While the holidays can be joyful and exciting, they can also be overwhelming and stressful, especially for those in recovery.
Whether you feel the pressure to party or are confronting feelings of loneliness, cultivating more compassion and managing stress levels can help keep relapse at bay.
Physician and addiction specialist Gabor Maté, MD, says that addiction is rooted in trauma. “All addiction is an escape from pain,” he said. “All addictions come from emotional loss, and exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss.”
In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he suggests self-compassion can help soothe that pain. “Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity, and love.”
According to research from the Greater Good Science Center, when we feel compassion (sympathy for someone's distress and the desire to alleviate it), our heart rate slows down, we feel good, and our brain feels a greater desire to help.
Kristen Neff, a self-compassion researcher, defines self-compassion as, "being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical; framing imperfection in terms of the shared human experience; and seeing things clearly without ignoring or exaggerating problems."
Self-compassion is "when we care about ourselves and want to alleviate our own suffering," she says.
Stress is the biggest driver of relapse, says Maté, who explains research shows that when you infuse humans or animals with stress hormones, their drug consumption goes up.
In a report from the American Psychological Association, 31% of men and 44% of women report increased stress during holidays. This stress can come in many forms, including time, money, gift-giving pressure, overeating, family gatherings, or lack of sleep.
Many newcomers to recovery are encouraged to watch out for and avoid "HALT," an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.
Feeling stressed out can open a door to temptation, so it's important to find ways to nourish yourself with good food, rest, and support during the holidays.
You can find support by attending a meeting or even a yoga class for recovery. And don't forget to keep up with the activities that bring you joy and help you feel supported the rest of the year, like exercise or time with sober friends.
“Addiction is a fact of life, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence,” says yoga teacher and certified addictions recovery specialist Nikki Myers. “There is resilience in the human system when we're open and willing to have it happen.”
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies