Top 10 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress without Relapse

The holiday season can be stressful whether you are new to recovery or have years

The holiday season can be stressful whether you are new to recovery or have years of sobriety behind you, and stress is one of the most common triggers for relapse. One of the best ways to get through the holidays and minimize your risk of drinking or using drugs due to elevated stress is to keep your stress levels as low as possible. Here’s how:

1. Choose to have an amazing holiday

When you are of the mindset that the holidays – or anything else, for that matter – is going to be difficult or otherwise negative, you increase the likelihood that they actually will be. Choose to set your perspective to a more positive view, and commit to making choices that will create a happy, fun holiday experience well into the new year.

2. Find your people

You are not the only person in recovery who may feel that heading home for the holidays is not an option for whatever reason, and you are not the only person who may be looking at a lonely holiday. You are also not the only person in recovery who may be facing an uncomfortable holiday with family, or the decision about whether or not it is even a good idea to take on the stress of going back home or the risk of relapse. Make an effort to connect with other people in sobriety during the holidays and any time you feel stress that threatens your ability to stay sober.

3. Identify Triggers

Identify your triggers and plan accordingly. If you know that certain family members or situations trigger your stress, have a plan in place to manage them. You may need to limit your time with certain people or avoid certain situations altogether.

4. Avoid stressful family gatherings

You may be pressured by your family to attend holiday dinners, parties, or events this year, but if you know that you will come face to face with tension-filled situations, arguments, or drunk relatives that are going to cause you stress, then you can and should skip them. Family is important, and it is a good idea to work on repairing damaged relationships in recovery, but the holidays are not necessarily the time or place.

5. If you must go, bring a friend

Things happen and for whatever reason, you may feel that a certain holiday event, though stressful, is unavoidable. If that is the case, bring a sober buddy along to help you stay grounded and give you a way out if you need to leave early.

6. Keep recovery at the forefront of your schedule

You may not be able to attend a therapy session, 12-Step meeting, or alumni meeting every day during the holidays, but you can make sure to continue getting to all your recovery appointments regularly. If they are canceled, find a new meeting, double up on other therapy options, or otherwise do “homework” to help you maintain focus.

7. Increase your holistic treatment sessions

Get a massage. Go to a yoga class. Practice tai chi in the park. Get acupuncture. All of these things can help to lower stress during a stressful time, holidays or not.

8. Decide what you want most out of the holidays and go for it

There is so much going on during the holiday season that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Shopping, friends’ parties, family events, traditional outings – there is no shortage of things to fill up your time. If you have too many options, pick just a few to focus on and only do those things. There is no requirement to do everything.

9. Find positive ways to fill your time

On the other hand, if you do not have a lot of options for the holidays and your schedule feels empty, find ways to fill your time that allow you to take part in the holidays according to your level of comfort. You can volunteer, take on seasonal work, or spend some time with newcomers in recovery to give them a safe place to be during the holidays.

10. Know that this too shall pass

Though the holidays can feel interminable, they do eventually come to an end. If you are unhappy with the whole spirit of the holidays, focus instead on the new year. What will you do to improve your life and recovery? What new treatments or therapies will you try? What new certification program will you enroll in? What jobs will you apply for? Think about the positive things you have to look forward to and know that it won’t be long before the holiday season is behind you.

Plan Ahead for Social Events

Social events can be a challenge for those in recovery, especially when alcohol is involved. It's important to plan ahead and have a strategy in place to manage these situations. Here are some tips:

  • Bring your own non-alcoholic beverage: If you're attending a party or event where alcohol will be served, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage. This way, you'll have something to drink that you enjoy and won't feel left out.
  • Have an escape plan: If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or triggered at a social event, have an escape plan in place. This could mean having a friend who can pick you up, or knowing the location of nearby support group meetings.
  • Avoid high-risk situations: If you know that certain social events or situations are high-risk for relapse, avoid them altogether. It's better to prioritize your recovery than to put yourself in a difficult situation.
  • Practice saying no: It's okay to say no if someone offers you alcohol at a social event. Practice saying no in advance so that you feel more comfortable in the moment.

Remember, planning ahead can help reduce stress and increase feelings of control during social events.

Make Time for Physical Activity

Making time for physical activity is an essential part of managing holiday stress without relapse. Exercise can help to reduce stress levels, increase feelings of well-being, and improve overall health. Consider incorporating activities like yoga or running into your daily routine to help you manage holiday stress. Even just 30 minutes of physical activity a day can make a big difference in how you feel both physically and mentally. Remember, taking care of your body is an important part of taking care of your recovery.

Attend Holiday Events with Sober Friends or Family Members for Support

Attending holiday events with sober friends or family members can provide a great source of support during the holiday season. Not only can they help you resist temptation and stay accountable, but they can also provide a sense of companionship during what may be an otherwise stressful time. If possible, reach out to your support network and see if anyone is available to attend events with you. This way, you'll have someone by your side who understands the challenges of recovery and can help you navigate difficult situations. Remember, there is strength in numbers and seeking support is a sign of courage, not weakness.

Create a List of Emergency Contacts

It's important to have a list of emergency contacts in case of a crisis or relapse. This list should include people who can support you in an emergency and help you get the help you need. Here are some tips for creating your emergency contact list:

  • Choose trusted individuals: Your emergency contact list should include people who you trust and feel comfortable talking to about your recovery. This could include family members, friends, sponsors, therapists, or members of your support group.
  • Include phone numbers and addresses: Make sure to include phone numbers and addresses for each person on your emergency contact list. You may also want to include email addresses or social media handles if that's how you typically communicate with them.
  • Keep the list updated: Review your emergency contact list regularly and make updates as needed. If someone moves or changes their phone number, be sure to update their information on your list.
  • Share the list with others: Make sure that at least one person knows where to find your emergency contact list in case they need to access it on your behalf. This could be a family member, friend, sponsor, or therapist.

Having a list of trusted individuals who can support you during a crisis or relapse can provide peace of mind and help you feel more equipped to handle any challenges that come your way during the holiday season and beyond.

Avoid Overcommitting Yourself and Prioritize Your Own Needs

It's easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and overcommit yourself to events or activities that can add stress to your life. It's important to remember that it's okay to say no and prioritize your own needs during the holiday season. Here are some tips for avoiding overcommitment:

  • Set boundaries: Determine what you are comfortable with, and communicate those boundaries clearly with others. This could mean saying no to certain events or activities, or limiting the amount of time you spend at social gatherings.
  • Schedule downtime: Make sure to schedule downtime for yourself during the holidays, whether it's a relaxing night at home or a day spent doing something you enjoy. This will help you recharge and reduce stress levels.
  • Delegate tasks: If you're feeling overwhelmed with holiday preparations, delegate tasks to others. Ask family members or friends for help with cooking, cleaning, or decorating.
  • Prioritize self-care: Don't neglect your own self-care during the holiday season. Make sure to continue with any regular practices that help you feel centered and relaxed, such as yoga or meditation.

Remember, prioritizing your own needs during the holidays is not selfish - it's essential for maintaining your overall health and well-being.

Connect with Nature

Connecting with nature can be a great way to reduce stress and promote relaxation during the holiday season. Spending time outdoors, whether it's going for a hike or simply taking a walk in the park, can help you feel more grounded and centered. If you live in an area where it's too cold to spend time outside, consider bringing natural elements into your home decor. This could include fresh flowers, potted plants, or even a small indoor herb garden. Not only will these natural elements add beauty to your space, but they can also help improve air quality and boost your mood. Remember, connecting with nature doesn't have to be complicated - even just a few minutes spent outside or incorporating natural elements into your home can make a big difference in how you feel both physically and mentally.


The holiday season can be a challenging time for those in recovery, but with the right strategies in place, it is possible to manage holiday stress without relapse. By sticking to a routine, identifying triggers, practicing self-care, and reaching out for support when needed, individuals can prioritize their recovery during this busy time of year.

It's important to plan ahead for social events, make time for physical activity, attend events with sober friends or family members for support, create a list of emergency contacts, and avoid overcommitting oneself. With these tips in mind, individuals can navigate the holiday season with confidence and celebrate their recovery along the way.

Remember - taking care of oneself is essential for maintaining long-term sobriety and overall well-being.


Since joining the Townsend content team, Shlomo has become a thought leader in the addiction field. He is a Seinfeld junkie, a recovering Twitter fanatic, and a sports expert. He enjoys milk shakes and beautiful views from rooftops.