Tips For Enjoying the Holiday Season Alcohol-Free
The festive season has arrived, and you can bet your friends, family, and co-workers are starting to gear up for some holiday cheer. It’s an exciting time, filled with laughter, good food– and often lots of alcohol. Whether you’re in recovery or simply trying to limit or avoid alcohol altogether, it’s not always an easy task to abstain when drinks are flowing around you.
Here are some ways you can have fun and create new traditions over the holidays without alcohol or mood-altering substances. Stay on track with sobriety this holiday season and prioritize your healing journey.
1. Change People, Places, and Things
For those who are avoiding alcohol and other substances, people, places, and things can be relapse triggers. If you want to enjoy the holiday season sober, it’s important to replace the people who drank with you, avoid the places that make you feel like you might want to drink. In short, it can make you feel stronger and more comfortable to stay away from anything that reminds you of drinking.
By changing the landscape of your social settings and how you approach social situations, you will be able to better control any urges to drink.
Of course, the holiday season is also all about spending time with your loved ones. If your loved ones do consume alcohol around you or cause emotional stress in any way, consider shortening the time you spend with them and/or switching the venue for an alcohol-free environment.
For example, instead of attending a party or dinner, you may want to consider inviting your loved ones for a separate alcohol-free dinner out or a hot chocolate. Although it may not always be the ideal or convenient option, your recovery should come first above all else.
2. Start New Traditions
Out with the old, in with the new. Even if drinking was part of your past, it does not have to be a part of your future. You can create new traditions that don’t involve alcohol and encourage your friends and family to participate.
If your family always includes alcohol at family gatherings, perhaps starting your own alcohol-free family night with activities is something you could begin hosting. The more sobriety becomes your norm (and perhaps, when your loved ones have a fantastic time and wake up without a hangover), the more your support network will jump on board.
3. Find Your Favourite Non-Alcoholic Drink
Eating and drinking alcohol go hand in hand for many, but why not discover a new favorite non-alcoholic drink? There are plenty of festive options to celebrate that don’t involve booze. From coconut milk eggnog to sparkling apple cider, your local grocery store will have an aisle of tasty alcohol-free beverages to sip on. Treat yourself!
This BBC Good Food list of non-alcoholic drinks also has some easy ideas, such as peach citrus coolers and mulled apple juice.
3. Identify Sources of Stress
A common challenge in recovery is learning to find new coping mechanisms when life gets difficult. Let’s face it: the recovery process itself is not without challenges. Learning new strategies for dealing with the ups and downs of life will be key to staying sober. In active addiction, those who are suffering numb their pain and feelings by using a substance or behavior to feel better. In recovery, acknowledging and facing those feelings is part of the process. It also builds resilience.
Tips to Manage Your Stress Levels and Emotional Triggers During the Holiday Season
Focus on your breath.
Immediately shifting to deep breathing when you begin to feel stressed is an effective way to decompress and calm the nervous system. Simply pausing before reacting and taking 5-10 deep breaths can totally change the way you respond and react to a stressful situation.
You hear the word “gratitude” all the time, but it really is a key part of the recovery process. Even when tough circumstances arise, there is always something to be grateful for. Eyes to see the beauty of the world, ears to hear soothing music, fresh air to breathe, a delicious home-cooked meal, or a warm bed to sleep in.. the list goes on.
During times of stress, thinking of all the things that are going right in the midst of turbulence can really help put things into perspective and make life seem “not so bad”.
Get into nature.
Spending time in nature can help immensely with stress management because nature itself is grounding and healing. Fresh air, oxygen, and sunlight can help boost your mood, improve oxygen flow, enhance immunity, and promote an overall sense of calm and connectedness.
Take a walk to the park or go for a nature hike and put your phone notifications on silent to decompress and reconnect.
A lack of sleep is linked to both physical and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and irritability. (1)
Establishing a bedtime routine can help you wind down earlier in the night and prepare you for a more restful sleep. Soaking in a warm bath with epsom salts or drinking a magnesium citrate beverage, doing a guided meditation, reading a paperback book (not on a kindle to avoid blue light, which can impair sleep), and using essential oils can all help you wind down from a busy day and get you in a restful state.
Utilize your support groups.
When your stress levels reach their maximum, it’s important to talk it out with a friend or family member. Reach out, be vulnerable and allow your feelings to surface. It’s important to process and move through them in a safe space, rather than suppress them.
Most importantly, remember you’re never alone and drinking is never the solution. It will only add another layer of difficult emotions and challenges.
Learning to let go of things you can’t control is important in recovery. If you find yourself in a situation that is too stressful and one that you can’t control, choose to walk away from it rather than engage. This can be easier said than done, but sometimes silence is the best answer.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
In active addiction, it’s possible for relationships and trust with friends and family members to be damaged. In recovery, setting healthy boundaries is a necessary and effective practice for avoiding relapse.
Setting your boundaries involves defining your own personal values and needs. Boundaries are like a set of rules or personal guidelines for communicating what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable to us. Setting boundaries with friends and family members can be challenging, but when they are set, they allow for the process of healing and true recovery to begin.
Fun Sober Activity Suggestions
Creating new memories in sobriety isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Plus, there’s nothing that beats waking up each morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, opposed to having a pounding headache, nausea, and feelings of remorse about the night before.
It can help to make a list of some of the things you may be interested in trying or have previously enjoyed doing and schedule these activities in your calendar. Recruiting a friend who’s also in recovery or from a support group can help if you feel shy to get out there and try something new on your own.
Winter weather fun – if you live where it snows, get out and enjoy the winter weather. Go tobogganing, go skiing, go hiking in the mountains or check out the numerous holiday light displays that may be happening in your city.
Movie marathon – pop some corn, make some hot chocolate and grab a pillow and blanket. A movie marathon night is an enjoyable activity to do with friends or family.
Host a game night – everyone loves a good laugh and sitting around the table for game night.
Hit the ODR – if there’s an Outdoor Rink (ODR) in your area, this is a great activity to enjoy the outdoors while getting a little exercise.
Hit the movie theatres – go and check out the latest blockbuster hit. You can even plan a sober dinner at your place or in a restaurant before hitting the theatres.
Do a drop-in exercise class – Get the endorphins flowing and feel amazing. Most fitness studios and yoga studies offer drop-in classes or even a free initial class, without the commitment of buying a membership. This is a great way to stay in shape and meet new people who are also prioritizing their health (and may also be avoiding alcohol).
Relax – simply finding the time to sit down, reflect and relax can be beneficial to those in recovery. The “art of doing nothing” (guilt-free) can help to instantly lower stress levels, ground you, and promote a sense of calm.
The Bottom Line
Staying sober during the festive season can be challenging in early recovery, but it gets easier as time goes on. By avoiding relapse triggers, giving yourself time to rest and reflect, and finding joy in new activities and sober traditions, soon you won’t want to spend the holidays any other way.
Additionally, experiencing the physical health benefits of sobriety, prioritizing your emotional wellness, and being able to recall the new memories you’re about to make is something worth fighting for.