Navigating loneliness around the holidays

Combat holiday loneliness during addiction treatment. Explore challenges, understand feelings, and get tips for a healthy holiday season.

Ophelia team
Holidays navigating loneliness
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The winter months are often portrayed as happy times of connection, celebration, and festivity, thanks to the holiday season. However, while some people experience a joyful holiday season, others may feel a heightened sense of depression or loneliness during this time.

Holiday depression and anxiety can sometimes affect people undergoing addiction treatment, making the holidays one of the most difficult times for people experiencing opioid use disorder (OUD) and other addiction issues. This guide explores the challenges that the holidays present for people in addiction treatment and offers tips for how to navigate addiction management during the holidays.

Addiction treatment can feel like a lonely process

As necessary and as helpful as addiction treatment ultimately is, it’s certainly not without its challenges and hurdles. For some, yearning for support and understanding from family during the holidays can become challenging. 

There are a myriad of reasons why. But sometimes as your life changes in positive ways, your social life also changes, and this can take some getting used to. It’s also common for people with addictions to experience a shrinking social circle during this time due to the necessity of ending or minimizing relationships with people whose behavior isn’t conducive to a successful treatment.

If you’re experiencing this, it’s important to know that you’re not alone in this feeling. Millions of people experience addiction in the United States, and many people going through addiction treatment report feeling lonely at some point in the process. 

How the holidays contribute to loneliness 

Popular cultural messaging around the winter holidays can add to the challenging feelings this time of year. Holiday media show happy families, smiling faces, cheerful get-togethers, and festive celebrations. While that might be the case for some, it’s not everyone’s reality (and that’s okay!). People across the country report feeling heightened stress, depression, and anxiety over the holidays

For some, the holidays mean massive credit card bills and financial stress, while others experience seasonal affective disorder and become depressed due to the cold weather, shorter days, and other factors. Still, others don’t have happy memories or fond nostalgia for the holidays due to familial issues and bad relationships. It’s also common to feel grief for lost family members during this time.

Understanding these feelings

To help cope with holiday depression and anxiety, it’s important to understand where these feelings come from and how they impact you. It’s okay to sit with these negative feelings and explore them. Where do they come from? Should they be treated with medication? Can they be addressed through social means?

Take time to tell yourself that feeling these things is okay. Not every moment can be happy, and it’s crucial to embrace that. Don’t hesitate to take time alone if you need it, and make sure there is always someone to confide in when you crave social time. Accepting the hardships that accompany the holidays can help you address them.

5 Tips for staying safe during periods of holiday depression

While it’s encouraged to explore and cope with feelings of depression, there are additional steps you can take to ensure a healthy and safe holiday season. 

1. Continue proper treatment

First, it’s important that you don’t let any crucial medications lapse. If you’re on or considering taking antidepressants, check with your doctor if you can safely take them with any opioid treatment prescriptions. 

2. Prioritize relationships

Relationships, both new and old, can help you thrive through lonely times. If you have strained relationships that you want to repair, now is a good time to reach out to those connections to build a stronger bond. If you’re looking for new friends, this is a great time to join a new group of interest, such as a book club, or take up an old social hobby, such as joining a creative writing group.

3. Treat your body right

Maintaining a healthy diet and keeping up with an exercise routine are crucial aspects of battling depression during the holidays. Eating wholesome foods and exercising helps your body produce endorphins and stabilize your mood.

4. Know your triggers

If you plan to be around people during holiday celebrations, it’s crucial to know what may trigger cravings or negative emotions. When you sense that something is likely to set you off, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation and prioritize your safety. Stress and negative emotions are two of the primary causes of relapse, so you need to be careful in stressful situations. It’s okay to leave a family gathering if you think it will threaten your addiction treatment.

5. Help your community

One of the best ways to help yourself is, and always has been, to help others. Consider volunteering your time at a soup kitchen or helping out with a mutual aid organization. Seeing the way that you positively impact your surroundings is a quick way to build important connections with your community.


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