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Tips for helping a loved one stay in recovery this holiday season

The holidays can be a joyous time, but this year, the pandemic means many people can’t spend time with loved ones. For anyone in recovery from substance use or managing a mood disorder, it is likely to be even more challenging.
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If you have a friend or loved one living with addiction or a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression, consider these tips from our experts to help you support them during the holidays.

1. Understand their challenges

If your loved one is finding things difficult, try to understand how the stress of the holidays and current social restrictions may impact their ability to cope in healthy ways — particularly because substances such as alcohol are often a big part of even household and virtual holiday celebrations. Seeing others drink may be tempting or harmful for someone in recovery, while drinking as a coping mechanism can also be risky for people with anxiety and depression given substances may exacerbate their symptoms.

“This year may be particularly difficult for individuals who have been working hard to maintain sobriety and now are unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones due to restrictions.”

“This year may be particularly difficult for individuals who have been working hard to maintain sobriety and now are unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones due to restrictions,” says Dr. Marla Korecky, who works in psychology at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction. “While conversations about the pandemic and related stressors may bring up your own fears and even frustration, try to maintain empathy and allow loved ones to discuss any holiday-related challenges.”

2. Offer to support them in social settings

“Though gatherings as we know them are on hold this year, virtual office parties or household get-togethers still include triggers such as alcohol or potential conflicts,” says Dr. Nader Sharifi, the addictions lead at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services.

The best thing you can do is offer to support your loved one during these situations. Offer to attend the event, even if it’s virtual, with them. If your loved one is in recovery, tell them you also won’t be drinking or using. If they’re worried about the potential for conflict with a friend or relative, assure them you’ll be there to help diffuse and avoid said conflict, or to talk afterwards.

3. Suggest activities best suited to their needs

Aside from helping your loved one through challenging situations, you can also take the lead by suggesting activities that are easier for them to enjoy. Maybe they’d prefer to get together one-on-one with you or to go for a walk outside. Encourage them to plan fun, festive events with their household, rather than isolating themselves or attending a holiday event where pressure or triggers may exist.

“If you are not able to meet with a friend or loved one in person this year, try to find alternative ways to show your support. A phone call or video call to check-in can go a long way, especially this year when many are more isolated from family and friends,” says Dr. Korecky.

4. Know their triggers

It can be hard for those in recovery or managing a mood disorder to ask for support, so don’t be afraid to be direct. Ask your loved one what their challenges are and, most importantly, what their triggers are.

“Engaging in ongoing conversation with them about their stressors not only increases the effectiveness of your support, but also encourages your loved one to identify and reflect on their own potential triggers,” says Dr. Korecky. “Having open dialogue about triggers can help them to plan ahead when navigating particularly difficult cravings.”

5. Keep your own expectations in check

Most important of all, don’t ask or expect your loved one to do things that may be challenging for them. This year especially, people are grappling with the idea of our holiday season being different and restricted. Sure, you may want them to attend your New Year’s Eve virtual get-together, and you may be disappointed if they aren’t there, but it may be stressful for them to adhere to pandemic restrictions, and there may be other factors at play. Listen and understand why they’re telling you they need to skip it.

“Certain situations and activities are best avoided when you’re in recovery,” says Dr. Sharifi. “If this is how your loved one has decided to cope, you need to be as understanding as possible.”

For a list of mental health and substance use treatment and help services, visit our getting help page.

addiction; anxiety; BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; depression; mental health; treatment
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