Holiday Planning and Coping

December 17, 2018

The holidays are back! And, just like every year, they can be alive with joy, friends and family, and a whole slew of issues to navigate. Conversations about politics, too much time with extended family, endless holiday parties and constant advertisements for drinks and jolly times, can make the holidays a difficult time for everyone. If you are trying to change your relationship with substances or are trying to improve your overall health, the holiday season presents a unique set of stressors. Here are some tips on how to plan and cope with it.

Tip #1: Set REASONABLE Expectations

One thing that makes the holiday season so difficult for people is that there is an expectation, both real and imagined, that you are supposed to A) have a great time, B) attend everything (while having a great time), C) look great in your holiday sweater, and D) do all this while monitoring your consumption (or even be sober). If you are trying to implement a healthy habit, like eating well or not drinking, your have to be pretty thoughtful as you navigate holiday parties with their mounds of food, cookies and free flowing booze. And it’s likely that making conscious choices at holiday parties will run a bit counter to the expectation that you relax and be able to cut loose over the holidays.

One way to survive the holiday season is to set reasonable expectations for yourself and for the events that you will be attending. For example, step back and think through the party invitations you have received and consider turning down a few of them (even ones that sound really appealing and fun!) if it isn’t in your best interest to be stretched so thin. If you decide to turn down an invite, send the host a nice “thank you for inviting me” gift and then commit to spending that time doing something that feels supportive of your larger goals. Knowing what your limits are can make it easier for you to make choices that are consistent with your goals.

Tip #2: Recruit some Compatriots

Human beings are pack animals, meaning that we don’t really like being alone. Sure, we all benefit from some alone time, but overall we thrive when we are part of a group (especially if that group is like-minded). This is especially true over the holidays for a few reasons. First, we are bombarded at every moment with images of happy families and fun holiday parties, when the reality is that for many, the holidays are not as cheery as they are made out to be as time is crunched, demands are high and exposure to family is complicated. Dealing with a potentially difficult situation is much easier if you aren’t doing it alone.

As you think through the holiday events you are facing, try reaching out to some people who you think are like-minded and/or supportive. Let them know what you are facing and how they can help; the more specific you can be, the better! For example, if you know your father’s snarky comments about your appearance tend to make you want grab a drink, ask your friend if you can call to blow off steam and stay connected to your goal of not drinking. And remember, your compatriot does not have to be going to the event or even live nearby, if they can be reachable by phone or text, then they count! Just knowing that you have at least one person on your side can be extremely helpful as you navigate holiday events.

Tip #3: Give Back

Volunteering during the holiday season can see cliche, as some estimates put a 200% increase in volunteering during the holiday season than other times of the year! Wanting to give back, help those who don’t have as much, and the desire to spread some good-will around are all really great reasons to volunteer!

There is however another reason to volunteer around the holidays and all year round! It turns out, volunteering reducing stress for the person who is the volunteer! According to one study, on days when participants volunteered, they had a neurological response that made them less reactive to stressful situations. So, not only are you helping other people when you volunteer, but you’re also helping yourself get through some potentially difficult holiday moments! Everyone’s a winner!

The holidays can be difficult. With a little bit of planning and a lot of coping, it may be easier to tolerate the stress that comes along with them and you may even be able to feel the joy!

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