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Five Tips for Managing Holiday Triggers


Family Time: Triggers Everywhere

Holiday time is family time.

For people in recovery – especially those toward the beginning of their recovery journey – the holidays can be a minefield of triggers.


If you’ve been in treatment, therapy, or support group meetings, chances are you’ve heard someone say this:

“Of course your family knows how to push your buttons. They’re the ones who installed them!”

Understanding family dynamics plays a big part in recovery. Therefore, it’s important to recognize holiday time with family can bring up powerful memories and emotions. The sights, sounds, and smells of the season are comforting for some and disturbing for others. But for most, they’re a tricky combination of both. We’ve come up with this short list of helpful tips to keep holiday emotions from triggering a relapse.

Holiday Triggers: Five Tips to Keep You Sane and Sober

1. Be Prepared.

Know what to expect and have your go-to coping mechanisms on deck. That’s half the battle. Triggers can elicit immediate surges of emotion, anxiety, and adrenaline. Be ready to handle them. It might feel a little awkward to get up from a family dinner to go for a head-clearing walk around the block, but if that’s what you need to do, then be ready to do it.

2. Plan the Days.

Take a look at your holiday schedule ahead of time. Identify the days you know might be intense, and try to schedule self-care before, during, and after them. If you know you’re going to spend a full afternoon preparing a meal with one or both of your parents, and you also know five minutes of that makes you want to jump out of your skin, then plan activities before (and after, if possible) that you know will ground you, keep you steady, and keep you on your program.

3. Use Your Support.

Plan on going to meetings, calling recovery partners or mentors, or seeing your therapist during the holidays. Therapists take holidays, too, but many are willing to take phone calls for both minor and major emergencies. If things get dicey at home, don’t hesitate: pick up the phone and ask someone you trust to listen.

4. Give Your Family a Heads Up.

Especially if this is your first sober holiday. Tell them the holidays are one of the most common times for people in recovery to slip or relapse. Let them know what you might need to do to take care of yourself (see #1 above), and ask for their support and understanding ahead of time.

5. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

No, we’re not calling you stupid. This acronym has many variations: Keep it Short and Simple, Keep it Simple, Silly, Keep It Simple and Straightforward – you may have heard all these. For the holidays, K.I.S.S. means focus on the basics. Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, get plenty of sleep. These simple, powerful habits keep you balanced and are more important during the holidays than you may realize.

Put Your Recovery Skills to Work

There’s another aspect of the holidays we didn’t mention above: for some reason, this is the time of year when things from the past – people or places – have the uncanny habit of sneaking up on you. For instance, when you’re out shopping with family, you might bump into someone you used to drink or do drugs with. You might also find yourself in places that bring back memories that have been buried for months or years.

Like A Christmas Carol in real life, no lie.

Ghosts of relationships and behaviors past come back to haunt you. The timing can be spooky. Not five minutes after a family member says something that brings up your stuff, you get a text from someone you know you shouldn’t hang out with. However, there’s an alternative way to look at these things. There’s a positive way to deal with them. Rather than feeling haunted or tempted, try seeing these potential triggers as a chance to put your recovery skills into action. Think of them as the universe presenting you the opportunity to say No to relapse and Yes to recovery, progress, and living the life of your choosing.

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