The holidays are rough. Stress levels increase significantly for most people. Dominant culture sends lots of messages to go shopping and that the best way to express love is through consumption. Spending time with our families of origin can bring comfort and ease but it can also trigger childhood trauma and bring out old family dynamics that you could have sworn you had gotten away from. Grief can come in painful waves as memories of holidays past with deceased loved ones resurface. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common this time of year. For people in recovery, the holidays are often riddled with triggers and relapse is common.
Here’s a few tips on surviving the holiday season this year.
Don’t repress your feelings The holidays can be really hard. Sadness, Depression, Anger, and Rage are all common emotions this time of year. Pretending these hard feelings aren’t there can just make them worse. Let yourself cry, go punch a pillow, call a friend and talk about what’s coming up for you emotionally. Allowing the emotions to come up is one of the key ways that they can move through you.
Pay attention to your stress level Do you know what stress looks like in your body? I’m guessing you probably do. Perhaps you find yourself unable to stop thinking at the end of the night. Maybe you loose your appetite or maybe your appetite increases. Does your chronic illness flare up (eczema, RSI, herpes, food sensitivities, etc)? Do you develop stomach cramps or a pit of pain somewhere in your body? Listen to your body. All these can be signs that your stress level is increasing. If you find that your stress is increasing consider taking an herb that is good for nerves and stress. Here’s a few of my favorite
This plant is wonderful for mild-moderate stress. It is a delightfully sunny plant that is slightly uplifting and calms the nerves. I like to use Lemon Balm if there is some mild depression that is accompanying the stress. It’s generally pretty safe and does not have many interactions with medications. It tastes great and is lovely as a tea or tincture. I’d suggest making 2-3 strong cups of tea or taking 15 drops of tincture 3 times a day if you’re stress level is on the more moderate end of things. Just a strong cup of this tea can bring peace and ease after a stressful day.
Sometimes I jokingly tell people that the holidays would be a lot more manageable if we just put skullcap in the water. This plant is also good for stress. But unlike a lot of other plants that can be great for nerves, it’s not sedating. So it generally doesn’t make people tired. Skullcap helps takes the edge off. If you’re feeling an increase of stress that is connected with anger and rage, this is your plant. Fighting with your family of origin? Kids driving you up the wall? Skullcap is the plant for you. Try the same dose as the lemon balm above–2-3 cups or 15 drops of tincture a day.
Take care of your body. What does your body need to feel cared for? Maybe it means some extra stretches in the morning. Maybe it’s a bath a few times a week? Can you find some time to rub your whole body down with your favorite lotion, cream or butter, once a day during the peak holiday season? If you can afford a massage or a trip to a day spa, do it!
Get out and move if you can. It can be so hard to maintain your exercise routine when the stress increases. With the increase consumption of food and stress eating of the holidays a lot of people throw the towel in and abandon their exercise routines. Finding time for exercise can be very hard when there is so much going on. But numerous studies have shown that increasing your heart rate for 30 mins a day several times a week can go a long way in reducing stress and elevating moods. Can you maintain your exercise routine? If not can you commit to taking a 20-30 min brisk walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby park?
Stay disciplined with your Spiritual Practice If you’re anything like me, you know how hard this is this time of year. Often when it is the hardest to do our spiritual practices is when we need them the most. During the holiday season, we are often traveling, hosting, working long hours. This throws off routines and schedules in our lives. Try to keep space for your spiritual practice. Even if you shorten it significantly, try to stay connected. A 5-10 min meditation sit goes a long way this time of year. Don’t have a regular practice? Try this guided grounding exercise to support you in moving from a place of connection with the earth this holiday season.
Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan Rates of relapse and overdose increase dramatically around the holiday season. Many mistakenly think that this is linked largely to depression and grief during the holidays. Quite the contrary, for many the celebration of the holidays can be a huge trigger. “It’s been two years, I can have one drink right? It is Thanksgiving afterall!” or maybe you’ve had a few drinks and you think, “It won’t hurt to just have one cigarette right now….” If you are in recovery, take some time in the next week or two to develop a relapse prevention plan for the holidays this year. What does your relapse thinking look like? What has worked in the past for you to prevent relapse? What hasn’t worked? What are your triggers that are connected with a desire to use? Make a contract with yourself about what you will do to prevent a relapse this year. And if you haven’t been to a meeting in a while, consider going back. Call your sponsor. Reach out for support.
Speaking of support….
Get support If you are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays this year, I encourage you to consider getting professional support. Contact your local herbalist, therapist, chaplain, rabbi, minister or healer for help getting through the season. Follow me and other herbalists for inspiration and compassion. The holidays are rough. You don’t have to go through this alone.