Hundreds of holidays are celebrated throughout the year, but most happen between October and January. Whether you’re observing a special custom or just joining friends and family for a flag-waving BBQ, it’s important to have sober holiday traditions that allow you to have fun and make lasting memories throughout your recovery.
First, Maintain Your Routine
It’s all too easy to get off-track during shifting holiday schedules. You may work more, or less. You might travel, or host a lot of people in your home. Sugary temptations abound, all while you’re trying to eat healthfully. You could be busy and active, but not really exercising or sleeping well.
Some experts believe that during the holiday season, we have two systems vying for attention that control our ability to maintain healthy habits: the “administrator brain” and the “caveman brain.” In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Dayna Lee-Baggley explains more:
- The administrator brain, centered in the prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe, is responsible for regulating our behavior. It doesn’t work automatically—we activate it with deliberate, conscious choices. However, the more we have to use it, especially when we’re stressed during the holidays, the more challenging it gets to rely on it.
- On the other hand, the caveman brain, housed in the hypothalamus and mesolimbic system, is automatic, as it’s focused on survival. Lee-Baggley says it works on the pleasure principle: eat all you can, do what works now, avoid pain, and take the path of least resistance. So when the administrator brain is tired of working, the caveman brain takes over. Hello, gooey treats, buying sprees, and late-night movie binges!
Although it’s only natural to fall into caveman ways, the National Alliance for Mental Health California states that maintaining health during the holidays is vital to your overall wellbeing. So in addition to your usual healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise regimen, here are a few additional tips, which we provide verbatim:
- Accept your needs. Be kind to yourself! Put your own mental and physical well-being first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations.
- Manage your time—and don’t try to do too much. Prioritizing your time and activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
- Set boundaries. Family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.
Creating new holiday traditions in recovery is an exciting time of discovery and purpose. Fortunately, you don’t have to stray from your solid daily recovery routine to embrace them.
Consider Different (and Fun!) Options
Some sober holiday traditions evolve naturally due to your focus on better health. But if you’re looking for new ways to help you celebrate togetherness with people you care about while also maintaining a sense of gratitude and peace, here are some ideas.
- Embrace an Icelandic tradition
Celebrate Jolabokaflod, or the “Yule book flood.” Give each family member a book on Christmas Eve, and spend the rest of the night reading in a cozy room together.
- Play tourist in your own town
At various times during the major holiday season, plan to visit something truly unique you’ve never experienced before: a special concert or play, an unusual feast, a decorative light tour, a traditional religious service, and so on. Extra points if it’s a cultural celebration from a culture other than your own.
- Adopt a family through a nonprofit
To recognize generosity and gratitude, encourage new hope in a needy family by gifting items such as new clothing, toys, household goods, and grocery store certificates. If there are kids in your family, have them shop and wrap, too.
- Create cards and letters
Spread joy by hosting a party with your friends and family members to make cards for various groups such as Cards for Hospitalized Kids, Operation We Are Here (for military members), Love For Our Elders, The Pinta Pride Project, and other organizations.
- Go on a scavenger hunt
Whether indoors, around the backyard, or throughout your city, devise an elaborate scavenger hunt that people of all ages can enjoy. Make up silly rules, wear holiday-appropriate costumes, and be sure to have a coveted trophy that can be passed down year after year.
- Remember a special person
Dia Des Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a unique Mexican celebration held each November that honors ancestors through various customs. You can adapt some of them to recognize departed friends and family members through food, photos, and other practices.
Discover New Ways of Living at Fair Oaks
The treatment philosophy of Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento is designed to introduce new habits and wellness techniques so you can find joy during the holidays and every other day of the year. It’s essential to remember that once you choose sobriety, you have the freedom to design your life however you see fit. We can help.