In a perfect world, the holiday season would be a time of joy for everyone. Take Thanksgiving, for example. Ideally, everyone would come together over a nice meal and share a sense of gratitude for all the good things in their lives. No squabbling over side dishes or kinds of pie. No political arguments. The cooking and clean-up activities would be fairly divided and happily completed.
That sounds great, doesn’t it?
But the number of people who have actually experienced a Thanksgiving that lives up to that idealized daydream must be vanishingly small. For so many people, Thanksgiving (as well as the big holidays that follow it) is filled with heaping helpings of stress and dread to go along with the turkey and stuffing.
That, of course, is challenging for everyone. But the challenge is magnified if you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder or who is struggling with a mental health disorder. This time of joy and gratitude can quickly morph into a situation that threatens your recovery or your mental health.
So how can you keep the stress and drama at bay so that you can enjoy the holiday? We have a few ideas.
Keep the Focus on the Thanks—and the Giving
It can be easy to forget all of the things we have to be thankful for—especially during a crazy year like this one (speaking of which, make sure you have a plan to celebrate the holiday safely and healthily). But Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to reflect and remind ourselves that there are always things for which we can be thankful.
In the days ahead of the holiday, you might consider taking some small index cards (or you could start a journal) and writing one thing you are thankful for on each one. It can be something big (your sobriety or your therapist, for example) or something small (maybe your favorite coffee in the morning or a new book you can’t wait to read). You could also make a card for each person you will be spending time with over the holiday—writing down one thing about them that you are grateful for or that makes you smile.
Once your set of cards is complete, try carrying some or all of the cards in your pocket or purse when you are headed out to holiday events. If you find yourself in a stressful situation that is triggering anxiety, for example, or you find yourself tempted to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, you can take out a card or two and quickly remind yourself of the good things in your life.
Giving and Serving
Thanksgiving is also a great time to focus on serving. The giving part of Thanksgiving is just as important as the thanks portion. And there are so many ways to give—from volunteering at a pantry or shelter to simply making a grocery run for a neighbor or older relative. Finding ways—large or small—to give to others is not only kind; it also supports your mental health and can serve as a barrier against cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Putting other people first is a great way to keep from ruminating about past mistakes or worrying about the future. A spirit of giving puts the focus on someone else—and that can be an excellent way to shore up your mental health or maintain your sobriety.
Making sure you pay attention to both the thanks and the giving can make this year’s holiday more joyful for you. And that is really something to be thankful for.
We Would Be Thankful for the Chance to Help
Mental health and substance use disorders do not take holidays. If you are struggling with mental health issues—like depression or anxiety—or with a substance use problem, we can help. All of us at Peak View Behavioral Health are committed to compassionate, personalized care that will help you reclaim control of your life while laying a foundation for lasting change. No matter what time of year it is, getting the help you need is something for which you will be thankful.