You can feel the crispness of the air and the crunch of leaves underfoot – Fall is here, and that means horrifyingly haunted houses, football games, and hot apple cider. But while many feel excitement for the advent of the holiday season, if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, this time of year can be overwhelming.
In a 2014 study, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64% of people who struggle with mental illness said their symptoms worsened during the holidays.
Poor mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) almost always appear together, as one exacerbates the other. The mental stress of the holidays can trigger a relapse, which can bring on a mental health crisis. In light of this deep connection, an essential part of guarding your sobriety this fall should include taking steps to improve your mental health.
“Something as simple as taking 30 minutes out of your day to go for a mindful walk around the neighborhood can do a lot to help boost your mood and give you extra energy to deal with daily stressors,” said Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance Ranch. This residential facility offers drug and alcohol treatment for fathers and other men with SUD and has locations throughout Utah and Idaho.
The key to developing healthy coping habits is practice. “Improving your mental state is not a one-and-done exercise,” Dixon continued. “You need to be intentional about it every single day.”
So, let’s discuss some proven methods you can apply regularly to keep life during the holidays from spiraling out of control:
1. Engage with a therapist.
Suppose you already have a good therapist relationship in recovery. In that case, consider increasing the number of your visits as fall kicks into high gear with school projects, holiday parties, family reunions, high school sports, and other exciting but potentially pressure-filled plans.
Another great idea is to brush up on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) exercises you learned in drug or alcohol rehab to dispel the negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that usually accompany stress.
If you’re starting in recovery and haven’t connected with a therapist yet, make that a priority. Most substance abuse facilities are equipped to treat dual-diagnosis patients by offering one-on-one and group therapy resources to get at the heart of how their mental illness intersects with their addiction.
2. Get plenty of sleep.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that adolescents ages 13 to 18 get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours, and adults need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Constantly getting less than this suggested amount of quality sleep per night has been linked to mental and physical health issues like depression, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
To give yourself the best chance for a good sleep, consider incorporating the following into your evening routine:
- Refrain from eating heavy meals or snacks and drinking caffeinated beverages within 2 hours of going to bed.
- Leave the electronics out of the bedroom.
- Pull yourself away from TV and other devices about one hour before bed and unwind with a good book, some stretching, or a cozy bath.
- Dim or turn out the lights and make sure your room is a comfortable temperature.
- Aim for a consistent bedtime and wake schedule, even on the weekends.
3. Keep expectations low.
Don’t get discouraged if your family and friends are reluctant to jump right back into your life after rehab. Everybody has been through a lot, so it’s best to take things slow and easy and not build up unrealistic expectations.
We understand you want to give your kids a Christmas to remember, especially if the ones in the past haven’t been all that great because of your substance abuse. But that puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on you and them. Instead, look for opportunities to make little memories throughout the season, such as buying a few decorations and enlisting your kids to help “haunt up” your house, dancing in the living room with your toddler to “Holly, Jolly Christmas” and other holiday favorites; or keeping a promise to attend your son’s football game on Saturday.
4. Eat intuitively.
You know about consuming healthy foods, but you should also look at intuitive eating. This means you listen to your body and respond to its hunger cues. Throw out the idea of categorizing foods as good or bad; eat when you’re hungry, and stop eating when you’re full. It’s that simple. When you’re feeling down or anxious, don’t reach for the Ben & Jerry’s – not because ice cream is bad, but because you’re not really hungry, you’re just upset. Try journaling, exercising, or reconnecting with a friend instead.
5. Be in the moment.
The idea of being mindful of where you are and what you’re doing goes along with the intuitiveness discussed above. If you’re out with friends, be with them, in mind and body. Don’t think about everything you have to do when you get home or worry that you mishandled an earlier conversation with your spouse. Enjoy where you are, and let the people around you know that by your attentiveness.
The same goes for later when you’re with your spouse. Be present, pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, and seek to understand before responding. Don’t dredge up past hurts or other things you can’t control. Focus on what’s happening right now and encourage them to do likewise.
6. Get outside.
The great conservationist John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Spending time outdoors as often as possible is critical for many reasons – fresh air clears the mind, and being in nature reminds you that life is much bigger and more beautiful than you imagined. We lose sight of that when we spend too much time indoors. A good, brisk walk also gets your body moving, creating endorphins, one of the body’s natural “feel good” neurotransmitters.
7. Listen to yourself and respect your needs.
A big part of listening to yourself often means learning to say “No” to others. For example, you’re at a family Thanksgiving dinner, and the conversation around an issue gets testy. You feel uncomfortable, and you’d like to leave. Instead of staying and being miserable, excuse yourself and respect your need at that moment to take a break from everybody.
In another instance, you might find yourself at the center of what seems like a million questions about where you’ve been and what rehab was like. If you’d rather not talk about it, say so firmly and move on to a new topic. Your feelings and needs are valid and don’t require justification.
Your mental health represents a critical aspect of your recovery from substance abuse. By working daily to improve it, you also increase your likelihood of sustaining lifelong sobriety. For more information on battling addiction, call us at 855-736-7262.