When you’re in recovery from alcohol use disorder or any other major life challenge, self-care is essential. But, since many struggle to prioritize physical and mental health when facing problems with alcohol, self-care in recovery tends to be a learning curve. Not only do people need to unlearn unhealthy reactions, they also need to learn new strategies for self-care going forward.
Establishing new habits can feel intimidating at first. But once you develop new self-care routines, they tend to become automatic, and go a long way toward helping you achieve and maintain your goals. Here are a few tips for getting started, and sticking with self-care in recovery.
1. Self-Care Should Be Preventative, Not Reactive
It can be tempting to only utilize self-care after bad things happen in our lives. Instead, think of self-care as preventative maintenance for your body and mind. The more self-care becomes a daily habit, the less chance there is of things breaking down. Consistent self-care also lessens the risk of a return to unhealthy habits, such as increased alcohol use. Therefore, self-care should be practiced even on days when you feel great.
2. Find Things You Look Forward To
Learning self-care is an individual process, and what works for some will not work for others. It’s best to find an activity that you very much look forward to, as it’s much easier to be consistent with a self-care activity that you enjoy. Good self-care can include activities that are physically or mentally stimulating. Meditation, exercise, reading, journaling, yoga, or utilizing self-care smartphone apps such as Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer can all be helpful options.
3. Patience and Flexibility Are Important
In many cases, implementing self-care also means forming new habits. Typically, it can take several weeks to a few months to ingrain these new habits. Flexibility in the early stages of new self-care activities is important, as it’s not uncommon to have a few slips where the activity is not performed as scheduled. With time, patience, and repetition, self-care will hopefully become as automatic as brushing your teeth.
4. Utilize Visual Reminders
When beginning new self-care activities, try setting daily reminders until the activity becomes a habit. For example, one of my clients wanted to start jogging a mile after work three days per week. This person would write sticky notes and leave them on the refrigerator. They would also set timers on their phone 30 minutes before getting off work. Finally, they would leave their running clothes on the bed before leaving the house in the morning. They continued this until jogging became a routine, and they no longer needed reminders.
5. Plan Ahead For Triggers
There are situational triggers that are extremely difficult and may occur intermittently. These can include certain anniversaries of loss, such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or other difficult dates on the calendar. It can be useful to increase self-care activities during these unavoidable difficult times. Be gentle with yourself during such times, and direct your energy in a healthy manner towards your well-being.
Read More: Dealing With Triggers in Recovery
Implementing self-care as a regular routine has many benefits when it comes to mental health, physical health, and alcohol use. Unfortunately, not all triggers can be eliminated. However, the more consistently you practice self-care, the more you’ll be prepared to handle whatever life throws at you.
It can be good to remember that we cannot control everything that happens to us, but we can learn to manage our reactions to triggering situations. Regular and consistent self-care is a great start.