How to Cope with Holiday Triggers This Winter

holiday triggers

We’ve already talked about ways to make your holiday season memorable and safe in the midst of COVID-19 – virtual gatherings, new traditions, and self-care will be helpful in the days ahead. This time of year may be traditionally merry and bright. However, for many in recovery, December poses a unique set of risks. Stress, depression, and family drama are all significant triggers for those in sobriety. Today, we’ll discuss another type of preparation for the holiday season: bracing for potential stressors during “the most wonderful time of the year.”


Why are the Holidays So Stressful?

According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people reported an increase in their stress levels during the holidays. This time of year is supposed to be about togetherness and family – what makes it so uniquely stressful? We have a few ideas.

Financial Strain

First, buying gifts for friends and family can be a significant endeavor. Not only do we have to worry about picking out the perfect present; we have to make sure that we can afford it. This factor has become an even greater concern for Americans in 2020. Research from Principal Financial Group indicates that stress related to holiday expenses has risen more than 14% since 2019.

Seasonal Depression and Anxiety

Many people have trouble with anxiety and depression all year round, but for others, the winter months can trigger seasonal patterns of emotional turmoil. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by worsened depressive symptoms due to reduced exposure to sunlight.

Rich Food and Loose Schedules

It may seem ridiculous that some of the best parts of the holiday season – great food and freedom – can actually trigger stress, but it’s true. If you let your nutritional needs fall by the wayside in favor of rich, bad-for-you foods, it’s not uncommon to feel worse. Similarly, while it’s nice to get some time off, sitting around with nothing to do can be detrimental for those in early recovery.

Family Time

Everyone has a different experience with their family during the holidays. Some people revel in this level of togetherness, while others bristle. Regardless of how close you all are, spending a lot of time in a house with one another can be challenging. This is especially true if you will be around relatives with their own substance use disorders or those who do not support your sobriety: major triggers.

Holiday Parties and Temptation

This is a time of celebration – unfortunately, to the non-sober population, the word “celebration” is often synonymous with drinking or drug use. That means that holiday gatherings may present you with countless potentially triggering offers. It’s very important to be mindful about how you will navigate these situations.

Feeling Pressured to Be Happy

Paradoxically, the activities designed to make you jolly can actually have the opposite effect. Expectations run high this time of year, and you may feel pressured to put a smile on your face in front of friends and family. In reality, you may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or your sobriety.  


What Can We Do About Holiday Stress and Triggers?

In spite of all the stress, the holidays are still an exciting and fun time of year. We want to help you to enjoy the coming weeks instead of feeling anxious about potential triggers. Here’s our advice for a stress- and relapse-free December.

Identify Your Triggers

The first step of preparing for holiday triggers is knowing what yours are. Think back on years past to find them; then, you can come up with a plan. Do you have an uncle who gives everyone home brewed beer as a Christmas present? Reach out ahead of time to let him know that you are sober and won’t need any. Is there a cousin who always wants to “take a walk” and smoke when there is a lull in the afternoon? Have someone else in your family lined up to keep you accountable. By thinking ahead, you can brace yourself for any potential triggers.

Learn to Tell When You’re Getting Stressed Out

Stress is a useful adaptation – it helps us to get motivated and protect ourselves. However, this fight-or-flight mechanism is less useful when you’re trying to navigate delicate political conversations or tactfully say no to a glass of eggnog. To combat it, you’ll need to know it’s coming. Practice being mindful about your body’s reaction to stress. Does your stomach clench? Do you sweat? Can you feel your heartbeat speed up? Are you hyperventilating? Once you recognize these signs, you can learn to address them in the moment.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Avoid falling into the “happiness trap” over the holidays by setting realistic expectations for the month. If this is your first Christmas in sobriety, you may be tempted to think that everything will be perfect. This mindset can set you up for anxiety and potential relapse when things go wrong. Instead of needing everything to go off without a hitch, prepare to be a bit flexible and keep your recovery front of mind. That way, you can keep your priorities straight and meet any obstacles with a good attitude.

Practice Handling Your Triggers

In treatment, you learned many useful coping mechanisms to employ when faced with triggering people or events. There are several options for how you can handle any difficult situation this holiday. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Choose to participate in a virtual celebration instead
  • Attend more meetings than usual in preparation for the holidays
  • Practice good self-care (diet, exercise, sleep, and relaxation)
  • Express yourself to friends and family
  • Bring your own safe drinks to a gathering
  • Ask for support from other sober people or your loved ones
  • Read your recovery literature for reinforcement
  • Calm yourself down with breathing exercises
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to people, places, and things that jeopardize your sobriety
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step out for a minute or leave the gathering entirely
  • Bring your sponsor or a sober friend for accountability
  • Stay at home and start a new, substance-free tradition


Long-Term Addiction Treatment in St. Augustine, Florida

At The Augustine, we understand that this time of year can be difficult. If you need support or treatment in the days ahead, consider seeking treatment from an accredited facility near you.

Our Florida rehab is comprehensive and staffed by caring, considerate people who are also in recovery. We are standing by to help you embrace recovery, even in the midst of triggers and stress. For more information, contact The Augustine online or by phone.