular exercise can elevate your mood and physical wellbeing.
  5. Set some ground rules. “If you are spending time with relatives that you do not see eye to eye with, set some ground rules. Agree to not discuss topics that might lead to an argument or conflict,” Carleton advises.  
  6. Increase recovery activities. It may seem like a time to reduce meeting attendance, or not see your therapist, but you will find that you may need more support during the holidays, especially if you are in early recovery. We suggest thinking twice before cancelling any recovery activities, and perhaps even increase available support even if you feel like you don’t need them.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Find a way to treat yourself or make the day special. That might mean taking a day off work, a long soak in the tub, extra time in bed, or enjoying your favorite sweet treat. “There is always a pull to indulge during the holiday season so embrace it in a safe way,” Carleton says.
  8. Have a plan for overwhelm. While we can try and limit our exposure to stressors, sometimes we may just feel overwhelmed. You might feel triggered, tempted to drink, or even snap at loved ones. In these instances it’s helpful to have a tool to cope. That could be a 5 minute breathing exercise, a meditation, going for a walk, calling a friend, jumping up and down, or walking barefoot on the grass and taking some deep breaths. Whatever works, make a list of three things that you can go to in your time of need. 

Last, if you do struggle and relapse during the holidays know that you are not alone. We can help. 

At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we bring compassion to the commotion. Peace to the pain. Empowerment to the powerless. If you or someone you know needs support with addiction problems, bring us your battle. Call us today and take the best, first step towards recovery: 720-704-1432