Staying Healthy for the Holidays – Part One

By Amanda Neilson, Manager of Clinical Practice

Financial stress, spending time with challenging family members, painful memories, feelings of isolation, expectations and disappointment – the holiday season isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Most of us will experience some increase in stress over the holidays even if it is an exciting and positive time. Because of this increase in stress, our healthy coping skills can be pushed to the max, and it may feel like they just won’t cut it. It’s not uncommon to go back to coping skills that work in the short term but create problems for us in the long term. Coping skills like using substances or participating in gambling and gaming beyond our healthy limits can become very tempting.  This is why it can be very helpful to know about, and understand how to use, harm reduction.

All of us engage in some form of harm reduction in our daily lives. If you have brushed your teeth, tied your shoelaces or looked both ways before crossing the road, you have reduced the risks to your health in the short and long term! Another example is driving. If we didn’t have harm reduction strategies in place, driving would be a very high-risk activity. And though there are still risks involved when driving, we have greatly reduced those risks with stop signs and lights, speed limits and seat belts (just to name a few strategies). These harm reduction strategies don’t guarantee our safety but they sure help!

So, what is harm reduction?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences connected with substance use or any other behaviour that can cause us problems. It is a non-shaming and effective approach to help keep us safer. In the case of behaviours that can cause problems for some like substance use, gaming, and gambling, it can be especially helpful to use harm reduction while we are working towards making longer term changes.

Harm reduction can include very specific strategies. Some examples include but are not limited to: practising abstinence, condom use, safer supply, reduced risk substitution, using delay tactics and practicing time limits of engaging in problematic behaviours. You can also use harm reduction as a guiding philosophy by following the harm reduction principles:

  • Understand that substance use, gaming and gambling have met our needs (ie: emotional regulation, pain relief, connection to others) that we may struggle to meet in other ways
  • Practise compassion, understanding that complete abstinence may not always be possible or necessary. There are 101+ different ways to make changes and improve our well-being.
  • Focus on reducing the risks and harms connected to behaviours that cause us problems
  • Celebrate small successes, no matter how small! These small successes will contribute to larger successes over time

When practising from a harm reduction philosophy, we are provided with a wide range of options and choices on how we can best take care of ourselves.

Next month we will share some holiday-specific harm reduction tips, tricks and strategies to support you in having a healthier holiday!

For more information:

Harm Reduction: Myths and Facts

A Harm Reduction Approach

Harm Reduction for Families and Caregivers

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