Recovering from addiction isn’t just a matter of remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol. In fact, just focusing on abstinence is doing it the hard way and it will probably fail sooner rather than later. A strong recovery requires treating mental and physical health issues, creating a supportive social network, and making healthy lifestyle changes. After treatment, it’s crucial to make a daily effort to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Failure to pay attention to your basic physical and emotional needs can quickly lead to relapse. Here are some of the most important ways to practice self-care when recovering from addiction.
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Here Are 6 of the Most Important Ways to Practice Self-care When Recovering from Addiction
1. Manage your stress.
When recovering from addiction, stress is not your friend, especially early on. While we all need a little stress to motivate us and keep us focused, too much stress can make you feel overwhelmed and lead to cravings and negative emotions. Every method of self-care will reduce stress to some degree by increasing your energy and resilience. However, there are some specific things you can do to keep stressors from multiplying. For example, it’s important to know how much you can handle and learn to say no to additional responsibilities. Have a clear understanding of your priorities and do those things first. Also, much of our stress comes from interpersonal conflict. Learning to communicate better and resolve conflict can drastically reduce the amount of stress in your life.
2. Get plenty of sleep.
Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleeping less than seven hours a night can increase your risk for a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Anyone recovering from alcohol use disorder or stimulant use disorder should be especially careful about their heart health, which means getting enough sleep. Sleep is also when your body recovers from illness and injury. Too little sleep has been linked to more frequent illnesses.
Sleep is also essential for your mental health. Many studies have found a link between insomnia and depression and, to a lesser extent, anxiety. One longitudinal study of 1000 adults found that participants who reported insomnia at the beginning of the study were four times more likely to develop major depression over the next three years. Another study of more than 1000 teens found that sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders in 27 percent of cases and they preceded depression in 69 percent of cases. There is a high correlation between anxiety or depression and substance use disorders so keeping these conditions under control is essential to a successful recovery.
3. Get regular exercise.
Along with getting enough sleep, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for both your physical and mental health. In fact, one of the many benefits of exercise is that it reduces symptoms of insomnia and improves sleep. Many studies have supported the cardiovascular benefits of regular moderate exercise. Walking as little as 20 minutes a day can offset some of the heart damage caused by alcohol and other substances.
Perhaps even more importantly for people in recovery, regular exercise has many mental health benefits. In addition to reducing symptoms of insomnia, it reduces perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies show that exercising three to five days a week can cut the number of bad mental health days people experience each month in half. Exercise appears to improve mental health by making a number of structural changes in the brain, including expanding the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex–changes that are also associated with decreased risk of depression–and by influencing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which influences how you respond to stress. In other words, exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and depression while improving mood and concentration–all of which are great for recovery.
4. Eat healthy.
As with sleep and exercise, a healthy diet is good for both your physical and mental health. Addiction can damage your health in many ways, causing malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, and increasing your risk for various cancers. A diet rich in whole foods, antioxidants, and a variety of nutrients can help reverse your risk and improve your health.
More studies are also finding that a healthy diet can be good for your mental health as well. One analysis of 41 studies on diet and mental health found that people who followed a strict Mediterranean diet were 33 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression than people at the other end of the dietary spectrum. The diet in question is rich in whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruit, and fish and low in sugar, processed foods, red meat, and alcohol.
5. Spend time with supportive people.
Social connection is one of the best predictors of a strong recovery and it’s also good for you. Spending time with friends and family relieves stress and improves your mood. It gives you a chance to talk about things that are bothering your and to help the people close to you. One of the early signs of emotional relapse is bottling up feelings. Talking with friends and family and sharing at 12-step meetings helps you deal with problems while they’re still small.
6. Take time to relax.
Many people find it hard to take time to relax because they feel like they’re being selfish or doing nothing at all. However, taking time to intentionally relax gives you a chance to relieve the stress of the day, reflect on how things are going, and where you want to go next. Learning to relax not only keeps stress from accumulating, but it also helps you learn to relax in the face of stress, which reduces your anxiety and allows you to make better decisions.