Advertisements, television commercials, greeting cards and comments wishing Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas (Kwanza, Hanukkah) and Happy New Year may be enough to send you over the top and diving straight for a shot of alcohol or your drug of choice just to cope. This year, try something entirely different. This year, take proactive steps to manage the holidays with the least amount of stress and the most amount of success. For help with this difficult time of the year -- particularly for those struggling with alcohol or drug use and their family members -- we turned to Beverly D. Flaxington, human behavior coach, Psychology Today columnist, and author of \u201cSelf Talk for a Calmer You\u201d for some practical tips you can use right now. According to Flaxington, there are four main aspects of taking charge of your mental health and well-being this holiday season. These involve: \tLevel of predictability \tWorking on positive self-talk \tHaving a toolkit ready \tRemembering where you want to be post-holidays Level of Predictability There is a level of predictability about the holidays. \u201cWe know when Thanksgiving comes, when Christmas, Hannukah and New Year\u2019s are going to be,\u201d Flaxington says. \u201cThey\u2019re the same time every year.\u201d The first step to dealing with the stress and anxiety of the holidays, then, is to take steps to prepare your toolkit, to do something differently this year. Here\u2019s what typically happens: People just tense up. They stress, worry about it, and fall into similar patterns. Flaxington recommends that the first step in being proactive this holiday season is to choose to do something differently, to put some tools together to get through holidays. \u201cIf you have a substance issue, your tendency may be to drink or smoke pot, self-destructive behavior that relaxes you but you know is going to end up being more difficult for you on the other side.\u201d Here is where you need different options, Flaxington advises. \u201cChoose to stay away from situations that cause you stress. It may mean turning down a party invitation, for example. It may mean that you don\u2019t get together with a family member who makes you upset. Protect yourself and stay away from any situation that you know is going to be destructive or potentially destructive for you.\u201d Work on Your Own Positive Self-Talk The next step is to start to prepare approaches you can use and call upon when you get into difficult situations. Practice positive self-talk. Write out some things that will be healthier for you, that are going to be more beneficial to you. \u201cWhat often happens is that we fall into the negative pattern, and instead of saying 'I made a mistake, this is a different day, I\u2019m going to do things differently,' we beat up on ourselves about our inability to make better choices, Flaxington says. The healthier way to go about it is to have that positive self-talk. Say to yourself, \u201cThis is a different point in time. I can make different choices this year. I do have self-confidence and self-esteem to hold myself in a different place instead of giving into something that\u2019s negative for me.\u201d Whatever those words, sentences, or mantras are that are meaningful for you, prepare them in advance, integrate them, get them into your belief system. \u201cIn this way, you are changing the dynamic from being worried about the holidays to 1) I\u2019m being proactive. I\u2019m preparing for it. 2) I\u2019m using more positive language toward it.\u201d Have Your Toolkit Ready Now for step three: Have your toolkit ready before holidays come. What is in your toolkit? There could be some stress management techniques, like learning how to take three deep breaths or choosing to take a walk when the feeling comes upon you that you really want to reach for that drink. It could be saying, \u201cExcuse me, I really need to use the restroom,\u201d when you\u2019re with people and you feel tension or it gets uncomfortable. Your personal toolkit may contain a variety of things, depending on who you are, but the main point is to know that you have things that you can choose to do when the temptation, that knee-jerk reaction comes upon you. Also, says Flaxington, have a plan in advance of what it is you might be able to do in different circumstances. \u201cMake a list. None of this is a surprise. We know where we get in trouble.\u201d She lists the example of the company party where a waitperson comes over with a tray of champagne. You\u2019re standing with three colleagues. They encourage you to have a glass of champagne. That\u2019s one of those situations where you should ask yourself, what\u2019s my plan? My plan could be to say that I\u2019m allergic to champagne, I\u2019ll have to pass. It could be taking the glass and quietly setting it down and not touching it again. A lot of it is going through some of the scenarios and coming up with what could be some different choices that you\u2019re going to make. Much of this could be in your self-talk is as well: \u201cI make good choices. I don\u2019t get myself in situations that could be harmful to me. I only choose the path that\u2019s going to be supportive for me.\u201d Sometimes, if you\u2019ve got the tools to help you, that is enough to make you think, \u201cI don\u2019t want to go there again. I know what that morning after looks like and I don\u2019t like it.\u201d Personal Anxiety Triggers During the Holidays With the holidays fast approaching, we start to think about what\u2019s coming. It\u2019s almost as if we give up before the holidays get here because we know or fear that \u201cit\u2019s just going to be the same as always.\u201d According to Flaxington, that\u2019s why it is really important to start very early before the holidays hit, to give you a different form of that self-talk. Not that it has to be rose-colored glasses, Pollyanna-ish, but just to be neutral, to say things like, \u201cThis, too, shall pass. This is a point in time. The holidays come every year and then they leave. This doesn\u2019t define my life.\u201d Neutrality \u201cOne of the issues is that people think that it\u2019s a choice between being very fearful of it, having anxiety and worrying about it or going to the other extreme and thinking they\u2019ve got to be joyful, they\u2019ve got to be upbeat,\u201d Flaxington continues. \u201cMy contention is that there\u2019s something in the middle: an approach to take some of the emotional sting out of it. How do you do that? Flaxington says that you can just remind yourself that these days can be more emotionally charged, that there are lots of people around us during the holidays who may be emotionally charged. You don\u2019t have to give into that. \u201cIt\u2019s not to feel as though you\u2019re telling yourself something that you don\u2019t believe, but just to have that mantra, that refrain, so that when you experience that anxiety, the trigger (sweaty palms, insomnia, stomach ache) that sets you off, that\u2019s when you want to kick in your calming self-talk. \u201cThis is OK. I can get through this. I\u2019ve gotten through the rest of them and I am going to get through this one. I can make different choices. I am in charge.\u201d Support from Others Flaxington is enthusiastic about receiving support from others during this fragile holiday period. \u201cIf you have somebody in your universe that you feel comfortable with, that\u2019s huge. This is someone you are able to call, send a text or email to say that your negative self-talk is kicking in, or you\u2019re feeling anxiety, or experiencing triggers and you need help. Have that person have some of the mantras, sentences \u2013 ready for you: \tRemember, this is a point in time. \tRemember, you are in charge. \tRemember, you do make good choices--You make good choices throughout the year. You can do it through the holidays, too. \u201cIt\u2019s almost like you have that person outside to remind you how you want to talk to yourself, what kinds of things you want to say.\u201d Flaxington stresses that there is an important nuance to keep in mind here in that you don\u2019t want to have someone to whom you express all the anxiety and you wind up getting into the spiral together about how stressful the holidays are. You want that safe person who will snap you out of it when you reach out for help. That safe person could be your 12-step sponsor, your therapist, your partner, a close friend. Carry your 3x5 cards with your positive self-talk with you, because it\u2019s not always practical to have that safe person available. \u201cIf you get into a situation where the anxiety is starting to come or that this is difficult for you, excuse yourself, go into the bathroom, and get yourself together. Break away from the situation if the intensity builds. Make a physical break. Go in the bathroom, by yourself, and read those cards over and over.\u201d Work with someone else on what to say. Sometimes someone else can have some good ideas. If you are not in a position where you can call your sponsor, maybe the two of you have worked out some things on 3x5 cards and you can read them to yourself and remind yourself what you really want this to be. Final Step: Always Remember Where You Want to Be -- After the Holidays Finally, Flaxington advises, you want to be thinking about what place you want to be in when the holidays are over. \u201cDo I want to feel good about the fact that I had these tools and I got through it or do I want to have the sense of starting over with regret?\u201d Again, you\u2019ve got to be prepared and have the toolbox, but that\u2019s where this other person can be really helpful. It\u2019s kind of that morning-after thing. \u201cYou\u2019re going to wake up tomorrow. How do you want to be? The holidays are right around the corner. Are you prepared to get through them intact and on track with your sobriety? Try these tips for a healthier and more beneficial approach this year.