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Managing Holiday Stress While in Recovery: Tips from a Mental Health Professional

Managing Holiday Stress While in Recovery

Holiday Stress Tips from a Mental Health Professional

The holidays can be a stressful time for us all. As a mental health professional, I’ve created some holiday stress tips from my practice and from my own life to help people in recovery have a more enjoyable holiday season.

Family on Computer
Set realistic expectations for yourself during the holidays.

Tip #1: Set Realistic Expectations 

Many of us feel pressure to perform during holiday events. Getting together with family, planning events, decorating, prepping and preparing meals — this creates stress around holiday gatherings. 

Pause and ask yourself, who is putting this pressure on you? Who’s making the rules and expectations? Is it coming from other people or yourself? 

Focus on what you have control over. The only person you have control over is yourself. You do not have to create a stressful environment for yourself. If hosting a big gathering is stressing you out, invite fewer guests. If creating a large meal is too taxing, opt for a simpler menu or host a potluck. 

Couple in car with presents
If you are invited to a party, you can decide if you choose to attend and for how long.

Tip #2: Remember You are in Control 

One of my favorite holiday stress tips is to remember YOU are in control. If you are hosting a party, you have control over who is on the guest list. You set the house rules and can decide if there will be alcohol at your event or not. You can also decide who is on the guest list. If you are invited to a party, you can decide if you choose to attend and for how long. 

You have control over

  • Who you invite into your home
  • What you serve
  •  What events you attend and with whom and for how long

Your needs need to come first. Period. 

Family walking in the door
Setting healthy boundaries can help you have a more enjoyable experience with the people you care about.

Tip #3: Practice Good Communication and Set Boundaries

Practice “front-loading.” Do all the communication work before you step into a situation. If you’re in recovery, let people know ahead of time so they can process and prepare.

Practice good communication and set healthy boundaries. Front-load with a conversation like, “I want to enjoy this experience. If we start talking about politics or unresolved family stuff, I’m going to excuse myself from the conversation or the party entirely.” Setting healthy boundaries ahead of time can help you have a more enjoyable experience with the people you care about. 

Sometimes family dynamics are unhealthy, but you have choices. You can choose to not be around people that cause you stress. You can choose to set a time limit on who you will see and for how long. You can choose to see certain family members outside of a family gathering by having a coffee date or a visit over Facetime or Skype. 

Do all the work upfront so that when you get there you minimize the risk of something unpleasant happening.

Three friends talking and laughing in the night at home
Create a support network and foster healthy connections.

Tip #4: Create a Support Network 

A strong support network is the first line of defense. If attending a social gathering, bring a “wing person,” someone who’s in recovery, as well, or who is sober/doesn’t use to have a resource in the room with you if you feel vulnerable. 

You can also create a new social network of people. Do a Thanksgiving or Christmas with like-minded people in recovery so you can create healthy connections.

Guy with presents
Weigh the risks and rewards of being around certain people and situations.

Tip #5: Weigh your Risks and Rewards 

You might be wondering, “Do I need to go spend time with loved ones right now?”  Quality time is good for us and helps recharge our batteries. But you need to weigh the risks and rewards of being around certain people and situations. 

If you know an event is going to be stressful, why subject yourself to it? If it’s an unhealthy environment, do not purposefully involve yourself no matter what the reason.

There are also health and safety concerns at that moment. If you deem a large gathering as too risky, can you have your needs met another way? Can you celebrate with a smaller group of people who are just as cautious as you are? Can you spend smaller amounts of time with people but make it higher quality time?  What are the ways that you can mitigate your risks while still having your needs met? 

As humans, we need connection, love, and intimacy. It looks a little different right now, but we can still have those human needs met and create healthy environments for ourselves. 

About the Author
Robert Francis, PsyD is the Assistant Clinical Director at Psychiatric Care Center in Redding. He works with patients to help them make proactive and lasting changes on their journey of healing and recovery. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with holiday stress or other mental health challenges, we are here to help. Contact us to request an appointment.