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10 tips for navigating the holidays in early recovery

The holidays can be an exciting yet stressful time for people and especially those in early recovery. Social gatherings and family obligations might mean heightened anxiety and stress. The temptations to eat, drink and be merry during a season that encourages – even excuses – overindulgence are as ubiquitous as punchbowls of spiked eggnog.

Being prepared and vigilant goes a long way in helping you maintain your recovery during this high-risk season.

The following are 10 tips for navigating the holidays so you can welcome the season with comfort and equanimity or composure.

1. Have a plan
Before heading out to a holiday event, prepare a plan to honor your recovery goals. This could mean attending a support group before or after the event or bringing along a sponsor or supportive friend. Always have an escape plan, making sure you can leave at any time and are not dependent on someone else’s schedule.

2. Anticipate anxiety and other unpleasant emotions
Remember the holidays are not perfect for anyone and often intensify existing anxieties. Acknowledge and accept that your feelings are normal, understandable and, most of all, manageable. Awareness will keep your expectations in check and more prepared for any negative feelings that may bubble up over the holidays.

3. B.Y.O.B. – Bring your own Beverages
If you used alcohol or other substances to help alleviate social anxiety, bring along your own non-alcoholic refreshments to holiday parties. If you are unable to bring your own, make sure you always fetch your own. It’s generally helpful to have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand at all times so well-meaning people aren’t constantly offering to get you one.

4. Rehearse Responses
If your recovery is not public knowledge and you’re not ready to share at the holiday dinner party, use a discreet script for turning down alcoholic drinks or other off-limits substances. A simple “I don’t drink,” should suffice but you should tailor your words to fit your own experience.

5. Designate a Support Person
Maintain close ties with your supportive family members and friends, including those you’ve met throughout your recovery. Ask one of them to be your designated support person over the holidays and let them know you might call if you’re feeling vulnerable.

6. Avoid Triggering Situations
Prepare a polite way to say no to stress-inducing invitations or too many invitations. If you feel like you can’t avoid a triggering situation, invite along a supportive friend and have a solid exit strategy in place. If you sense you can’t attend an event without relapsing, avoid the event completely.

7. Manage Stress
If you self-medicated with alcohol or other substances as a way to cope with stress, it’s imperative to decompress over the holidays. You can build up your emotional defenses by starting a fitness program around as soon as possible. Any amount of exercise boosts endorphins and helps ward off negative emotions.

8. Eat Something
Having a nutritious meal or snack every three or four hours can help take the edge off any cravings. Low blood sugar can leave you reeling irritable, which in turn can make you feel impulsive or tempted by alcohol or other substances.

9. Practice Self Care and Gratitude
Recovery is a holistic process that involves healing of the mind, body and spirit. During the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s imperative to maintain an attitude of mindfulness and thankfulness. Take time each day for relaxation and meditation – even just a few minutes a day makes a difference. Also, give thanks. Year’s end is the perfect time to reflect on the things and people for which we are grateful.

10. Celebrate your Recovery
While you’re giving thanks, put yourself at the top of the list. Remind yourself – often – why sobriety is important to you. Write down all of the reasons you chose recovery and celebrate yourself for all of your hard work and progress. Sometimes all we need is to remember why we’re doing something in order to stay on the right path.

Navigating the holiday season is about understanding your triggers and staying vigilant but also about finding the good cheer that lies in sobriety. This year, see the holidays as an opportunity to reward yourself for staying true to your recovery – the greatest gift you could ever give to yourself.

M. Christine Macbeth is the chief executive officer of the Brien Center, a community-based, non-profit agency providing behavioral health and addiction treatment services throughout Berkshire County. As the county’s largest provider of services, The Brien Center serves about 10,000 children, teens, an adults each year.

»This article originally appeared at MassLive.com