Why Are the Holidays So Difficult Emotionally?

The holidays are painted with joy and celebration on storefronts, catalogs and commercials. Yet this joy eludes so many, and the failed expectation of those images likely compounds those emotions of sadness, loneliness and heartache.

There is also a significant increase in drugs and alcohol consumed during the holidays, and not just during joyful celebrations. Addiction relapse is also common during this time as well. Why are the holidays so difficult emotionally?

Portraying a False Sense of Happiness

The idea of a family gathered together in a well-appointed home with a perfectly cooked meal and perfect table setting, with everyone smiling and laughing is largely unrealistic. Even under the best of circumstances, there are a lot of stressors involved with planning, preparing, hosting, traveling, and being with family members during the holidays.

Perhaps you cannot be together with loved ones or have lost family members, as well this holiday season. Poverty is far too common, and not having a roof over your head during the holidays may be a real possibility as well.

This idea alone (that the ideal scenario is the expectation or norm) can create feelings of failure, misery, and pain when your circumstances fail to meet that portrayal on one or more levels. Being realistic about what your holiday can and should look like is key to managing your emotions at this time of year.

When Your Reality Does Not Meet Expectations

If you are unable to be with loved ones, unable to afford the type of celebration you would like, have traumatic holiday memories, or cannot meet the expectations you would like to, it is normal to feel disappointed, sad, or lonely. The holidays can be especially hard when you are unable to match previous traditions or have lost people you used to celebrate with.

Acknowledging why you are disappointed or sad can help you realize that your situation is not ideal and that your expectations cannot be met. When you are aware of the cause of your pain, it is easier to process it. Allow yourself to grieve and feel the pain, and be proactive to preserve your recovery.

Why Drug and Alcohol Use Increases During the Holidays

The positive and negative emotional stressors, as well as specific mental phenomena such as depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), all contribute to an increase in drug or alcohol use during the holiday season. According to a Public Health Report by the Acting Surgeon General, up to 10% of people may suffer from SAD in the winter season. He also cites drinking heavily as a way of dealing with stressors.

Sometimes, people will drink or use drugs to excess in celebration, but many people use substances during the holidays because they are triggered by negative emotions. Fatalities due to alcohol use also increase during this time of year. The holiday season can be particularly dangerous for those in treatment or recovery, as the holidays may cause an addiction relapse.

Preventing Holiday Relapse

Preventing relapse during the holidays is similar to preventing relapse all year long, except that since there are more triggers and stressors, you likely need to take extra precautions to maintain your alcohol addiction recovery this time of year. Some of the essential daily activities to remember during the holiday season include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Getting a healthy amount of exercise
  • Practicing self-care
  • Increasing mindfulness meditation and yoga
  • Reaching out for support from friends, family, sponsors, or meetings
  • Seek medical, therapeutic, or psychiatric care as needed
  • Avoid triggering people, places or activities (even if this includes family)

While these are the same things you should be doing every day, during the holidays, you will need to really pay close attention to doing every single one of them faithfully each day. You can also brush up on your addiction relapse prevention skills to help you prepare for all of the emotional stress that can occur during this busy time of the year.

Managing Your Own Emotions During the Holidays

Managing your emotions can also involve managing your expectations. For example, by knowing you may be alone, on a limited budget, or will need to spend time with difficult family members, you can prepare yourself to accept those circumstances. You may not be able to change the conditions of your holidays, but how you respond to those conditions is your choice.

When you know that you will have stressors or triggers related to the holidays, you can prepare by increasing your emotional resilience. When you are prepared to face emotional challenges, they become much easier to manage. Similar to studying for a test, the more effort that you put into creating emotional resilience, the better prepared you will be to face difficult challenges during this time of the year.

Why are the holidays so difficult emotionally? There are many different kinds of stressors during this time of the year, and substance use increases as people try to cope. Even if your holidays are not picture perfect, you can ensure that you get the help you need with DiscoveryMD. We offer outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We have Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) available to help lessen withdrawal symptoms, and individual and group counseling. Our helpful staff are in recovery as well and offer the compassion and wisdom that come from experience. At DiscoveryMD, our goal is to tailor your treatment to your individual needs to help you heal more effectively. We want to connect with you and help you get the help you need this holiday season. Please contact us today.

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