Navigating Difficult Life Circumstances During the Holidays

Most of the hype and the excitement that make up the backbone of the holidays are commercial. Underneath the sugar cookies, the frosted mistletoes, and the ugly sweaters, there is a knot of stress that burns like the yule log during the winter months. The financial struggles, personal addictions, and distant relatives anticipating flawlessness during their two-week visits all contribute to the holiday anxiety. Below is a brief guide to navigating these obstacles.


Unfortunately, the holidays encourage and give excuse to drink heavily, and this can be very difficult for those that are recovering from substance abuse. Staying away from alcohol (or other substances) can be a struggle,and one may find it tempting to partake moderately with their family and friends. However, this can often lead to relapse.

Depending on the severity of the addiction, there are a few options to achieve a sober holiday. Finding places where alcohol isn’t served is one option. For most, however, the holidays are spent with family and friends who won’t sacrifice their booze just because one person isn’t drinking. In this case, be prepared to drink something like non-alcoholic beer or mocktails (cocktails minus the alcohol). The Recovery Village, an addiction treatment center, gives this advice: “know that you can refuse a drink without explaining yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. But in order to avoid this situation altogether, just keep a glass of water or soda in your hand. People are less likely to offer a drink if they see you are already sipping on something.”

Financial Struggle

The “most wonderful time of the year” turns out to also be the most expensive. Exploring a lifestyle change can help the budgeting process, but it really depends on each person, as each person has their own financial vice. Financial experts at Fiscal Tiger say, “Making small, frugal changes can help you on your road to tightening your finances. For some, it’s not about making the big changes, it’s about making the everyday ones.”

Some, however, may have been forced to spend their holiday budgets on an emergency situation and are now struggling to even pay bills. However, the gift of giving with friends and family may overpower a financial pinch. According to US News, those under financial stress during the holidays should avoid waiting to buy presents until the last minute, due to prices gradually going up from items gradually going out of stock. They also recommend to those in stressful financial situations to not keep it to themselves. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (; 800-388-2227), a non-profit that provides access to financial counseling services for consumers, can help organize a long-term financial plan.

The Holiday Relatives

Everyone’s family is dysfunctional in one way or another. Expectations aren’t met, drama unfolds, political opinions are announced — add all this to an over indulgence in alcohol and you’ve got a textbook holiday family reunion. According to Ayo and Iken, attorneys and advocates with My Florida Law, “[Last] year in particular, many experts [predicted] there [was] more contentiousness between family members because of one event—the presidential election. People feel more strongly about [last] year’s election than perhaps any other year in history. Left or right, a bit of pre-holiday preparation can make the holidays smoother and happier for all those involved.” No matter how much preparation is involved, though, chaos can still unfold, especially in a political climate like ours.

When pressed with a difficult situation between friends and family, don’t add to the madness, be the example. Huffington Post noted some rules of engagement when holiday reunions get a bit out of hand. To paraphrase:

  1. Breathe and remember it’ll be over soon.
  2. Remember the buddy system; call someone who will listen and blow off some steam.
  3. Before their arrival, take some time to honestly reflect on the situation – Think if there is an apology owed to someone. If not, then let it go. There’s no solution in resenting them.
  4. If tensions are too high, just don’t go. – Obvious but true. There is no law that requires the holidays to be spent only with family.

No doubt the holidays can present more difficult, more personal circumstances that are different from what’s presented in this article. In some situations there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes the best solutions come to mind when the problem is presented head on. Good luck and happy holidays!

By Brooke Faulkner

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