Last Updated on May 25, 2021
Much of the process of quitting or cutting back on alcohol is about exactly that: How to reduce or stop drinking alcohol. But there’s much more to long-term recovery than putting down the bottle. Lasting change is more of a marathon than a sprint, and the person you uncover as you alter your habits often has long-unmet needs. Practicing self-care in recovery can be crucial.
But for many, recovering from alcohol dependence means having to learn new self-care strategies from scratch, to replace older, less healthy ones. And with so much change happening already, this can feel daunting.
Below, we’ll discuss five ways to care for yourself in recovery. Some may seem easy, some more difficult. But each can help give you the resilience to establish permanent change, and discover a happier, healthier self.
1. Take Care of Your Body
People often think of recovery as a mental battle—and it can certainly feel that way at times. However, many underestimate just how important physical health is when it comes to recovery from alcohol dependence.
Taking the following self-care steps can help you have more energy, feel more confident, and even change the way your body and mind respond to drinking triggers.
It’s normal to feel discouraged about exercise, or have trouble starting. But many people are surprised at how much better they feel when they add movement to their week.
In fact, studies show that adding as little as 10 minutes of exercise per week can improve mood1. More regular exercise—around 150 minutes per week—can improve depression, as well as decrease the risk2 of developing it.
Basics like walking, jogging, or using a stationary bike are typically recommended. But if these activities feel a little dull, there are plenty of other options, and clever ways to liven things up:
- Add your favorite music to your exercise. This might include listening to your favorite playlist while on the elliptical, or following an online dance exercise routine.
- Pick up a sport. Activities like tennis, basketball, or even golf can get you running or walking. The exercise part then takes care of itself.
- Try virtual workouts. These aren’t the days of your mom’s aerobic videos (although those are great too). Programs like Peloton include the encouragement of in-gym instructors and classes, while options like Beat Saber or Supernatural add in virtual reality. Many people find that this reduces discomfort, and makes things more fun.
- Explore new activities. If hobbies like swimming or preparing for a marathon are the things you’re least likely to take up, consider trying them. Perhaps you were right—but what if they actually become your favorite thing to do?
Nutrients and Diet
The other side of getting more active is nourishing your body with the nutrients it needs. Many adults are low in key vitamins their brains need to function, like Vitamin D. If you’ve been drinking heavily, it’s likely you need some replenishing, especially when it comes to nutrients like thiamin, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, and others.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in these nutrients, along with supplements, can help your body bounce back more quickly. And this will also help you think better and feel better, spurring you along on your recovery journey.
Talk to your doctor about which supplements may be best for you. And if you tend to have a limited diet, explore new foods. If you are an overeater, you might also try a tracking app that helps you stay aware of what you’re consuming. This can help you choose foods or portions that feel better for your body, making you feel better overall.
2. Balance Your Mind
As your physical self-care gets underway, it’s also essential to take good care of your mental state. Recovering from any addiction can be mentally and emotionally taxing—often to an extreme. Having self-care strategies to ground yourself, and stay focused day to day, can make a crucial difference.
Mindfulness is a way to slow down, notice what you’re experiencing, and be more present in the moment. This decreases stress, which helps decrease your need for alcohol. Mindfulness can also help you develop awareness around difficult emotions and other drinking triggers—making it easier to ride them out.
There are unending ways to practice mindfulness. Here are a few areas to explore, so you can find what’s right for you:
- Take an in-person or online meditation class. These vary from those offered by colleges, to those connected with religious practices. Just about any type of meditation can offer stress-relieving benefits.
- Try yoga or tai chi. Some people find these movement activities easier than sitting still for periods of time. As long as you’re slowing down and noticing your experience, you’ll still get the de-stressing benefits.
- Download a mindfulness or meditation app. There are numerous apps that can help you learn and practice mindfulness. Explore a few options to see which work for you—or even look for guided meditations on Youtube.
- Practice daily awareness. Take one or more moments each day to simply notice your body sensations and experiences. Many people start while taking a shower, going for a walk, or washing the dishes. Try to stay in the moment, and notice what you see, hear, and feel.
3. Be Your Own Friend
Has anyone ever told you to be your own best friend? Even if it sounds cliche, they’re on to something. Many people who struggle with addiction have a negative inner self-critic that never lets up. Often, this has its origin in patterns of criticism by others while growing up. You may even hear critical self-talk in the voice of one of these people.
There’s plenty to explore in recovery about your childhood feelings and experiences. However, sometimes this self-criticism is also a habit, because you’ve done it for so long. Using cognitive behavioral strategies, you can change that pattern.
Rather than criticizing yourself, practice being more accepting, loving and encouraging inside your own head. If you wouldn’t say it to someone you know and like, don’t say it to yourself.
This form of self-care may seem awkward at first, but keep trying until it gets easier. This will help you make long-term changes in your mental health and coping, and give you less need for something to drown that negativity out.
4. Invest in Healthy Relationships
One famous experiment, often known as the “rat park”4 study, illustrates the role that social interaction can play overcoming addiction. In this study, scientists found that rats living alone would drink cocaine or heroin until they overdosed. However, rats living in a “rat park,” where they could play and interact with others, rarely used the drugs at all.
In a recent follow-up study5, rats were given the choice of taking drugs like heroin or methamphetamines, or joining other rats to socialize. Ninety percent of the time, they chose friends over the drug.
Life for humans may be a little more complicated than the world of rats. But there’s no denying that social connections are an important part of self-care in sobriety. Relationships are key to developing a meaningful life, where emotional needs aren’t met with alcohol or drugs.
Connecting with others can be challenging when you’ve been dealing with addiction issues. However, making small steps like checking in with friends, talking to someone new, or sharing your anxieties with your partner, can go a long way.
If it’s hard to connect with new people in your daily life, look for online groups with common interests. This could include others in recovery, gaming communities, or people who have similar hobbies or interests.
5. Find Your Bliss
Once all of these primal human needs are met, an important one is left: We all thrive best when we have an ongoing sense of purpose, and enjoyment in our lives. For some, this may mean striving for an important goal. For others, this can mean raising a family, or improving themselves. Each are valid milestones to work towards.
However, finding your bliss can be much simpler. Ask yourself: when do you feel most relaxed, content, and in “the flow?” Perhaps it’s while reading a book, listening to music, or engaging in a hobby. Or perhaps you’re most content when making something new, or learning a new skill.
If you’re not sure what this might be for you, think back to your childhood and teenage years. What did you like to do before life’s pressures took over? If you can’t think of anything, simply start trying new things until something clicks.
Creativity may have provided such bliss for Alfred Hitchock, the famous director who struggled at times to cut back on his own drinking and eating. In one interview he was asked, “What is your definition of happiness?” His answer6 was profoundly simple:
“A clear horizon. Nothing to worry about on your plate. Only things that are creative and not destructive. When [negative experiences] are removed and you can look forward, and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something. That’s as happy as I would ever want to be.”
Ria Health can help you improve your self-care and happiness as you begin your recovery journey. Learn how weekly coaching meetings, anti-craving medication, and an evidence-based support program can help.
Ready to get started? Get in touch with a member of our team today.