While the holidays typically mean busy social calendars, office holiday parties, and frenzied travel, this year is likely going to look quite a bit different for all of us. Yep, we’re really home for the holidays.  

Indulgent eating and increased alcohol consumption during the holiday season can typically be attributed to festive celebrations and even social anxiety. This time around, the added stress that comes with living through tremendously challenging and uncertain times is likely enough to send you reaching for another and then another.  

If you’re reading this with a glass of merlot in hand, this isn’t meant to make you feel badly about it. We’re here to help you take a look at certain behaviors, with great self-compassion, and to better understand how we can all make more mindful decisions when it comes to eating and drinking this holiday season.  

1. Get to the “why of indulging more  

During times of crisis, it’s understandable that people are quicker to reach for a drink or snack to cope with the added anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or boredom. If this is you, you’re certainly not alone. According to Nielsen reports, alcohol sales have continued to greatly increase since people received stay-at-home orders.  

For many, the new normal quarantine coping strategy quickly became an evening quarantini, Zoom happy hours, or to-go cocktails from the local restaurant. As we head toward the end of the year, it’s helpful to look at the coping strategies we’ve been putting into place and how they have affected us.  

If you’ve found yourself reaching for alcohol or not-so-nutritious snacks, have you stopped to wonder what is going on at that moment? What are the emotions that are creating these urges? Are you over-indulging to cope with negative emotions? Are you just bored? Once you’re able to better understand the thinking pattern behind your actions, it’s possible to come up with alternative coping techniques that are more beneficial to your overall well-being.  

2. Finding alternative coping techniques  

Our normal routines and social outlets have been disrupted. We can’t go to parties or meet up with friends. We can’t go to ball games or even reliably leave our kids at day care. We can’t even pop in or drop by or swing over without a detailed plan. The elimination of all these coping mechanisms have left some of us feeling lost and reaching for alternative, temporary salves.  

The problem is that increased at-home happy hours can lead to less healthy bodies and an overall more stressful existence. While alcohol can have an initial relaxing effect, it actually stimulates the body’s stress response. Not to mention the ways in which it can negatively impact the immune system and lead to a bad night’s sleep.   
 
At a time when prioritizing your self-care is key, consider seeking out other outlets that bring you comfort, relieve stress, and add enjoyment to your life.  

  • Connect with those around you. Whether this happens safely in-person or via technology, reaching out to others can immediately make you feel less alone in your negative emotions.  
  • Find an outlet that brings you joy. There is a reason we’ve seen so many of our friends bake bread or dust off their paint brushes. Participating in any activity that allows you to channel your creativity is an immediate mood-lifter.  
  • Move your body. Taking a walk, doing a few stretches, or breaking a sweat immediately releases feel good hormones that are much-needed during this time of year.   
  • Focus on your breath. It sounds so simple, but we promise it works. Taking even a few seconds to deeply breathe in and out allows you to slow down and get present in your body.  
  • Journal. What better way to get to know what is going on inside of you tharecording it in a journal. You can also jot down a gratitude list in your Hope Board for a quick perspective-shift. 
  • Make a backup plan. Curate a list of activities you can turn to when you’re feeling bored or listless, e.g., tending to a garden, yoga, dancing, working out, walking the dog, planning the week ahead, trying a new recipe, whatever works for you. Then, when you’re feeling bored, do at least one thing on your list.  

3. Sit with the difficult stuff 

If you notice yourself reaching for a savory treat or a cocktail anytime difficult emotions arise, you may be searching for a quick and easy way to eliminate discomfort. While this temporary crutch can make us feel better in the moment, it never addresses the underlying emotions that you’re experiencing. 

The next time you get the urge to reach for something outside of yourself to make you feel better, see what it’s like to simply sit and observe the emotion and how it feels in your body. What physical sensations are you experiencing? Can you take a moment to describe what is going on for you? 

Psychologists suggest using the “urge surfing” mindfulness technique to better understand your motivations surrounding behaviors like over-eating and drinking. By becoming familiar and comfortable with negative emotions, we’re less inclined to seek out ways to cover them up. We’re resilient creatures and can actually handle much more than we give ourselves credit for, so consider giving this a try.  

4. If you need help, it’s here for you 

It’s important to remember that one’s relationship to alcohol consumption should be viewed on a spectrum. It isn’t as simple as classifying yourself or someone around you as a “responsible drinker” or an “alcoholic.” The key is to connect with yourself to better understand your relationship with alcohol and the underlying emotions you are seeking to eliminate.  
 
If you find that you are experiencing a physical dependence on alcohol, meaning if you stop drinking, you feel physically sick, there is professional help available for you. Consider reaching out to one of the mental health professionals here at Sanvello, your primary care physician, or a trusted loved one who can help you find the support you need. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available at 800-985-5990. You can also seek out recovery resources via Alcoholics Anonymous at aa-intergroup.org. 

5. Give yourself a little self-love and understanding this holiday season  

Look, the holidays are stressful any year, so of course this year has many of us spinning out. If you’re feeling sad, lonely, or fearful this year, remember that you’re not alone. Try to use this as an opportunity to better get to know yourself, your triggers, and your coping techniques. Along the way, try to offer yourself an abundance of self-care and compassion.  

While you may be physically distant from those you love, take a moment to reach out, connect, and see how others are coping. ‘Tis the season for nurturing ourselves and metaphorically holding close to those we love. We wish you the brightest possible holiday season and we’re here for you along the way.