Navigating Family Dynamics During the Holidays

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The holiday season can be equally as stressful as it is joyful for many people. Even with the goal of spending quality time with family at the forefront of the holidays, it can be easy to get caught up in the chaos of shopping, wrapping presents, baking, cooking, and attending different events that contribute to holiday stress. Understanding how to navigate family dynamics during the holidays can lead to a better experience. There is always an element of stress during the holidays, but for most, the joy and cheer of the holiday season make it all worthwhile.

Others, however, struggle immensely during the holidays. These people may have had an unpleasant childhood or a tumultuous relationship with a family member. Being obligated to participate in holiday festivities with people who have hurt or continue to hurt us can be excruciating. Family relationships are not always pleasant, and a holiday gathering can conjure up a lot of negative feelings. Something as innocent as a stray comment from an extended family member at the dinner table can turn a family gathering into a nightmare.

How Can The Holidays Affect Someone in Recovery?

Individuals who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction have worked hard to maintain that recovery. It is not always as easy as it seems, to not drink or use drugs, but those who are no longer engaging in those behaviors demonstrate healing and growth. However, that does not mean that they cannot be affected by external things, such as the holidays and all the stress that comes with this busy season. The ability to navigate family relationships as a person in recovery and stay sober during the holidays takes a lot of patience and self-awareness.

Triggering Situations

The holidays can affect someone in recovery in many ways. For example, attending a small holiday get-together with family may sound exciting, but for someone in recovery, it can be extremely triggering. Seeing alcohol and seeing family members enjoying alcohol can make someone want to drink again, and the more alcohol that is consumed, the more likely it is for a family member to say or do something that is overwhelming.

Emotions and Mental Health

The holidays can also dredge up old regrets, feelings of loneliness, heartbreak, and grief. All of these feelings can fester to the point where it starts seeming like a good idea to drink or use drugs again. On top of that, it is very common for individuals to experience new or worsening mental health issues as the seasons change and the holidays begin. Whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or a build-up of anxiety during this stressful time, the holidays can feel overwhelming.

Family Relationships

Difficult family relationships, family drama, and family situations can make the holidays more challenging for someone in recovery, especially considering that families tend to spend a lot of time with each other during the holidays. Thankfully, there are ways to navigate these potentially triggering events during the holidays.

5 Ideas for Navigating Family Dynamics During the Holidays 

It is always a good idea to be prepared, especially when you are in recovery and are going to be spending time with your family. Just because they are your family does not mean that you get along perfectly with all of them. In fact, you may have a few family members who you prefer not to spend time with but are forced to during the holidays. Whatever the case may be, being prepared to effectively navigate family dynamics during the holidays is critical to your recovery. 

1. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is absolutely vital to navigating family dynamics during the holidays. Setting boundaries is not to harm others or close yourself off from your family, boundaries are for protecting yourself from things, situations, and people that have the potential to harm you. Setting clear boundaries is an important part of taking care of yourself. For example, if you find yourself cornered by an uncle of yours who never stops trying to encourage you to drink, set a boundary for yourself that you will excuse yourself from the conversation before it becomes too overwhelming.

2. Review Your Expectations

People tend to set high expectations during the holiday season, especially when it comes to the type of family gatherings with a home-cooked meal and extended relatives. Review your expectations of what your interactions with your family members may be like. Be honest with yourself about the relationships that you have with your friends and family. For example, if you know that your relationship with your mother is strained, don’t expect to resolve all of the issues between the two of you in one evening. You can lower your expectations in an effort to be present and have a good time.

3. Have a Back-Up Plan

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by our surroundings. If you are in recovery, it is imperative to know that if you feel stressed, triggered, or overwhelmed, you are free to leave the event as you choose. Take a step back from the uncomfortable situation you find yourself in, take a deep breath, and think about what your next course of action should be. If you know that a certain event will be extremely triggering, it may be a better idea to stay home instead of placing yourself in a potentially compromising situation. Maintaining your recovery is a major priority, therefore, prepare to say goodbye and be on your way, even if your friends and family don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. Ultimately, this strategy will help preserve families and preserve relationships.

4. Be Ready to Go With the Flow 

The holidays are a busy time and events can be extremely fluid. Getting to be too rigid in your ways can make attempting to go with the flow feel like frustrating work. Relax your mind, focus on the here and now, breathe easier, and allow transitions to wash over you to not trigger your desire to use again. Practicing some self-care and self-compassion can make a huge difference when it comes to accepting life on life’s terms and being grateful for quality family time.

5. Know That You Can Only Control Yourself

The only things you can control are your thoughts and your behaviors. You cannot control what others say or do. Simply accepting this fact can make the pressure associated with navigating family dynamics much easier, allowing you to let loved ones present themselves how they may. However, accepting that you cannot control others does not mean that you have to engage with them. Remember, if you are feeling triggered, you can always leave or excuse yourself from that conversation. If a person or relationship is becoming too overwhelming, you have a responsibility to yourself to abandon uncomfortable situations.

Seeking Help When Things Get Overwhelming

If you need help navigating family dynamics during the holidays, consider contacting a mental health professional. Ending a substance use disorder is hard and it can be even harder during the holiday season. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to get the help you need. At Clear Behavioral Health there are dedicated professionals prepared and committed to guiding you as you make your way toward recovery. Call us today to learn more about our withdrawal management and inpatient rehab to start building a foundation in recovery and our outpatient substance use disorder programs for ongoing support.

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