Seasonal Gatherings: Tips for a stress-free holiday season


The holidays can be hard to manage, even at the best of times with so much going on.

There are people to see and places to go, but it’s essential to have a plan that alleviates stress and helps to manage those overwhelming moments, especially when you are still in the recovery process.

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Tips for a stress-free holiday season

The holidays can be hard to manage, even at the best of times with so much going on. There are people to see and places to go, but it’s essential to have a plan that alleviates stress and helps to manage those overwhelming moments, especially when you are still in the recovery process.

Invitations galore!

Don’t feel pressured or obligated to show up to every occasion you’re invited to. Be kind to yourself and figure out what the purpose of the event is from your point of view. It’s all about perspective.

Sometimes there are too many events, and too many gatherings. It’s totally fine to pick a few, or even none, based on how you feel at this point in your recovery. Permit yourself to bow out when you’re not sure how an event will go. If you are struggling with an invitation and it doesn’t feel right, then take a pass. Remember, you can send your regrets, but don’t think that you need to offer a lengthy explanation.

Itching your triggers

You may feel nervous if you decide to attend a function, as you could be exposed to a situation or stress that may trigger a relapse. The best thing you can do is some party planning of your own beforehand, in order for you to stay calm when you’re in the thick of things. Consider talking with the host a few days in advance about what their plans include and how they might be able to accommodate you. People with allergies often bring their own food and drinks to a party. Perhaps you can work something out, so your host will know what to expect and how to approach any potential risks.

It’s also important to realize that some of your triggers might be family members, work colleagues or people within the community. You could also encounter situational or geographical associations that act as triggers. Think about how you will respond if a situation arises. Take time to practice what you will say to decline offers you may get from other guests, and what you might do to ask for their support. It doesn’t mean you need to make a big announcement at the event or “prepare people” by talking to them before they arrive. It’s an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself and to build a better response, so you feel well prepared if and when something comes up.

You also don’t want to have feelings of added tension, stress or guilt associated with anyone or the holiday celebrations themselves. If you feel like a situation is going to cause you pain or make you feel too vulnerable, it may not be the right time for you to attend. That’s okay. If you decide to attend and feel the pressure mounting, release some stress by taking a walk to get a change of scenery. You could also excuse yourself for a quick meditation or to do some breathing exercises. Don’t be afraid to call someone in your support network to talk. They’re there to help.

Here are a few tips you can use to protect your life at the party

  • Arrive early and be prepared to leave early if it’s too difficult
  • BYOB – Bring your own beverages! You’ll have complete control of what you’re consuming and won’t have to worry about declining a drink from a generous merrymaker.
  • Work the room in your favour to avoid the unsupportive people. Have someone who you can rely on to distract you and intervene if a challenge presents itself. Your wing-person should be someone who will stay completely sober all night: no drinking, smoking or using drugs. You need to trust them to be an advocate.
  • Avoid confrontation and graciously decline disingenuous offers. Some people may willingly or inadvertently try to stir up controversy. Tell your hosts in advance how you will address any situations that make you uncomfortable so they can support you.
  • Stay calm. Remember that there is no perfect party. Things are always messy.
  • Offer to be the designated driver for a group of people. Being responsible for others can reduce stress and give you a built-in reason to avoid certain activities that may happen – no questions asked. 

Thinking ahead

If you know what to look for, you can create a plan on how to deal with things like tempting treats, delightful sounding drinks and those groups who break off from the bigger party. Watch out for sweets and treats like rum cake, fruit cake and liqueur-filled chocolates. They lurk on dessert tables and can have high alcohol content. Before you take a bite, think of how your actions could lead you backwards, and not forward in your recovery journey.

Party planners often come up with attractive sounding names for signature drinks. Look for the non-alcoholic versions of them, or drinks that won’t put your sobriety at risk. When you see a small group forming in a quiet corner, go the other way because there may be behaviour or substance triggers in smaller groups. Instead, find someone new and use the five w’s as conversation inspiration.

The 5 W’s - easy conversation kick-starters are:

  • 1.Ask who they are
  • 2.What do they do for a living?
  • 3.When did they arrive at the event?
  • 4.Where do they like to travel?
  • 5.Why did they come tonight?

Always return to your regularly scheduled program

Look at all of these occasions and instead of thinking about what’s in it for me, think about what could it do to me? You need to stay focused, fed and well rested, so your decision making is clear and confident. Keep attending meetings with your support network. That kind of consistency will be necessary.

It may seem like the whole world is celebrating, but they aren’t. A lot of people need to keep their routines during the holidays. If you have to leave an occasion earlier than you had planned, don’t sweat it. Instead, go home and watch a holiday favourite or curl up with a good book. That’s always time well spent. Above all, don’t forget to continue to do the things you love to do that help you maintain your focus and re-energize. Spending time on yourself to stay on track is a good investment.

What if you relapse?

Addiction and relapse happen because you’re trying to deal with difficult emotions. While it’s a normal part of recovery, the emotional responses you feel during a relapse can be devastating. Be open to finding hope again. Work through any anger, fear or disappointment and find the courage to be honest and begin addressing the underlying issues that caused you to slip.

You’ll correct your course again because you’re getting stronger each day.