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Coping With Holiday Anxiety in Recovery

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Coping With Holiday Anxiety in Recovery

The holidays can be a time of both joy and gratitude as well as crippling anxiety and stress, especially in early recovery. Whether you are anxious about facing triggers that make you want to drink or get high, navigating strained relationships, or simply feeling regret for past holidays that you weren’t present for. Regardless of the circumstances, it can be truly painful when stress and anxiety occur around the holidays. Even though it is completely normal to feel trepidation about the holidays when you are newly sober, it is helpful if you know how to cope with these feelings appropriately. There are many positive and healthy ways to cope with your anxiety and stay on top of your recovery. 


Stay Connected

If you are in recovery, you probably know how important it is to have a strong support group. Many people find their support group at 12-step or self-help groups, but your support group can be anyone who understands what you are going through and supports your recovery. During the holidays, you or many people in your support group may not be in the same town or attending the same meetings. However, it is important to stay connected to your sober support. 


Set aside time each day to pick up the phone and call one of your sober supports. Whether you are having a good day or are facing an anxiety-provoking experience, talking about it with a friend can help you stay grounded in your recovery. If you are struggling, sometimes talking it out is all that is required to make you feel better. Staying connected to your support group will provide you with a perfect strategy to deal with your anxiety. 


Have an Escape Plan

The rush of holiday cheer, gift exchanges, exposure to alcohol, and hefty meals can be overwhelming, and sometimes a little too chaotic. Remember that its okay to step away and escape if you need to. Don’t hesitate to tell your family that you need a minute to relax and unwind. Try taking a walk outside or going to a private room to listen to some music or meditate. Music, exercise, and meditation are all proven to effectively reduce anxiety. 


You may even decide to take the time to go to a meeting. Whatever you decide your escape plan will look like, give yourself permission to slip away from the holiday festivities. More than likely, your family will be happy that you are taking care of yourself and aware of your needs. 


Practice Breathing Exercises

Involuntary breathing keeps us alive, but you can also reap invaluable benefits from doing conscious breathing exercises. When people feel anxious, they begin taking more short, shallow breaths from the chest. Most people don’t even realize that they have begun breathing differently. However, shallow breathing doesn’t allow enough oxygen to get into the bloodstream. The body can signal a stress response, which can cause added anxiety and stress. 


Alternatively, deep abdominal breathing is a relaxation technique that can alleviate anxiety. The best part about breathing exercises is that you can do them anywhere, at any time. When you begin feeling anxious this holiday season, inhale slowly through your nose with your shoulders and body relaxed. Focus on breathing into your abdomen. You should feel your abdomen expand. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth with your jaw relaxed. Continue exhaling until all of the air has left your lungs. Repeat this exercise a few times, and you will feel your anxiety lessen. 


Take Time for Self Care

It’s understandable to feel pressure to pay attention to your loved ones, participate in holiday traditions, and continuously give of yourself. However, the holidays are no time to neglect self-care. You should take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health each day, and the holidays are no exception. 


Self-care doesn’t mean you should stray away from holiday traditions. It simply means that you are aware of what your needs are and making sure your needs are met. This refers to getting enough sleep, eating well, attending your meetings, and taking time to destress. When you are making sure to take care of yourself, not only will your anxiety be under control, but your mood will improve overall. 


Everyone who experiences anxiety has different ways of coping with it. In the end, it’s essential to find what strategies work best for you. Going into the holidays blindly is never a good idea. Instead, coming up with a plan of how you will deal with anxiety can help mitigate any emotional or physical symptoms that may occur. Most importantly, know that anxiety is normal, especially in early recovery. However, when you know how to cope with it, you can sit back, relax, and make this sober holiday the best one yet.