The holidays are upon us with several days that allow us to take time for remembrance, spend time with family, and look back on life. For those that struggle with mental health and substance abuse disorders, this time may actually be a very difficult period. Whether you are trying to avoid using, but going to family functions where alcohol is in high supply and siblings or parents who you use to drink with or struggling with trauma symptoms including mood swings and flashbacks which are triggered by memories your family brings up, this may be a hard time of the year.

We want to, first of all, let you know that you can get help. We will be providing you with some ideas to try to use while you are at your next event or staying home, but counseling of any type, with a pastor or professional, is always a great first step. Also, our next article will specifically address the family members of people who have mental health conditions and how to support them. This is a must-read for everyone.

5 Things To Implement If Going To A Party

Here are five things that you can do for the best holiday party you attend.

  1. Have A Game Plan.
    Going to a big event in and of itself may be a feat for you to accomplish, let alone the stress of the holidays. To make this a successful event, have a gameplan. If you struggle with alcoholism and someone who doesn’t know about your sobriety offers you a drink, what are you going to say? If you struggle with depressive symptoms and want to go isolate, how are you going to address this concern when you are in someone else’s house full of people? Take some time to come up with possible action steps.
    We are not predicting any terrible situations, so there is no need to worry about it actually happening, but we are planning to help keep ourselves safe.Also, do not expect to have everything figured out. You can drive yourself mad with planning but don’t. Come up with three tough scenarios that may happen and three action plans. Nothing more, nothing less.
  2. Do Not Go It Alone.
    Whatever symptoms you are battling, make sure that you are not the only one that knows about it. This may be a tough ask from us, but make sure at least one person at the party understands what you are stressing about.Whether you bring a friend to a family function who knows about your anxiety or tell the host about your psychosis and need to step out if things get too chaotic so you can take a minute for yourself, make sure you have support. Even better, they can help watch for any symptoms you may be presenting and check in with you or cover for you while you take time out for yourself.
  3. Not Everyone Needs To Know.
    While we do encourage you to have at least one person know what’s going on with you at the party, it might be unwise for you to share it with everyone. Some friends and family may just be meeting up with you for the first time in months or years. Boundaries of self-confidentiality are important. Sometimes people won’t understand, have different cultural and ethical expectations, or are not good at respecting your boundaries. You may not share as much or any information with these people…
    and that’s okay.
  4. Don’t Wait For The Party To Build Relationships.
    It’s been years since you met up with your aunt or cousin or maybe even your mother or children. Don’t wait for this one party to be when you begin to rebuild your relationship. Start with a phone call, a Facebook message, or a letter.Not there yet? Start by praying for them and for your relationship with them. Let this party be a time you can build on your positive memories, not a time where you reminisce.
  5. Parties Aren’t Counseling Sessions.
    You certainly will share some fun memories as well as difficult pasts. People may ask “What’s been going on in your life?” You do not owe them the full truth. Share with them some of the fun stuff, leave some of the other things for when you are able to share with them comfortably one-on-one or for your counseling sessions.

2 Things To Try If Staying Home For The Holidays

You may not want to go out this year for the holidays. Okay. How do we make this time a happy experience and not one full of regret, shame, and stress?

  1. Being Home Does Not Mean You Have To Be Alone.
    Life is currently not normal so you are not able to go to the party. It won’t be like this every year, that’s okay. Could you start small and try out just a couple of trusted relationships to come over a day or two before or after the party? Maybe you spend it with friends with the goal of eventually being able to go to the bigger event?
  2. Not Going Doesn’t Mean Not Having Fun.
    How can you make this one year of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Or New Years different but special? Maybe you spend that time during the party writing letters to all of the people who did attend it. Maybe you cook some recipes you’ve loved from other family members yourself. Do some Skyping or FaceTiming when it’s appropriate to call family and friends.

Remember that mental health is not a death sentence. What do you think you could do this holiday season?

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is the Co-Occurring Program Coordinator and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at a community mental health center. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Colorado and Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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