New Jersey Alcohol Addiction Center – Help Your Clients Manage Holiday Stress
Maria Ulmer-New Jersey alcohol addiction center Chief Clinical Officer offers clients tips to manage the stress of the holidays
December 19, 2016
(press release: summitbehavioralhealth) // New Jersey // Maria Ulmer MA, LMFT, CAADC | Chief Clinical Officer
The holidays mean time spent with family that often stirs up hidden emotions for those in early recovery causing great potential for alcohol abuse.
The holidays can be filled with mixed emotions for those in early recovery. There’s often a sense of excitement about experiencing the joy of the season and gratitude to be able to share this special time with those close to us. And yet many also experience feelings of stress and anxiety about family expectations and managing the triggers related to celebrating the holidays. During this time, addiction treatment professionals can support clients in early recovery with utilizing tools to aid in managing potential emotional and environmental stressors. In working to treat individuals in early recovery, it is especially important to be mindful of these emotional states and offer a variety of ways to build and strengthen individual’s coping skills to help them be able to better handle both the joy and the stress of this time of year. Here are some strategies to help you guide your recovering clients through the holidays:
Encourage the development of a plan to help guide the activities around your client’s celebrating. It is helpful to schedule fun and enjoyable activities that involve healthy and supportive people such as watching a funny movie, having coffee with a friend, or playing a board game. Limiting idle time can be an effective way to avoid falling back into old, maladaptive behaviors.
Discuss the importance of maintaining the normalcy of a regular routine. That involves attending twelve step meetings, attending work/school, eating regular meals, sleeping and exercising. Check in with your client about the activities of daily living that help them to feel healthy and grounded.
Help your client to identify a support system whom they can ask for help from during the holidays. In early recovery, it can be challenging to face family, friends and other relationships that may have been negatively impacted by their addictive behaviors. In addition, discerning which relationships are healthy and which are unhealthy can be difficult to assess in early recovery. Thorough evaluation of these relationships in counseling can assist individuals in gaining insight and understanding to help them make healthy decisions regarding their support system. Mustering the courage to ask for help can sometimes be hard to do, but letting family and friends know how they can help will provide the support necessary when your client needs it most during the holidays.
Research local twelve step meetings days/times for the areas that your client will be visiting. Many recovery clubhouses and twelve step meetings often have a designated holiday schedule consisting of hourly meetings and special celebrations for the recovery community.
Discuss the importance of taking time to relax. Simple ways to slow down can be done by reading a book, mediating, listening to soothing music – intentionally spending time just quieting the mind from all the hustle and bustle of the holidays can help those in early recovery avoid becoming overwhelmed and stressed.
Explore the use of journaling with your client. Journaling can be structured with goals to address the stressors of the day or difficult feelings that were experienced. But journaling can also be free flowing with focus on gratitude for life’s gifts and even prayer. Whether it’s a gratitude list, prayer of thanks, or reflection of the day’s events, utilizing a journal should be encouraged for recovering individuals to help them slow down and reflect on their strengths to manage life’s challenges.
Address potential triggers related to risky People – Places – Things that your client may be exposed to over the holidays. Helping your clients to recognize which triggers pose a risk can lead to the development of healthy decision making and healthy coping skills. With this gained insight, one can choose to avoid these triggers altogether or a safety plan can be created in the counseling session that identifies steps to manage these triggers and aid in relapse prevention. Examples of such steps include limiting the amount of time spent in high stress situations or bringing a supportive friend along to an event.
Promote reframing negative thoughts with positive affirmations in your counseling sessions. Individuals in early recovery often struggle with negative thoughts and diminished self-confidence. Focusing on happy, healthy thoughts will lead to keeping a rational perspective of themselves and the world around them which can strengthen self-confidence to better be able to cope with stress. Work with your client’s cognitions to build mindfulness of negative self-talk and practice thought-stopping exercises to minimize the power of those negative messages.
Educate your client about boundaries and practice defining healthy boundaries in their relationships. Remind your client that it’s ok to say no. For when they over-extend themselves or do too much for others, they often compromise themselves and their recovery needs. Setting healthy boundaries and maintaining a balanced lifestyle are important components of long term recovery.
Teach your client to prioritize self-care through being diligent in maintaining their daily steps of wellness such as: Taking a shower/bath, meal planning, staying hydrated, physical activity or exercise, getting a haircut or nails done, or taking medication/supplements as prescribed.
The stress of the holidays may be unavoidable, but by providing a toolbox filled with a variety of therapeutic tools, your clients can find healthy ways to manage the stress without compromising their recovery. As an addiction treatment provider, you have an amazing opportunity to support your clients in gaining the strength and ability to manage these holiday stressors and empower them to have the confidence to manage life on life’s terms.