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  • I just finished the first round of this group and it went well. I’m doing it again in February, if you or anyone you know may be interested, let me know. You have to be in NY or NJ to participate, it’s an online group on a secure platform.img_0822

The holidays can be a difficult when you’re trying to stay sober. This is  especially true for people who have recently stopped drinking or using drugs.  . Here are a few ideas on how to help you with your sobriety during these times.

Meetings

If you attend meetings regularly,  keep attending them

The holidays can be a stressful time when trying to “fit in” seeing family, buying gifts and all of your regular activities. But if going to a meeting is helping you stay sober than it is important that you continue going.

A good idea is to have your meetings planned out. That way you can make your schedule around your meetings and be prepared. This makes it much easier to get to all the places you need to without getting stressed out.

Parties

If you plan on attending parties , try to bring a friend who will not be drinking.  If you make the decision to attend a holiday party, always remember that you can leave at any time.  Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings or what people will think.

Seeing the Family

Families are often a trigger for many struggling in sobriety. Make sure your family knows where you stand with your sobriety. If you find yourself struggling, call a sober friend or sponsor  and talk to them about it.  Don’t ever feel guilty if you feel you need to remove yourself from a family situation. This may be uncomfortable for you in the short term, but it is important to look at the big picture.

Talking to Someone

Talking to someone is always a good idea.  No matter what the circumstances, having someone to talk to can change your perspective.

Remove Expectations

The holidays bring with them a variety of expectations, whether they be on you or on someone else. Don’t let these presumptions deter you in any way. You can’t pretend to know anyone else’s situation and you can’t expect them to know yours. Keep it simple and enjoy the season.

 

Help Someone Else

 

When you make someone else’s life better, you will be filled with a feeling of joy and purpose.  You will be amazed at what this does for your own life.

Enjoy the Season

Try and enjoy what’s going on around you. People are festive this time of year and instead of resisting that feeling, embrace it.  Joy spreads.

Stay Away from Things that Recall Bad Memories

This is the time of year for reruns of old movies and Christmas songs that may jar certain feelings. You know what is going to stir up these emotions.  Try to stay away from  people, places and things which may cause you to use.  .

Down Time

The holidays provide a lot of down time. Don’t use these days to dwell, instead try and find a way to help someone else, go to a meeting or do some shopping for yourself or someone else. Find something productive to do with your time.

Use Your Resources

There are many tools at your disposal to stay sober, many of which I listed here, use them.  Help is there  but you just have to reach out.

Many people find themselves alone and without family and friends to share the holidays. This can often lead to feeling sad and depressed but there are ways to alleviate these feelings and have a wonderful holiday.

No matter the reason that you’re alone for the holidays, you can make it a wonderful holiday season. First, make your time alone special. Then, when you’re through with personal time, pick some activities that will surround you with others.

A little time to yourself is often very rare. When you have some, it is something to cherish. Forget about what’s “supposed” to happen and that you’re suppossed to be surrounded by others. Remember that many people are doing what’s expected, and probably running themselves a little ragged. They may actually wish they had some time alone. Once you’ve put aside the weight of expectations, consider how you might treat yourself to some special time.

Get out, go somewhere. Find places that will stimulate and amuse you. Museums, festivals or streets decorated for the holidays might recharge you.
Take on a home project.
Rediscover an old creative talent.
Treat yourself to a personal spa. Spoil yourself with comfort. Read a novel. Take a candlelight bubble bath. Curl up on the couch with hot chocolate, a warm blanket and a movie.
Call or write to family and friends. Just because you’re not with them doesn’t mean you can’t make contact. But plan your calls, so you don’t go broke. And make sure the calls are a nice diversion for the day, not the centerpiece of it. You should enjoy the moments of contact, not dwell on the fact that you’re not with family and friends.

Make plans to be around other people when that alone-time limit comes. There are many activities to do and places to go where you can share the holiday spirit with others.

Return to the real holiday tradition by helping others. When you volunteer, you receive two big rewards. First, you’ll be surrounded by people — by volunteers and staff who share your spirit of giving and by those you are helping. Second, it’s good for the soul. Helping others in need is fulfilling.

Do something with friends. Many people don’t think of it. Most of us have been conditioned to think of holidays as time for family only. We’re not used to thinking of this as a time to gather with friends. If you’re on your own, a few friends might be, too. Get in touch with them, and make some plans. If you’re single, look for a singles organization.

Take advantage of what being alone during this time can bring you: a chance for some quality personal time, and a chance to get out, meet some new people and help those in need.

Feeling down during the holidays can be hard especially since everyone seems so happy.  Believe it or not many people who you seem happy during the holidays are also stressed and depressed.  So if the family gatherings, the endless parties, and the shopping get you down, you’re not alone. However people with depression need to be especially careful when coping with holiday stress. . Here are some tips to reduce stress and hopefully  find holiday joy.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Emotions

1. Have modest expectations. Don’t worry about  what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel.  Don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come.

2. Do something different. If the  prospect of the usual routine fills you with dread rather than  joy try not to  surrender to it. Try something different to get into the spirit.

3. Lean on your support system. During the holidays, take time to get together with your support team regularly or at least keep in touch by phone to keep yourself centered.

 

4. Don’t assume the worst.  Don’t start the holiday season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the holidays as they come and limit your expectations you may enjoy them more.

5. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to holiday tradition. Give yourself a break.

6. Volunteer.  Consider taking time to help people who have less than you. Try volunteering at a soup kitchen or working for a toy drive.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Family

7. Head off problems. Think about what people or situations trigger your holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them.

8. Ask for help .  People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.

9. Don’t worry about things beyond your control. You can’t control others but  you can control your own reaction to the situation.

 

10. Make new family traditions.  While it’s nice to keep old traditions, you can also add new traditions for the holidays.

11. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Holidays will remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore, try to do something to celebrate their memory.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Parties

12. Don’t overbook.   Don’t say yes to every invitation.  Think about which parties you really want to attend.

13. Don’t stay longer than you want. Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the end.  Stay as long as you can and leave when you are ready.

14. Have a partner for the party. If the prospect of an office party is stressful, talk to a friend and arrange to arrive  and leave together.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Shopping

15. Forget about the perfect gift. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed,  don’t worry about finding the absolute best gift.   Remember: everybody likes a gift card.

16. Shop online. Save yourself the inconvenience, the crowds by doing most of your shopping online.

17. Stick to a budget. The cost of holiday shopping can grow very quickly,   try to stick to a budget.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Self-Care

18. Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays.  Disrupting your schedule  can make your mood deteriorate.

19. Exercise. While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise during the holidays, the benefits are worth it.

20. Eat sensibly. When you’re facing a dozen holiday parties and family gatherings between now and New Year’s, it’s hard to stay committed to a sensible diet. But try. . On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up if you go overboard some days.   It’s not a big deal. Just get back on track the next day.

21. Try a sun lamp. As the daylight grows shorter, lots of people feel more depressed and sad.  A sun lamp may help to improve your mood.

 

22. Give yourself a break. “The holidays can make some people dwell on their imperfections, their mistakes, the things they’re not proud of,be  gentle with yourself. Remember it  is the season of kindness and forgiveness, so  save some of it for yourself.

Many Caribbean immigrants in particular first generation immigrants are very wary of going to see a mental health professional.  Problems are usually handled at home and many families have someone in their family who is mentally ill but has never gotten treatment and is often whispered about by others in the family and community.  Many immigrants are also very religious and feel that by going to church and praying everything will be better.  Many Caribbean immigrants also believe that admitting to being depressed or anxious is a moral failing and won’t seek out help and will try to feel better on their own.   Many also wonder if a clinician who does not share their background will be able to understand their background and some beliefs such as “obeah” which is a form of voodoo practiced or believed in by some members of the Black Caribbean community.

Faith, Spirituality And Community

In the West Indian community, family, community and spiritual beliefs are often  great sources of strength and support.  Many West Indians  rely on faith, family and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals.

While faith communities can be helpful at times they can be a source of distress and stigma if they are misinformed about mental health or do not know how to support families dealing with these conditions.

 

Reluctance And Inability To Access Mental Health Services

Less than 30% of West Indians  seek mental health care during their lives. Here are some reasons why:

  • Distrust and misdiagnosis. Historically, African Americans and West Indians  have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and lack of cultural competence by health professionals often causes distrust and prevent many people  from seeking or staying in treatment.
  • Lack of  West Indian mental health professionals.   Unfortunately there is a lack of mental health professionals who are from the West Indian or Caribbean community.  Many immigrants feel more comfortable and relate better to people who they perceive as being more familiar with their culture.

Provider Bias And Inequality Of Care

Conscious or unconscious bias from providers and lack of cultural competence result in misdiagnosis and poorer quality of care for African Americans and West Indians. .

West Indians, particularly women, are more likely to experience and mention physical symptoms related to mental health problems. For example,  describing  bodily aches and pains when talking about depression. A health care provider who is not culturally competent might not recognize these as symptoms of a mental health condition. Additionally, men are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD.

Given this bias and the negative impact they have on your care, it is easy to understand why so many people  mistrust health professionals in general and avoid accessing care. While there may be reason to doubt whether professionals will mistreat you or not, don’t let this fear prevent you from seeking care..

Finding The Right Provider

For West Indian and Caribbean people it will be important to find someone whom they feel is culturally competent and understands them.  The therapist doesn’t have to be West Indian but should be someone who understands or is willing to learn the nuances of Caribbean culture.   When meeting with a  provider, ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural sensitivity. Do not feel bad about asking questions. Providers expect and welcome questions from their clients  since this helps them better understand you and what is important to you.  If a provider seems put off by being asked questions, they may not be the right provider.

 

What is Paranoia?

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many different mental  health disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there), they have what is called a delusional disorder.  Since  only thoughts are impacted, a person with delusional disorder can usually work and function in everyday life, however, their lives may be very limited and isolated.

Signs of Paranoia

Symptoms of paranoia and delusional disorders include intense and irrational mistrust or suspicion, which can bring on sense of fear, anger, and betrayal. Some  beliefs and behaviors of people with symptoms of paranoia include mistrust, hypervigilence, difficulty with forgiveness, defensive attitude in response to imagined criticism, preoccupation with hidden motives, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of, inability to relax, or being very argumentative.

What Causes Paranoia?

The cause of paranoia is a breakdown of various mental and emotional functions involving reasoning and assigned meanings. The reasons for these breakdowns are varied and uncertain. Some symptoms of paranoia relate to repressed, denied or projected feelings. Sometimes  paranoid thoughts and feelings are related to events and relationships in a person’s life, which often increases isolation and difficulty with getting help.

What is a Delusion?

A delusion is an odd belief that a person  insists is true despite evidence that it is not. Cultural beliefs that may seem odd, but are widely accepted do not fit the criteria for being a delusion. Two of the most common types of delusions are delusions of grandeur or persecutory delusions.

What is Delusional Disorder?

Delusional disorder is characterized by irrational or intense belief(s) or suspicion(s) which a person believes to be true. These beliefs may seem bizarre and impossible or fit within the realm of what is possible (non-bizarre). Symptoms must last for 1 month or longer in order for someone to be diagnosed with delusional disorder.

How are Paranoia and Delusions Treated?

Treatment of paranoia is usually with  medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. The most important element in treating paranoia and delusional disorder, is building a trusting and collaborative relationship to reduce the impact of irrational fearful thoughts and improving social skills. It can be difficult to treat a person with paranoia since symptoms result in increased irritability, emotionally guardedness, and possible hostility. Often  progress on paranoid delusions and especially delusional disorder is slow. Although the process is often slow , recovery and reconnection is possible.

Online Counseling

Online counseling  also known as  e-therapy – is when a professional counselor or psychotherapist talks with you over the Internet, to give you emotional support, mental health advice or some other professional service.

Online therapy is an  alternative source of help when traditional psychotherapy is not accessible. Its effective. Its private. Its conducted by skilled, qualified, ethical professionals.  It works as well as face to face therapy with most clients.

Online therapy is usually offered either by private practitioners who will meet with you in a secure site which is HIPPA  compliant or there are online therapy clinics where you chose the therapist whom you would like to work with from a list of mental health practitioners.

Some websites such as Talkspace offer email and text based counseling.  This type of counseling is not the same as psychotherapy because you do not see the person and it’s difficult to gauge how well the person is doing via text and also you may not be able to have a continuous conversation with the person.

 

Online therapy works well if you have a very busy schedule, you live somewhere without many therapists, you have young children at home or it’s difficult for you to get to an office.  Online therapy is not suitable for people suffering from severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.  It is very helpful for people with anxiety or depression.  While online therapy is not for everyone it is a viable alternative to face to face psychotherapy.