Everything you need to know about staying sober the 2020 holiday season.
Staying sober on holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, or Thanksgiving can be challenging in the best of times, but this year we’re also facing the additional stress of the pandemic. Traditional plans like spending time with family, friends, or support groups may not be possible. For some of us, this may feel like a relief but for others, being alone on holidays is a trigger that leads to drinking and using.
Many of us will choose to be alone this holiday season, following our state and local guidelines on travel and limiting gatherings. What should you do if your plans have been turned upside down, and you’re scared of drinking or using this holiday season?
Evaluate the risks of holiday events
It’s important to have knowledge around COVID-19 and the risks involved with social gatherings. People have varying degrees of risk tolerance, and understanding what you are comfortable with can help you make plans for this holiday season. The CDC has guidelines for holiday celebrations, which recommend:
- Understanding COVID infection rates in your own area, and areas attendees may come from
- Limit the number of attendees, and allow space for social distancing
- Host gatherings outdoors, or increase ventilation indoors
- Require guests to wear masks and wash hands frequently
The Georgia Institute of Technology created a risk assessment tool to evaluate the risks of gatherings in your own area. The CDC also explains factors that can increase and decrease risk in detail on their website.
Another risk to remember: isolation can negatively affect your mental health and sobriety. How can you keep yourself safe, while also honoring your needs for social support?
If after evaluating risk you choose to turn down an invite from family or friends, set a personal boundary (“I’m skipping gatherings this year,” or “I’m avoiding unnecessary travel”) and offer an alternative (“I would love to do a FaceTime call before you sit down to dinner”).
Find ways to connect virtually for Thanksgiving or Christmas
If you’re not able to connect with friends, family, or other peers in-person, technology can ensure you don’t spend the holiday alone. Plan one (or all) of the following virtual get-togethers:
- Watch a holiday movie virtually: Apps like Netflix Party and Amazon Prime Watch Party allow you to watch a movie with loved ones in different locations.
- Livestream your cooking: If you’re a fan of holiday baking or cooking, schedule an afternoon with family and friends to join a Zoom and cook together. Share recipes ahead of time or during the event. At Workit Health, we’re voting on holiday recipes and then planning a Zoom bake-off to cook and share our results.
- Plan a family history night: Holidays are a time we traditionally connect with family and planning virtual events focused on the family can keep this tradition alive. Share a slideshow of family photos, or ask younger family members to research previous generations and present what they found.
- Make a mocktail: The narrative of using alcohol to manage pandemic stress seems to be here to stay. If you get FOMO when fancy alcoholic drinks are featured in the news or advertisements, create your own tradition around mocktails. Host a mocktail virtual mocktail happy hour and game night, or experiment and create your own signature holiday mocktail and send the ingredients out as a Christmas gift.
Have tools in mind for when cravings strike this holiday season
If you’re sober and the holidays are a trigger for you, gather tools to help you get through without drinking or using. Some tried and true methods from the Workit team:
- Rely on your network: Identify three people you feel safe reaching out to who are supportive of your sobriety and add them to your favorites on your phone. If you’re struggling, reach out to one of them via phone or text.
- Check-in on someone else: One of the best ways to get out of our own heads is to check-in on someone else who might be struggling. If you’re dealing with cravings or having a difficult day, try to reach out to a friend and see how they’re doing.
- Distract yourself: Distraction is key to combating cravings. Allow yourself to be distracted by a game on your phone, favorite TV show, or good book when you’re feeling down.
- Move your body: The mental benefits of exercise are surprising and profound. If you’re experiencing a craving, try to take a 10-minute walk where you focus on your surroundings. If you’re in an area where it’s too cold for walking, try 10 minutes of gentle stretching inside.
- Play the tape through: A single drink might sound nice, but where does a single drink take you? Will you drink more, or use other substances? Walking yourself through the potential consequences of your drinking or using can help you remember why you’re trying not to pick up in the first place.
Workit Counselor Sherrie Rager, Ph.D. explains, “In an overwhelming time such as 2020 coupled with the difficulty of early recovery, there are a few things this holiday season that are crucial. First, start the day on a positive note. Instead of waking up and letting anxiety take over, begin the day by reciting your favorite quote and think about what you are grateful for. Second, have a plan! Schedule, so you are prepared for what might come up. A routine during this unsettling time that is usually full of community is important. Online support is out there so put that in your schedule. Don’t forget to include self-care in that routine.
Finally, Breath and remember, you are not alone but part of a community!”
Remember, holidays are just another day to take care of yourself. Listen to your own needs and honor them, whether that means filling your calendar with Zoom events and meetings or choosing to not celebrate at all, without guilt. Now is a great time to think about what you enjoy the most from the holidays, and what you could do without. As we’re all building new traditions and habits in the face of COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to make holidays your own.