Don’t Let The Festivities Get the Best of You – Part 1
With the holidays nearing, we know it only means your stress levels may be worsening. This is the start of a 4 part series on dealing with addiction and the holidays. It may be your own addiction or one of a family member’s. The four parts will break down as:
1. Stress over the holidays
2. How to support and interact with actively using individuals
3. Supporting individuals in recovery over the holidays, and
4. The results of mishandling a family member’s addiction.
Part One: Stress & the Holidays
Whether you have an addiction or not, the holidays are stressful. With increased spending, extensive travelling, and family tensions, it’s not surprising people turn to their nearest coping mechanisms.
For individuals in recovery or experiencing an active addiction, the holidays invite opportunity for destructive behaviour and relapse. Holiday stressors are amplified as they are often the origin of addiction for this group.
Stress isn’t always bad, though. Obviously, we see too much stress can cause deterioration mentally, emotionally, and physically, but when used effectively, stress can help motivate us to get things done quicker.
Stress Pros & Cons
Eustress – Good Stress
Stress is a natural and normal response. In its positive form, you can be organized, efficient, effective, and successful in many areas of life. For example (any past students will agree to this) a balanced amount of stress lets a student get all their assignments and readings done, study enough for tests and exams, and balance school with work, volunteering, extracurricular activities, or downtime. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, experts say stress to modern life is like precipitation to rain forests.
Distress – Great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; Acute physical or mental suffering
The opposite of good stress is obviously bad stress. This is the stress people mean when you hear someone say “Oh, I’ve been so stressed lately”. Have you notice these people also look exhausted? That’s because stress wrecks havoc on both the mind and body.
There is a fine line when Eustress becomes distress. Using the same example of a student: That stress that keeps them up-to-date with all their class tests and assignments can suddenly become negatively influencing if they get sick for few days and fall behind in their courses.
The reality of this process is that the stress causes you to:
– Make errors you normally don’t make
– Have poor memory
– Be extremely tired physically and mentally
– Be irritable, and
– Get sick (again).
Too much stress can also induce depression.
Avoid Stress During the Holidays
The key to managing stress well is using it to energize you for the holidays and protect you from anxiety and getting overwhelmed. Learning how to keep stress from accelerating will help you stay in the good stress range. The following tips can help individuals keep stress at a low level.
1. Reassess your expectations
Be realistic about holiday gatherings. Do you have time to make these extravagant ideas come true amongst your other daily commitments? When the gap between reality and your ideal is small, the stress is motivating. When the gap is large and there’s less chance of achieving your ideal, stress increases.
2. Focus on the real
Spend less time worrying what the holidays should look like and focus your energies on the gatherings and events. Accepting how your family truly interacts together will be less stressful than trying to turn everyone into the Brady Bunch.
3. Build a sense of fail-safe achievement
You will become inevitably busy over the holidays. Set up an achievement system that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed or behind. As example, out of all your errands choose one or two simple tasks each day (buying milk and/or mailing Christmas cards) that absolutely must be completed. If you fail to complete all or some of your other errands, you can still feel you’ve achieved something because of your simple task list. For some, doing a few things everyday over a longer period of time may be more effective than doing everything in one day.
4. Share your vision
Take more off “your plate” by giving holiday responsibilities to family members. Once given away, you must forget about those tasks! Nagging others to get those tasks done means you haven’t cleared them from your mind, meaning they’re still potential stressors.
5. Stick to a budget
As financial limitations can be a prominent issue during gift-giving holidays, an overall agreed budget by the family for holiday spending is a good idea. Include gifts, travel, and groceries (especially if you’re cooking a big dinner) costs in that budget so you can see the total cost rather than learning how much it drained your bank account afterwards. If possible, plan and budget for an enjoyable activity after the holidays to avoid the “post-holiday blahs”.
6. Reach out to others
If you think your situation is tough – talk to others. Spending time with friends can help you cope. They may also give you some good tips to help you through your holiday situation. Another bonus: you may give tips. When a person behaves competently like this, they often begin to feel like a competent person again even amongst chaos.
7. Take charge mentally
Rather than thinking of everything that could go wrong, think of all the things that could go well. Once you’ve done that, don’t spend another second on it. Admit how you feel about holiday issues and mentally rehearse how you’re going to handle them.
8. Do something nice for yourself
Take plenty of little breaks for yourself over the holidays to avoid “running yourself into the ground”. Schedule some personal time after gatherings and parties like a post-party facial or pedicure, going for a hike or long walk, or going to a movie you’ve been waiting see.
Check out Don’t Let The Festivities Get the Best of You – Part 2 for information on actively using family members during the holidays.