The holidays – they are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And yet, for some, the holidays bring increased stress and risk for behavioral health issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there is an annual spike of drug and alcohol related deaths between January and December annually. Studies also show that binge drinking is highest during the winter holiday months, with 44% of people binge drinking on New Year’s Eve, and 21% during Christmas. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, during a two-hour time period. So what is the reason behind these troubling trends?
Many cultural, financial, and social components go into the upward trends of drinking and drug use during. American culture has a heavy influence on how people treat the holidays. November and December mean that the year is behind us – we did it, we survived! Many take this time to celebrate all they have achieved and overcome throughout the year. It is common to take several days, or even weeks, off from work during the holidays to enjoy time with family and some rest and relaxation. However, while some enjoy spending time with family during the holidays, others may experience increased familial conflict during this time, which can lean to unhealthy coping mechanisms at the bottom of the bottle. Studies show that 63% of Americans report feeling stressed or overwhelmed during the holidays due to the financial and family pressures that oftentimes arrive on the coattails of the holidays. Others may not have family or friends to spend time with, which can lead to feelings of loneliness. In addition to all the stresses that occur during a normal holiday season, 2020 has another sobering concern to add on top of it all: COVID-19.
This holiday season may be one of the most challenging yet. While most of us take this time to give thanks for all we have, many of us are faced with the reality of unprecedented loss this year – loss of jobs, financial security, and loved ones. It is important to remember during this time to be gentle with yourself and others. This year has been hard on everyone, so continue to do the best you can, but acknowledge your limits. Remember to practice CDC and state-recommended guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus: stay six feet apart, wear masks, and wash your hands with soap and warm water regularly. If you are visiting with family, consider spending your time outside, or in a well-ventilated house with windows open, if possible.
Also, remember to practice extreme self-care during this holiday season. Self-care is your defense against the stress and strain of the holidays – and caring for yourself will allow you to better care for others during this time. Self-care can look like a walk in the park, calling a friends, going for a scenic drive, taking a bubble bath, or listening to some music. Try to practice gratitude exercises, and remind yourself each day of few reasons you are grateful – things like your family, your home, and your community. Journaling is also a therapeutic way to practice gratitude and grounding. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they are thankful for experience more positivity, have better sleep, and even have stronger immune systems. Gratitude and self-care exercises do not need to be a planned-out affair. Rather than feeling obligated to set aside a chunk of time for these practices, try to implement them throughout your day. Try some light stretching while you brush your teeth in the morning, some gratitude while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, or a bit of journaling before you tuck yourself into bed at night. A little bit goes a long way. MCF would be happy to help you plan your self-care routine and help you through this challenging time.
If you want to learn more about how to plan for the holidays with a loved one who is experiencing substance use issues, please join Maryland Coalition of Family’s Julie Slivka for a free, virtual workshop on December 10th, “Handling the Holidays: Mindful Holiday Planning for Families Supporting Recovery.” This workshop will discuss holiday coping strategies for both caregivers and loved ones with substance use issues, as well as topics such as planning for food, drink, conversation, and game options at your events to reduce triggers and risks for your loved one. “Taking the time to plan ahead, for both you and your loved one, can help reduce the stress around supporting a loved one in recovery during the busy holiday season” explains Julie. “This workshop will give you the tools you need to manage the holidays successfully.” Register for this workshop at www.tiny.cc/MCFHolidays. You can also view a full list of free, virtual MCF support groups at www.mdcoaltion.org/groups.
Maryland Coalition of Families is a statewide non-profit that provides free, confidential support for families and other loved ones of individuals who have substance use disorders or other behavioral health issues. MCF’s specially trained family peer support specialists have walked the challenging road towards treatment and recovery with their own loved ones, and can help you find the resources you need to get your loved one on the road to recovery. To learn more about MCF’s no-cost services, please call 410-730-8267 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.