Though it is easy to focus on the stressful parts of the holidays when in recovery, many aspects of this season can be beneficial to the healing process. Family and friends can provide a supportive, loving environment that is conducive to mental health and sobriety.
Large social networks have proven helpful to those in recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes community — meaning family, friends and other social networks — as one of the foundations for recovery for substance abuse and mental health issues. Though the holidays might mean spending time with family members or old friends who can be unintentionally triggering, it also provides an opportunity to reconnect with support systems.
Families with an individual newly in recovery have likely undergone much stress, pain and concern throughout the year. While it is natural to want the holidays to be a joyous time for a fresh start, managing expectations within the family can reduce disappointment if the holidays end up being tumultuous. This is likely to occur at some point throughout the season, as the individual is being exposed to certain triggers for the first time since treatment.
Jonathan Katz, a licensed clinical social worker, explains, “If you get excited because Susie is coming for the holidays and you think it’s going to be so exciting and that she’ll be so happy, you’re setting yourself up for disaster because Susie may be feeling really crappy. You need to be sensitive and compassionate and understanding about that.” Understanding that there might be rough patches during the holidays and planning for such situations can decrease the distress caused by them, both for the individual in recovery and his or her loved ones.
The role alcohol plays in holiday festivities can be challenging for those in recovery from mental health and substance abuse issues. Those with a past of alcohol abuse can be tempted to drink due to its availability at holiday functions, in an attempt to be festive or to cope with stress and other triggers during the holiday season. The same is true of individuals in recovery from depression or other mental health issues who might use alcohol as a crutch during this time.
Identifying one support system within a family or group of friends to check in with at holiday parties can be extremely beneficial for those in recovery. This can help with temptations regarding alcohol and other substances, issues with family members that might arise and any other circumstances that compromise recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder or substance abuse issue this holiday season, help is available. Call the Sovereign Health Group to speak with a professional.
Health for the holidays: Effects of holiday nostalgia on mental health
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health writer