For many, the holiday season means an interruption to their regular routine. Whether eagerly attending more social gatherings with friends and family, stressing about the extra money spent on presents, or grieving the idea of spending the next few weeks without a loved one, alcohol consumption can become a slippery slope this time of year.
If you want to reduce your alcohol use, or abstain altogether, there are proactive steps you can take to set yourself up for success to make it through the holidays, or create an entirely new lifestyle. Reducing alcohol use can feel like a daunting task; instead of white-knuckling your way through the next month, check out these tips, from our Quit Genius counselors, for a healthy, fun holiday season. Everyone’s goals are different, and it’s important to explore with an open mind and find what works best for you!
Knowing triggers and creating a plan ahead of time can help you feel prepared before attending that work party, spending time with those family members without boundaries, or staying home alone and risking isolation. First, define your goal: do you want to abstain from alcohol for the night? Set a limit for how much you will drink throughout each occasion? Avoid drinking alone? Establish a goal that is reasonable, and realistic for where you are; be specific, and set appropriate boundaries for yourself.
Once you feel comfortable with your goal, identify triggers or high risk situations that may lead to excessive alcohol use. Proactively cope with these challenges by reaching out to your support network, developing an exit strategy, bringing nonalcoholic beverages, and preparing what you will say if someone asks why you aren’t drinking. You won’t be able to plan for every scenario, but with consideration, you can build confidence in your ability to follow through with your plan.
Before, during, and after the holiday season, take the time to check-in with yourself; self-care tools can be utilized to prevent, manage, and decrease stress, so practice an assortment of skills and gain an understanding about what will work best for you in various situations. Keep in mind, your health is made up of many components: physical, mental, emotional, social, financial… take care of yourself comprehensively. Eat a healthy diet, practice healthy sleep hygiene, get up and move throughout the day; engage in mindfulness, spend time with friends, dedicate effort to your work and creative projects.
Create new traditions.
If you typically spend the holiday season with spiked eggnog in one hand and a sugar cookie in the other, shake things up this year by trying something different! Create a new ritual, and give yourself permission to put the focus on your wellbeing. Try new activities that discourage alcohol use – whether it’s drinking hot chocolate as you decorate the tree instead of wine, checking out a new coffee shop and ditching the bar, or choosing a small intimate gathering at the movie theaters over the yearly office party, find activities and environments you feel comfortable in, and can look forward to. If you’re feeling stuck on brainstorming new ideas, check out volunteer positions with organizations that have a mission you connect with – serving others is a fulfilling way to scrap the plan for drinking, and enhance your self-esteem.
For many people, creating a structured schedule may mean the difference between meeting their goal, or finding themselves in a binge-drinking pattern. Being triggered to drink due to boredom, isolation, or a missing sense of purpose can encourage a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, and lead to alcohol misuse. This is your opportunity to get creative: a “structured schedule” doesn’t have to mean work or chores – plan out a balanced day with breaks, and include fun activities you have been putting off. Find things you would rather do than drink, so when the time comes to make a decision, it’s much easier to say no to drinking and say yes to your new hobby.
Practice harm reduction.
Your goal may not be to abstain from alcohol altogether – and that’s okay! Whenever you choose to drink less, you are benefiting your physical health and mental wellbeing. Begin by bringing awareness to your alcohol use: track how many drinks you have on a typical work night, social gathering, family dinner, etc. Counting your drinks is not only a mindfulness technique to encourage self-awareness, but will give you an honest picture of your alcohol use patterns. As you become aware of your baseline, you can explore ways that discourage non-intentional drinking by delaying your first drink, choosing alcoholic beverages with a lighter alcohol content, putting your drink down (and better yet, out of sight) between sips; alternating with nonalcoholic beverages, pacing yourself (one drink every two hours, etc.), and focusing on the event activities rather than the beverages.
The holidays can be a difficult time of year; validate these challenges for yourself, and find a new routine that works best for you while honoring your commitment to your health. If you have a slip along the way, that’s okay – behavior change takes time! Challenge any negative self-talk that may come up, remind yourself this is a process, and reflect on triggers of which you may not have been aware. Learning more about yourself and your patterns can help you individualize the above coping skills so they provide support in the areas that will benefit you most.
If you would like additional support and resources, check to see if your company covers Quit Genius, and learn about how we can support you this season, and beyond.
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