From what we see on TV and in movies, the holiday season seems to be filled with the fun and excitement of family get-togethers, food, gifts and festivities; but for the more than 55 million Americans who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues, the holidays may be something else entirely. The holiday season may actually seem traumatic. Holidays serve as reminders of what we don’t have, what we’ve lost, and what we wish we had.

Many people who are facing the challenge of addiction or mental health issues find the holiday season to trigger them, reminding them of past trauma, creating new trauma as we approach a holiday season without friends or family, or in uncomfortable situations with loved ones. These triggers can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression and increased substance use. Whether you’ve thought about getting help for these issues or not, here are a few things you can do to increase happiness and avoid using substances this holiday season.

1. Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude — being grateful for what you do have – brings your attention and focus to the positive things in your life. The practice of gratitude has been proven to increase happiness, joy and compassion, while reducing feelings of depression, isolation and loneliness. To practice gratitude, you pick up a gratitude journal or start and end your day by writing down the things in your life that you’re grateful for.

2. Be Mindful

Much like practicing gratitude, mindfulness has been proven to have numerous positive effects on our overall well-being and leads to better health outcomes. Mindfulness brings our attention to the present moment, and out of the past and future, where regret and anxiety live. Practicing mindfulness for just 5 minutes a day has tremendous impact on your mental health, and can help alleviate the stress that often leads to using substances. Read more about mindfulness here

3. Create New Traditions

If you find your current holiday traditions are triggering for you, or you dwell on past traditions that once were, create new holiday traditions. If the way you’ve been doing things in the past haven’t worked, try something else. You can go for a hike, visit that place you’ve been wanting to go, volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or any number of other activities that have a positive impact on your well-being and help you practice steps 1 and 2, gratitude and mindfulness.

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