Preventing the Holiday Blues and Staying Sober

Part 2 of our Holiday Blog Series

The holiday season is sold as a time of celebration, good cheer and material wealth. As much as we want to embrace these tales, the expectations and experiences of the holiday season can create strong emotional ups and downs which often leads to  the holiday blues. For those in recovery, this can also bring about times of trepidation and temptation.

Why do the blues hit during this otherwise festive season? During the busiest time of the year, doing too much (or too little) can produce feelings of anxiety or a sense of not having enough. Being separated from loved ones or missing a lost someone can also bring about sadness during the holidays, Sadness is an emotion to embrace, but not always welcome with all the holiday cheer. Likewise, many in recovery might associate the holidays with mixed memories of overindulgence, an embarrassing episode, or a destructive big bender. Conflicting feelings of anxiety/depression, happy/sad, excited/sacred, plentiful/lonely are common emotions that may produce triggers or signals for relapse.

Developing a holiday plan to help prevent the blues can help defer and deter these feelings so we can, in fact, embrace and enjoy the festivities and celebrations of the season.

Here are a few suggestions to achieve a joyful and sober holiday season:

Enhance your support system. Holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to your therapist, sponsor, spiritual advisor, and/or support group. Spend time with your fellow recovering people. Call your friends instead of texting. Reconnect with those far away. Find your strength and reach out to those you need and trust. Learn to say "no" in a way that is comfortable for you to best realize your personal limits.

Focus on your recovery program. This is an important time to focus on the specifics of your recovery program. Take a look at what exactly you are working on right now (a step, a reading, a process, etc.), what is not working, and what worked in the past. Discuss this with your counselor, friends or sponsor. Go to meetings. Do service work. Help others—It is the season of giving!

Release your resentments. Resentment allows a person or feeling you dislike to live in your head, rent-free. Resentments that gain steam during the holidays can be disastrous for recovering people. Again, find your source for ways to let go of anger, difficult people, and old thought patterns. Try to bring about the joy of the holidays with the adage of Forgive and Forget. Letting these resentments and toxic thoughts can open us up to see and feel the good the season brings about. We can often learn from our most difficult relationships. Try asking, how does this person, or this situation serve as my teacher?

Don't overindulge. Easy does it. Stick to your routines and plans. Monitor your intake of caffeine, sugar, and anything out of the ordinary. Watch out for the holiday sweets and maintain a balanced diet. Get plenty of rest, keep exercising, and maintain a schedule. In these busy days, it is best to plan ahead to avoid stress and keep yourself on track.

Party Tricks:

Bring Your Own: To ensure sure you have something non-alcoholic to drink, bring it yourself! Bring a non-alcoholic fizzy juice, your favorite seltzer, some specialty soda, or a festive punch. You may find yourself the hero for other adults who limit their consumption of alcohol. A tasty non-alcoholic beverage will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.

Your Modus Operandi: For social situations that may be less familiar, or with peer pressure, it is helpful to have a quick response for why you are not drinking at this event: “I’m trying to lose some weight”, “Not drinking tonight—need a holiday party breather”, “I’m the designated driver tonight,” or, “Doesn’t fit into my exercise program” are some examples.  Whatever the retort, having one in mind will build your confidence which helps fend off any further questions.

Limit Yourself: Be choosy about the holiday events you attend and avoid people pleasing by saying “yes” to everything. Listen to yourself and learn to say “no," especially those parties that may be higher risk or that you don’t need/want to attend.

In and Out: Bring a sober friend, arrive late and leave early.

Find new ways to celebrate. Create some new symbols and rituals for YOU that redefine the holiday season. Host a holiday gathering for special friends and/or attend celebrations of your support group. Avoid isolation and spend time with people you like especially when you "don't really feel like it." Don't expose yourself to unnecessary temptations, such as gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment. If you can, avoid the people, place and things that have a negative influence on you.

You First. Slow. Down. No matter how busy, find some quiet time each day and work on an attitude of gratitude. Continue your self-care regiment whatever that might be: meditation, podcasts, walk around the block, journaling, alone time—just keep doing it, on a daily basis. Exercise regularly to help maintain your energy level amid a busier schedule. Relax your standards and reduce overwhelming demands and responsibilities to help prevent anxiety and stress levels as best you can.

Even if you struggle and find it tough going, know "This Too Shall Pass" and there is more life after the holidays.

Recovery is serious work and it is important to have fun. Laugh a little. And a little more. Embrace the season as best you can, bring new light, ideas, approaches and attitudes to your celebration. Look for the humor in those things around you, try to spot the joy of the children. Through sobriety and a strong program, enjoy the very best in your holiday season.


Douglas Brown, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about him, check out his Bio here.