Recovery and the Holidays

The holidays are a time of celebrating and festivities for many people, although they can be filled with stress and emotional lows as well. Sadness, persistent anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, hopelessness, loneliness, grief and guilt are common responses when someone is struggling with depression. Sometimes this is situational, while for some, it can last longer and become more clinically based. Coping with symptoms can be challenging, especially for those with substance abuse problems. 

The holidays can trigger increased alcohol and drug use leading to overindulgence, strained interpersonal relationships and greater pressures on the family. Managing these requires awareness, support and resources for those with substance abuse histories or who currently in recovery. Below are several tips to best help a loved one facing these stressors:

  1. Recognize hurt and losses. This time of year typically requires greater support for those coping with the loss of family and friends or life changes. Emotional highs and lows are part of this grieving process. Consider seeking additional support and therapy to help improve physical and emotional functioning.
  2. Get enough rest. Sleep disorders are 5 to 10 times higher in those with substance abuse problems. Alcohol abuse can lead to insomnia and sleep disruption. In addition, many people who take opiates report difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Limiting sugar, caffeine and screen time can help.
  3. Stick to regular mealtimes, hydrate, and eat a low-fat diet. People with substance abuse problems are more likely to relapse when they have poor eating habits. They tend to confuse hunger with alcohol or drug cravings. Eating more proteins, complex carbohydrates and fiber, along with taking vitamin and mineral supplements may help promote good health and recovery.  Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. Eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken and eggs. Also, try super-foods rich in nutrients that can boost mood, such as bananas (magnesium decreases anxiety, vitamin B6 promotes alertness, tryptophan boosts serotonin levels), brown rice (serotonin and thiamine supports sociability), and spinach (magnesium and folate reduces agitation and improves sleep).
  4. Self-care is essential.  Meditation is often viewed as a way to relax along with a strategy for maintaining health and training the mind in observation, increased concentration and emotional stability. Meditation can teach us to alter our responses to stress and increase serotonin production, which influences mood, sleep and appetite.
  5. Reach out to others. Connect with healthy friends, support groups, spiritual advisors and sponsors.  Avoid isolating by making a weekly schedule to add predictability, safety and structure to your day.
  6. Exercise now, and often. A ten minute walk can improve your mood for two hours. The key to sustaining mood is exercise that is continuous and rhythmic, such as walking, swimming, biking and yoga. Research suggests that physical activity triggers new cell growth in the brain, increases neurotransmitters and endorphins, reduces stress and relieves muscle tension—all things that can have a positive effect on depression and substance use.
  7. Create new holiday traditions. Avoid unnecessary temptations and triggers, like people, places and things that influence using. Express what you need to others.

Author: Ann Leasher, LMSW