Have you ever noticed that your mood tends to change during the fall and winter months? Are holidays a trigger for you since you have been in recovery? If either of these statements is true, you are not alone.
Fall and Winter Depression
Some people experience severe mood swings during the fall and winter months because of the decrease in sunlight during that time of year. This is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
For those in recovery, the “holiday blues” may be related to holiday trauma. Triggers can be found in holiday customs, events, and even songs. In addition, because the holiday season can include many social occasions, loneliness or the loss of a loved one could also be powerful triggers.
Is It Holiday Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
While both the “holiday blues” and SAD may initially present with the same symptoms, the severity and treatments for each will differ.
The “holiday blues” is not recognized as a medical condition, and the symptoms are relatively mild and pass soon after the holiday season ends. If symptoms persist well after the holidays, it’s essential to speak with a health care professional.
SAD, on the other hand, is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD). Those affected by SAD experience major depression during the fall and winter months. It can be medically treated through light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medication. If you feel that you may be experiencing SAD and need help, contact a medical professional.
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Tips on Staying Sober During the Holidays
If holidays are triggering for you and you need extra support during these times, there are different things you can do to help. Holidays you can learn to get through include:
#1. Staying Sober During Halloween
If you like to celebrate Halloween, you can still enjoy a safe, fun, and sober celebration by planning ahead. Here are a few things to consider:
- Host your own party: If being social and partying will entice you to use drugs or alcohol, remove the temptation by hosting your own party at home. Being in your own space will let you control the environment and avoid known temptations.
- Start a new tradition: If gathering for a party or celebration is triggering, plan a new activity. Replace the party with a sober activity in your area, or take the time for self-care.
- Have a sober buddy: If you still want to participate in a Halloween gathering and know you may struggle with temptations, take along a sober buddy. This friend will be there to support you and make sure you do not indulge in any substances. Be sure to have clear communication with them beforehand, so they know how best to support you.
#2. Staying Sober During Thanksgiving
If celebrating Thanksgiving with family or friends will cause you to feel down, depressed, or anxious, here are a few ideas that may help you through the day:
- Attend a meeting: Attend peer support group meetings as often as needed during the holidays. You are not alone in managing your sobriety. Connecting with others who know exactly what you are experiencing could be a great support to your recovery.
- Practice gratitude: To celebrate the day of giving thanks, write down all of the things you are thankful for. Take the time to sit and review it to see all the ways you are loved and supported.
- Have a “Plan B”: If you decide to attend a social gathering, always have a plan ready if you need to make a quick getaway to escape possible triggers.
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#3. Staying Sober During December Holidays
There are many holidays in December that recognize different spiritual or cultural beliefs. While the tips outlined above can help you manage your sobriety during any occasion, here are a few more that might be helpful:
- Prioritize yourself: Celebrate the holidays by participating in your favorite activities or hobbies. Make it a point to celebrate yourself and your progress in recovery.
- Plan ahead: Be proactive and talk with your treatment teams, peer groups, or medical professionals and collaborate with them to create a holiday recovery plan with activities and goals that will keep you focused on your sobriety.
- Acknowledge your feelings: Be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. Use healthy coping mechanisms to identify and process those feelings to keep moving forward.
It is not uncommon to experience sadness, anxiety, or depression during the fall or winter. These feelings could be caused by the seasonal affective disorder, the “holiday blues,” or by triggers related to the holiday that threaten your sobriety. If you are experiencing these feelings, you must be honest with yourself. Use your healthy coping skills to help you identify and process these feelings. If your symptoms are severe and you need help, reach out to your medical professionals or peer support team. Also, remember it is possible to enjoy the holidays and remain sober. If you or someone you know needs help managing depression over the holidays, or if you would like more tips on how to enjoy your holidays while remaining sober, give us a call today. You can reach Hawaii Island Recovery at (866) 390-5070. We are here to help you anytime — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.