6 Ways to Cope with the Holidays from Evidence Based Therapies
You’re a recovery detective now. Exploring the underbelly of your addiction is the key to understanding poor coping skills, harmful repetitive thoughts, their origin, and everyday triggers. Refer to this list of coping strategies from six evidence-based techniques proven to help people in recovery.
The holidays are a surprisingly auspicious time to commit yourself to sobriety. With the constant barrage of alcohol and celebratory recreational drug use, the spirit of the holidays often leads those struggling to recover spiraling. DUI death rates skyrocket and overdose fatalities continue. If recovery wasn’t difficult enough, the holidays cause much anxiety because of strained family relationships, feelings of unworthiness fomented by addiction, declining mental health, and increased substance abuse to cope with additional stress.
Committing yourself to recovery takes a lot of legwork, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, your reward is a clear mind, the ability to function without chronic distress, and being free to live the life you want. Psychoeducation — or learning about mental health and recovery — is the first step you can take towards getting better. We must take personal responsibility for identifying problem behaviors and doing everything in our power to transform negative behaviors for ourselves and those around us.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT teaches clients how to identify harmful repetitive thoughts, understand their childhood beginnings, and challenge negative feelings and perceptions about oneself and their environment. Treatment is short term, focuses on one or two recovery goals and often includes homework. Clients explore inner thoughts on their own and challenge old perspectives, self-imposed fallacies, and distorted thinking. CBT revolves around the way clients perceive the world and interpret events around them including thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Successful treatment helps clients transform negative thinking into hopeful, positive perspectives.
Coping Technique: Cognitive Restructuring
Described as changing one’s mindset and interpretation of the surrounding world, cognitive restructuring targets harmful thoughts and behaviors. Your job is to pay attention to negative (or self-abasing) recurring thoughts. For example, “I am not worthy,” “I am a failure,” “I am nothing — kill yourself.” Examine these thoughts in detail and make a list on paper of the proof you have to validate such thoughts. Draw a vertical line on a piece of paper, labeling the first column “What I Believe, and the second “My Proof.”
Fill in your recurring thoughts in the first column — ie: “I hate myself” and in the second column list detailed proof you have to substantiate this thought. You might come up with reasons like, “I’m an addict,” or “I’ve done horrible things to my family to continue using.” Flip the script on negative thinking – finding the silver lining in difficult situations culls cravings, soothes intense emotional outbursts, and helps reprogram your brain to stop pumping harmful thoughts into your brainspace. Responses with an appropriate level of self care and respect can combat any negative thought: ie: “I am pursuing recovery,” “I have hurt my family, but my mind is clear now.”.
For a more detailed exploration of cognitive restructuring, continue to add the following columns:
– Negative or Unhelpful Thought
– Is This Thought Necessarily True?
– This Thought Makes Me Feel . . .
– This Thought Makes Me Want to . . .
– Proof for Thought . . .
– Proof Against Thought . . .
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy is another form of talk therapy. DBT’s approach was developed for extreme, uncontrollable emotions, and for people with the inability to calm down without harming themselves. Described as “emotional dysregulation,” therapy centers around self-destructive behaviors and learning crucial coping skills to avoid hospitalization. Core ideas of treatment include distraction, self-soothing, and finding positivity in the negative. Clients work to identify muddled emotions, understand them, and take actions opposite to their usual responses. DBT teaches clients to turn a potentially dangerous situation into peaceful resolution without causing harm to themselves.
Coping Technique: Mindfulness
Inspired by Buddhist philosophy, practicing mindfulness teaches clients to remain in the moment. Often our struggles spring from living in the past, or becoming obsessed with future, potential anxieties. Mindfulness snaps you back into the moment you’re living — right then and there. Take a breath and notice, without trying to discern if your thoughts are “good” or “bad.” Simply experience your surroundings as they exist.
Self-acceptance is a large part of being mindful; begin treating yourself as a cherished friend. Notice the way your body interacts with your environment: can you feel the wind, the stillness of the air? What’s around you? What colors catch your attention? What forgotten beauty are you surrounded with? Perhaps it’s the trees swaying outside, a personal collection, or family photos.
When practicing mindfulness your goal isn’t to clear your mind, but to simply notice the things, thoughts, and physical sensations you experience. Get comfortable and begin noticing your inner dialogue as it comes. Observe it, and allow these musings to slip away. Through this technique you’re practicing acknowledging your thoughts but not getting entangled in them.
A simple yet effective mindfulness technique:
What are five things you see?
What are four things you can physically feel?
What are three things you can hear?
What are two things you can smell?
What is one thing you can taste?
The more you practice this technique when you are calm, the better suited you’ll become to use this technique to avoid a crisis.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance Commitment Therapy is often paired with some form of cognitive therapeutic approach (CBT or DBT, for example). ACT teaches us suffering is a necessary part of the human condition that cannot be avoided. Clients learn to let go of perceived control and accept they cannot influence the actions of others or external events around them. Acceptance of these truths is the pinnacle of ACT. Beyond this, ACT helps clients reconsider negative thoughts and feelings — facing them head-on, as opposed to compartmentalizing or ignoring them. Further, “Self as Context” is the idea we are not equated to our thoughts, actions, and behaviors— but that we are in direct control of who we are outside of these experiences.
Coping Technique: Examining the Costs of Avoidance
Basically what that means is, learning to tackle problems head-on. A common worksheet for analyzing the detriments of ignoring your feelings includes an analysis of the following questions. Write them down often and track your progress in alleviating repetitively disturbing thoughts.
- The thoughts I’d most like to get rid of are. . .
- The feelings I’d most like to get rid of are . . .
- The sensations I’d most like to get rid of are . . .
- The memories I’d most like to get rid of are . . .
- List everything you have tried throughout your life until the present to avoid painful feelings. What do you use to distract yourself?
- Remember all of the missed opportunities you’ve endured because of self-sabotage or to avoid feeling worthless, judged, or otherwise ill received. Write them all down.
- Identify any substances you’ve used over your lifetime and jot them down. This includes sweets, recreational substances, prescriptions, and alcohol.
It’s time to review your answers! While you go back to re-read what you’ve written, ask these three questions to yourself after each entry:
- Did this strategy affect meaningful change in the long-run?
- Did this action lead me to fulfillment?
- Should you answer “no” to question number two, explain what you’ve lost in regard to time lost, financial burden, health and wellness, relationships, and lust for life.
Following the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, Refuge Recovery focuses on developing wisdom and becoming spiritually enlightened. Recovery centers around personal spiritual movement, acceptance of suffering, and collecting wisdom from the eternal happiness of self-love. The application of loving yourself is one of the core principles of treatment. Meditation practice is a core component of therapy, teaching clients to take control of their minds, breaking free from addictive thought patterns. Clients learn how to bring themselves to the forefront of their minds — in the moment — and feel gratitude and inner love, despite troubling situations. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice and benefit from Buddhist philosophies.) Buddhism is a tremendously understanding tradition, and accepts people in recovery without judgement.
Coping Technique: Gratitude Journaling & Practicing Forgiveness
The efficacy of gratitude journaling to improve mood, alleviate depression, and anxiety is well documented. This therapeutic exercise teaches clients to reignite their sense of gratitude for the world around them. Practicing gratitude increases happiness and helps those who keep a regular journal feel fulfilled. Eventually this practice will extend outside of your journaling efforts, and gratitude will become a natural part of your life. You will learn to take the best from situations that would otherwise cause a spiral. When we are grateful, we are calm, collected, and in the presence of universal love.
In a journal, notebook, or document simply begin with “I am grateful for . . .” and fill in the blanks! It sounds cheesy at first, but this really works. You can start off simple: ie, you’re grateful for your family, your job, your home, the way the grass feels beneath your feet — what are the simple pleasures you take for granted? Examine minute details: do you have clean drinking water? Is there a musician who resonates with you? What about your ability to hear, taste, see, and smell? We forget our everyday faculties are not guaranteed. When we become mindful of this, each breath feels like a fresh start.
Self forgiveness is a practice helping us to move beyond self-abasement, shame, and guilt. Forgive yourself for doing the best you could considering your circumstances. If you possess regrets, write them down. Make an active commitment to begin healing and forgiving yourself for your grievances. In time, even if you don’t believe your own words, you will learn to accept and progress beyond mistakes from the past. On the page opposite of your gratitude journal write “I forgive myself for. . . .” Repeat each line for times, “I forgive myself for becoming addicted.” (We recommend repeating these sentences four times because the brain commits information to memory more readily in “fours.”)
Motivational Interviewing (MI)
Ever feel like you’ve lost your spark? Motivational Interviewing revolves around reactivating your zest for life, pursuits, and recovery commitment. Clients work closely with therapists to encourage themselves to achieve their goals. MI places clients at the helm of their recovery by teaching them how to apply positive psychology. Reprogramming one’s brain to be encouraging and confident is an important marker of treatment. You can take an active role in preparing for treatment by practicing daily affirmations, a tactic used in MI. Don’t hesitate to write your own affirmations! They will resonate more closely with you.
Coping Technique: Positive Affirmations
Repeat after us, four times daily!
- I will overcome my addiction!
- I am allowed to exist.
- I am.
- My thoughts and feelings are important.
- I am improving and growing everyday, even if I don’t notice it.
- I will reach out for help when I need to.
- I am worthy.
- I am not my addiction.
- I forgive myself.
- I am in control of my life.
You’ve the arts at your fingertips to express your feelings — proven to drive one’s narrative, and help recover from lasting traumas. Artistic pursuits teach clients to spend meaningful time with their feelings; when we create, we give life to our internal fears, struggles, and happiness. Experimenting with poetry, short stories, photography, creating music, dancing, or fine arts is all on the table. There are no right or wrong ways to practice creative therapy. Don’t worry if you’re not an artist or musician, you’re looking for the raw material within yourself. Don’t judge what you create, accept it for what it is, and try to derive meaning from it. You have more to teach yourself than you realize. Arts therapy is a type of recreational therapy, helping clients establish a solid foundation for continued sobriety.
Coping Technique: Self-Expression Through the Arts
There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to art! There are no rules, only guidance to illuminate what your subconscious already knows. Try a combination of the following suggestions, and don’t be afraid to explore arts that are not mentioned here. Your goal is to bring your feelings to life through creation. When we do this, the brain has an opportunity to process uncomfortable feelings and is relieved in the expression of them. Confining troubles to the mind causes great unhappiness.
Fine Art: Draw a still life of your environment of abuse. Examine it. Symbolically rip it up and throw it away, vowing your sobriety commitment. Take a deep breath, and on a new sheet of paper draw your ideal recovery surroundings. Draw your future. Draw the endless possibilities of recovery.
Crafting: Break out the scrapbook, grab a bunch of old magazines, a pair of scissors, stencils, markers, and glue. Your job is to make a recovery book that you can look through during times of stress. You can also create pages during times of distress. Include photos of your loved ones, aspirations you want to achieve, things you think are beautiful, and quotes that inspire you.
Music: Write down the lyrics of your heart. What hurts? What’s your story? Each song has a narrative. Sing, or write, about your recovery journey, how it started, the middle parts, the now. You don’t have to jam this all in one piece, make a Recovery EP. Let your voice be heard.
Don’t stop there! Grab an instrument and play away. You don’t have to know what you’re doing to create a sound you like. Don’t edit yourself. Don’t be down on yourself, just play naturally. It may take you awhile to get into a non-judgemental space, but if you keep working on it, you’ll get there.
Dance: Put on a song that deeply resonates within your core and let your body do the talking. Try expressive dance and see what your physical being is saying.
Poetry: Channel your inner muse and string along your recovery story in prose or a formal form of poetry. An acrostic poem is a great way to get started if you’re new to the craft. Spell out a word vertically and choose a theme. Refer to the example below:
What does RECOVERY mean to you?
Returning to myself
Eclipsing the past
Caring for myself
Overcoming my urges to use
Vitality and wellness, I will evoke
Everyday I will commit to my sobriety
Relying on my support system is important when I need help
You are loved and cared for
Try words like: Addiction, forgiveness, gratitude, rehab, therapy, and the like.
Though the holidays may be a stressful time of year, you have the opportunity to uncover who you really are. Get to know yourself through therapy. Create a backup plan should holiday events go awry. Do not endure undue stress. It’s not worth the risk. Learn everything you can to stay well. Reach out to us with any questions. We’re here to reach your recovery goals so you can celebrate safely this year, and every year after.