From daily affirmations to laughter and volunteering, find ways to stay on track with your recovery

Michael B. Moore, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist at the Inova Behavioral Health Outpatient Center at Merrifield. Francis Kulesa, MSW, is a behavioral health program therapist.

With the holiday season approaching, we often have the opportunity to spend time with family and friends and to reflect upon ourselves and our accomplishments from the year. However, in spite of these warm feelings, we can become overwhelmed with anxiety, heartache, joy and other triggering emotions that could challenge a recovery. Thankfully, there are strategies we can put in place to safeguard our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

1. Prioritize
The holidays are busy, so it is important to place recovery first. This means taking time for our recovery including making/keeping behavioral health appointments, attending sober support groups, working out at the gym, meditating, and maintaining healthy sleep hygiene, etc. Yes, prioritization may mean not making all the scheduled holiday events, but this will help us enjoy the activities we do attend much more, as we will attend them with wholehearted emotional sobriety.

2. Support
Group therapy and sober support networks are great ways to help us ground ourselves. We get to spend time with those facing similar challenges as those we are experiencing. Sometimes it helps to simply talk to another person in recovery who simply just gets it — not because they have read about it — but because they know in a personal way the struggles we experience.

3. Set Boundaries
The holiday season brings people together. With this, we may be pushed to interact with highly triggering people. Political, religious and social views differ. Passionate, strongly-held opinions are bound to be shared that may differ from our own and inadvertently trigger us emotionally. We can ask in advance that triggering issues be tabled for other times. If these requests are not honored, we can always excuse ourselves from the event.

4. Serve
The holidays are a time for giving. Twelve-step programs offer the opportunity to help others through service positions. Other opportunities include volunteering, calling struggling friends and helping with even small tasks. Service to others may seem counterintuitive when we are stressed-out ourselves but can bring about a sense of peace.

5. Practice Gratitude
During this time of the year, we are often welcomed to reflect upon what we are grateful for. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way to improve emotional resiliency. Lists and journals can help us maintain focus. Keep in mind how acts of gratitude are associated with higher rates of happiness and lower depression (Seligman, Steen, & Peterson, 2005).

6. Meditate
It is well known that holidays can create extra stress, so consider meditation as a mental break in the cycle that helps increase focus and intuition. This is a useful tool for anxiety management, and there are many free resources such as YouTube and meditation apps to get started.

7. Exercise & Eat Well
We should remember to take time during the holidays to do things that will help us feel good. Exercise releases endorphins, boosts our energy and increases our mental acuity. Holidays often are an invitation for “carbo-loading” with inflammatory foods. Try to limit carbohydrates, increase protein and eat more fruits and vegetables to improve energy and mood.

8. Don’t Skip Medications
The holidays are no excuse to skip medications. Adherence to our medication regimen is key to our physical and mental health. Working with a psychiatrist and primary care physician in a trusting relationship is a crucial component of self-care.

9. Use Affirmations
The holidays are a time of warm feelings. Take a moment and appreciate positive qualities. Often our own mental self-critic will rush in with harsh judgments about our shortcomings. It is worth the effort to consider the balance sheet and take stock of our assets. The positive and negative are ever-present; there is no need to focus on the negative.

10. Laugh
Lastly, the holiday season is a time to recognize that we are not always perfect. It is so important to laugh at ourselves. Why stay in recovery if we cannot have fun? It is essential to lighten up and appreciate the humor that shows up in everyday life. Stop and take time to notice those moments. Laughter is great medicine for the mind, body and spirit.


Inova Behavioral Health Services’ Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services (CATS) Program offers a series of structured programs that provides effective, compassionate treatment for individuals 18 years old and older dealing with all forms of substance use and chemical dependency. For a phone screening, call our intake line at 703-289-7560. You can ask any questions or get more information about our inpatient and outpatient programs.

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