Moving into recovery from a substance use disorder is a big step, one of the most important steps you will ever take, and one that can take years. If you’re quitting on your own or have recently left rehab, you have to adjust to your everyday life without alcohol or drugs, and that normally means creating coping mechanisms. Many of us drink and use as a response to stress, distress, loneliness, and feelings of hopelessness or being alone. You’ll have to deal with those same emotions, as well as cravings, emotional ups and downs caused by recovery, and all the stress of life changing rapidly around you.
The Covid19 outbreak and social distancing mandates make recovery more difficult for everyone, but especially for people in early recovery. It’s critical that you take time to make space for coping with stress and problems in a healthy way, because developing those healthy coping mechanisms will stand between you and relapse. These 9 coping skills for your recovery are a good place to start.
1) Stress Management
Stress is often considered to be the number one cause of relapse and a primary contributor to addiction vulnerability. Unfortunately, you are going to experience a lot of stress during a global pandemic and you should expect that. Your job, family situation, any children you might have, uncertainty, concern for friends and family, concern for yourself, and changing social norms are all incredibly stressful. Make time to recognize and deal with that stress.
Experts recommend exercise, meditation, yoga, practices like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, and others. It’s also a good idea to set aside time to relax, to make sure you get enough sleep, and to keep your space clean and orderly.
Exercise is an important coping mechanism for persons in recovery, simply because it helps you to feel better, improves energy levels, and actively works to reduce cravings. How? Exercise improves blood oxygen levels, boosting energy for as long as 2 hours after a 30-minute walk. It also stimulates serotonin production in the central nervous system, resulting in reduced cravings and feelings of satisfaction. Moderate exercise may also help you to feel better, have less active energy to spend on stress and anxiety, and to calm down when stressed or upset.
3) Eating Healthy
Proper nutrition is considered one of the most important things you can do in recovery. Why? Nutrition impacts your mood, energy levels, and mental health. Eating regular, healthy meals mean maintaining constant energy levels and avoiding crashes, which could result in relapse. Over time, eating healthy also helps to correct damage caused by substance abuse, which typically results in nutritional deficiencies, which can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
4) Time Management
Overworking yourself results in stress, burnout, and feeling overwhelmed. Not doing enough results in anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. It’s important to set a schedule for yourself, to fill some of your time with work, and to set aside time for relaxation and fun. How do you know if you are doing too much? You frequently feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or very tired on finishing your to-do list, don’t have time for fun or social activities, or otherwise don’t have enough time for yourself.
Social isolation is considered to be a primary trigger for relapse in normal circumstances. Unfortunately, we’re all being asked to do so to prevent the spread of a virus. Life likely won’t return to normal for some time. While that does mean you will lose the ability to go hang out with friends or go to events as freely as before, it doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself. Instead, you should attempt to build strong social support networks, even virtually.
Talk to your friends and family daily, consider having daily Skype or Video calls
Participate in online games and board games with friends. Resources like Discord, Roll20, and online board games on Steam are often free to play, allow video and voice talk, and allow you to spend fun social time with friends and family to destress
Watch movies together using Discord or Skype screen sharing.
Pick a few friends to actually spend time with but keep your visits restricted to a few specific people.
Social isolation is normally a warning sign of relapse in someone coming out of recovery. The more you feel alone, the more you want to be alone, the more you feel bad, and the more you want to feel nothing at all. Make sure that you take steps so that you don’t feel alone, even when you (physically) are.
If you’re really struggling, many rehab centers and sober living homes will still accept new residents. You may have to accept a 2-week quarantine on entering the facilities, after which you’ll be able to take part in an enclosed social group of recovering addicts.
6) Building Positivity
The news, many of the people you talk to, and probably many of your own thoughts will be relentlessly negative. While negativity is a part of life, you also want to make sure you’re focusing on the positive. Here, it’s always a good idea to keep track of positive and happy events, to track your motivation and to remind yourself of that motivation, and to track your goals in ways that allow you to see how far you’ve come. It’s also important to make time for things that make you happy. What can you do today that you are looking forward to? What can you do today so that tomorrow is better?
7) Journal or Record Your Thoughts
Journaling is a powerful tool for recovering addicts because it allows you to record what you are thinking and feeling, to track changes in how you are thinking over time, and to get a better grasp of those emotions. Many people don’t like journaling, but you can try keeping a simple bullet point log of emotions you felt and what you linked them to throughout the day. Writing things down can be therapeutic. It can also give you space to reevaluate those emotions. And, you can take time once a week to sit down to reevaluate those emotions from a distance, assess whether they were what you wanted to be feeling at that time, and assess what was helpful and what you could have done in that situation to help with those emotions.
8) Group Support
Self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Life Ring, and many others are now offering virtual meetings via Skype, Zoom, phone, and other mediums. While you can’t always go to in-person meetings, there are plenty of virtual resources offering the same peer-based support you would get from an in-person meeting.
Joining groups can offer social accountability alongside an outlet for stress in a non-judgmental group of your peers. And, knowing that you’re sharing with peers, people who know what you’re going through, can help you to share more honestly and with more openness.
9) Professional Support
If you’re having trouble coping, professional support is always an option. This can vary from online counseling and therapy sessions offered by a local professional or can include residential rehab. If you’re struggling, knowing when to ask for help is probably one of the best coping mechanisms you can build. If you have a therapist, consider talking to them about virtual meetings and the option to call when you need help. If you think you need to go back to residential care, contact centers to ask about availability for new residents, quarantine considerations, and insurance provisions.
Your coping mechanisms comprise your ability to manage stress, time, and your daily life. They should help you to feel balanced, should use your energy, should help you to feel fulfilled, and should give you the nutrition and energy you need to live a healthy life. While that does mean the actuality of any coping mechanism will depend on your situation, health, and physical activity capabilities, it also means that good coping mechanisms revolve around taking care of yourself and keeping yourself as physically and mentally healthy as possible. And, if you need help, there are always resources to reach out to. Good luck with your recovery.