How To Get Through The Holidays While In Recovery

'Tis the season for struggles, even if you've got a seemingly picture-perfect life; what if you're just not holly or jolly this year? If you're newly sober, though, the holidays can be even more trying — and often trigger relapses, pointed out Dr. Meghan Marcum, chief psychologist at A Better Life Recovery. "The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, but they can also be particularly stressful especially for those in recovery," Marcum told The List in an interview. "Worries about gift-giving, finances, and complicated family dynamics can make anyone feel anxious. For people who are relatively new to sobriety, social obligations where alcohol is often served can make it an especially challenging time."

Marcum pointed out that these challenges can present the perfect storm for giving up on sobriety. "Stress is often a catalyst for relapse, and sometimes people isolate to avoid dealing with the holidays in general," she explained. "This can also contribute to relapse, so unless the person has well-developed ways of coping with stress, relapse can be a very real threat." That being said, relapsing doesn't have to be a foregone conclusion. Here's Marcum's advice for getting through the holidays while in recovery.

Give yourself the gift of self-care — and boundaries

The more stressed you are, the more difficult it will be for you to avoid a relapse, so take good care of yourself, Marcum advised. "Keep your stress levels down. Make sure you prioritize your sleep (adults need about 8 hours every night), eat healthy balanced meals, exercise, and practice relaxation techniques," she said. "Stress can contribute to relapse, so this is especially important during the busy holiday season."

Another key component of self-care is being comfortable saying "no" to situations that could threaten your recovery. This includes not attending events you don't really want to go to, either because you're concerned about addictive substances being offered to you, or because it might be difficult you to manage a full dance card at this point in time. "Set healthy boundaries for your time," Marcum said. "Just because you're invited to an event, that doesn't mean you have to attend each one. Go if you feel up for it, and give yourself permission to leave when you feel like it's time to say goodbye." And you don't need to provide lengthy excuses, either. Just go! "There's no need to over-explain yourself or stay longer than you desire," Marcum added.

Make a plan to stay sober

Don't take a holiday from your sobriety plan, Marcum urged. This means using all of the resources and strategies that have contributed to your success. "Keep in touch with your support system," she explained. "The holidays can be a busy time, but it is essential to maintain healthy support." Tap into the resources that have been helpful to you throughout this entire process. "Whether it be your therapist, outside support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or another type of support, schedule time to connect with these people," Marcum advised.

Also take some time to review the work you did when you first began recovery, she added. "Create or revisit your relapse prevention plan," Marcum said. "Write down how you will deal with stressful events, what resources you have available, and steps you can take if you're feeling vulnerable to relapse." While no one wants to think about relapsing, only succeeding, you need to have this possibility top of mind to prevent it from happening, Marcum added. "Preparing for a potential relapse is an important part of recovery, and gives you a tangible place to turn for guidance whenever you might need it," she explained. "It can be overwhelming to think about what to do when emotions are high, so having a written plan can be an excellent strategy."