The holidays are upon us, but cherished traditions may play out a little differently this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have struggled with higher stress levels due to the pandemic, and the holiday season tends to make stress skyrocket already. Recovery is rarely a stress-free process, and unfortunately, stress is a common factor in relapse. If you’re in recovery and planning to travel for the holidays, there are some ways you can help ensure your sobriety and mental health remain intact. Holiday Travels in the Time of COVID Since COVID-19 is still a very real threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge people to take certain measures when traveling or attending gatherings. Make sure to follow these precautions and inform yourself of potential risks if you plan to travel. Holiday gatherings, especially ones that involve substance use, can create stressful situations that trigger cravings and lead to relapse. If you are in early recovery and are still learning to navigate life without substances, these events can quickly become overwhelming if you’re not prepared. Remember: stress is linked to relapse. As such, it’s important to take time before your travels to create a plan that helps you maintain your recovery. Pre-Trip Checklist In the days or weeks before heading out for a holiday trip, begin thinking of common scenarios you may find yourself in. For example, what will you say if someone asks why you aren’t drinking like you did at past gatherings? What will you do if others are openly using substances around you? If you’re well-prepared for these types of situations, you’ll know what strategy to use to avoid unnecessary stress or a potential relapse. Here are some tips we recommend: Know What You’re Comfortable With As part of your plan, you should determine what you’re willing to be around and what you’re willing to share. If someone asks about your sobriety, you can tell them as much or as little as you want — you owe no explanation. Additionally, think about whether you can manage being around others who are drinking or using substances. This can be a common trigger regardless of where you are in your recovery journey. Further, alcohol can lower inhibitions and make you more likely to use other substances. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone present who understands your situation and can hold you accountable for your sobriety. This support person can also take your mind off things if triggers arise, such as by going on a walk with you or taking you somewhere private to cool off. If nobody like that can be present, make sure to let a member of your support group know that you may need help via phone if things become overwhelming. Schedule Online Recovery Meetings in Advance Many people in long-term recovery rely on 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or similar organizations to help maintain sobriety. This routine can foster a sense of community and support, and taking time away may make sobriety more difficult to manage. Fortunately, many recovery support groups offer online meetings that allow members to attend sessions anywhere, anytime. If you have a smartphone, tablet or laptop, you can easily join in one of these sessions while you’re on the go. Take Personal Time for Yourself Depending on how long your trip will be, you’ll likely want to think up some simple activities that help relieve stress. When you have some moments of free time, you can enjoy one of these stress relievers and recharge. For example, you can take a walk around the block and get some exercise. You could get in the car and look at Christmas lights or stop by a local coffee shop and pick up your favorite drink. Taking time for yourself can help you remember that you have control over your situation. Focusing on self-care will improve your mental health and make the stress at least a little more manageable over the holiday season. Find Support Through The Recovery Village at Baptist Health If you’re struggling with addiction or a co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health can help. We offer telehealth services that connect you to licensed therapists and counselors who can provide accessible treatment no matter where you are. Our rehabilitation facility also offers a full continuum of in-person care, providing you with evidence-based treatment in your early recovery and support for your long-term journey. Contact us today to learn more about programs that can work well for your situation. SourcesSinha, Rajita. “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, October 2008. Accessed December 15, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Domestic Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” December 2, 2020. Accessed December 15, 2020. Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.