Why Self-care Matters in Addiction Recovery
When you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, self-care is usually the last thing on your mind. Drugs and alcohol are all you really care about. Everything else–health, relationships, career, money–is sacrificed for substance use. In recovery, there is a lot to fix and you have to start with yourself. Not only do you have to repair your health and relationships, but you have to find a healthier, more sustainable way of living, one that helps you be resilient and avoid the pitfalls that lead to relapse. Self-care keeps you in a good place mentally so you can use what you learned in treatment to build a strong recovery. Here are some of the most important ways to practice self-care in addiction recovery.
Learn to manage stress.
We need a little stress in our lives to help motivate us and focus our attention. However, when stress gets out of control, it can have negative effects on our minds and bodies. Perpetually high levels of stress hormones like cortisol can impair your immune system and lead to more frequent and more serious illnesses. Emotional stress can bring down your mood and increase your negative emotions, making you vulnerable to relapse. Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques. A major one is learning to control your schedule. Prioritize your most important tasks and learn to say no to things you don’t have time for. Also, since most of our stress comes from interpersonal conflict, brush up your communication skills. Learn to listen and express yourself effectively.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important things for your physical and mental health. Sleep is when your body repairs itself from injury and fights illness. Too little sleep leads to more illnesses. Perhaps more importantly for people recovering from addiction, sleep is essential for your mental health. Insomnia has been linked to a number of mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. One study found that people who have struggled with insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression. Missing even a few hours of sleep a night can impair your concentration, memory, willpower, foresight, and emotional regulation, all of which are valuable for sobriety. Therefore, try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, preferably at regular hours.
A healthy diet is crucial for a number of reasons. As noted above, substance use often takes a heavy toll on your health. For example, alcohol damages your cardiovascular health, causes malnutrition, and increases your risk of several cancers, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast cancer. A healthy diet can replace lost nutrients, help your body rebuild, and provide cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Eating healthy is good for your mind too. Many studies have shown mental health benefits from eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, while minimizing intake of processed food and sugar. One analysis of 41 studies found that people who strictly followed the Mediteranean diet–a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, beans, lentils, vegetables, fruit, and fish, with very little red meat, sugar, or alcohol–were 33 percent less likely to be diagnosed with major depression. Since there is a huge overlap between addiction and depression, anything you can do to improve your mood lowers your risk of relapse.
Many studies now support the effects of exercise on your physical and mental health. As with a healthy diet, regular exercise can offset much of the damage caused by substance use. Moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, which can help reverse the health effects of substances like alcohol and stimulants.
In recent years, there has been a wave of research on exercise and mental health. Several studies have found that exercise improves your mood at a level comparable to antidepressants but without the side effects. Brain imaging studies have found that exercise actually changes the structure of your brain, increasing the size of various areas, including the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. The former is responsible for things like attention, self-control, planning, and working memory, and the latter is involved with turning short-term memories into long-term memories. Both are thought to be important in emotional regulation. Exercise also helps you sleep better.
Connect with others.
As social creatures, we need to connect with others. When we have friends and family who support us, we feel less stressed because we know we have more resources to help us deal with problems. We can talk about the things that worry us and helping the people we care about helps us feel a sense of connection and purpose. Having a supportive social network is one of the strongest predictors of success in recovery and it also happens to be great for your mental health. Get together with friends and family and go to 12-step meetings. Try volunteering for causes you care about. Assuming you’re taking care of your basic needs, you’ll find helping others is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Relax every day.
It’s often hard for people to put relaxation in their schedule because it feels like doing nothing. However, relaxing is essential for self-care. It means deliberately unwinding and giving your mind and body a chance to recuperate. Not only does it help you destress and reset for the next day, but actually practicing relaxation is a skill that can help you during times of stress. When you’re more aware of what’s happening in your body and mind, you can actively deal with stress and keep it from accumulating.
At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.