The COVID19 crisis has changed the lives of millions, resulting in mass layoffs, income uncertainty, and general panic as we are isolated, and asked to manage those fears. Most people are having a hard time with these changes, because not only do we have to navigate the uncertainty of income and economic changes, we also have to navigate the fear of losing friends and loved ones. This anxiety is especially dangerous for individuals in recovery, who may not be able to seek out help from prescription medication and who certainly don’t want to drink more or rely on other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Recovering from substance abuse is a long and difficult journey, and Covid19 is making that harder. You will be exposed to many of the triggers that push you to drink or use, you will be anxious, and you will go through a changing array of emotions ranging from loneliness to frustration, grief, and cravings. Dealing with those emotions in a healthy way is critical to remaining clean and sober.
Going to the store is difficult, restrictions on who can go in and dress codes make acquiring food even more difficult, and stress may make it difficult to cook for yourself. At the same time, it’s more important than ever to maintain a healthy diet.
Most recovering addicts struggle with nutrient deficiencies, which directly relate to drugs and alcohol damaging the gastrointestinal tract and its ability to absorb nutrients. Coupled with poor food and drink choices made while drunk or high, and many recovering addicts can face mood-related disorders linked to nutrition for years after going to rehab.
In the short term, eating well helps to balance your mood, give you a sense of satisfaction, and will give you something to do to take care of yourself. In the long-term, correcting nutrient deficiencies, or maintaining proper nutrition, will prevent energy crashes, will work to prevent depression-like and anxiety-like symptoms caused by nutrient deficiencies, and will help you to feel better. It will help you to prevent anxiety by maintain steady energy levels and avoiding anxiety inducing crashes.
What counts as healthy? Follow the recommendations at MyPlate.gov, implement an 80/20 rule of eating healthy, and or just try to make sure your average meal has at least 2 servings of vegetables and 15 grams of protein. You don’t have to be perfect.
Everyone is staying indoors more, unless you’re an essential worker. Gyms are closed, sport groups have shut down, and you might be largely staying indoors. While that does limit your opportunities to exercise, it shouldn’t stop you from doing so. Most recovering addicts are recommended to follow the same exercise guidelines as everyone else, which means getting at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day. That can mean 30 minutes of walking, yoga, calisthenics, jogging, or cycling, all of which you can do while retaining social distancing.
Most importantly, exercise will actively boost your ability to stay calm by boosting endorphins like serotonin, boosting dopamine levels to increase satisfaction, and causing a sense of satiation. You’ll also improve your blood-oxygen levels, which will increase energy and reduce stress, helping you to feel better. And, at the end of the day, you’ll have less energy to spend on stress and worry.
Life is stressful, there’s no getting around it. A global pandemic is stressful, even traumatizing. It’s important to take time to acknowledge that and to deal with that in a healthy way. Stress will obviously be higher if you’re still working, managing homeschooling of teaching children at home, completely isolated, or sharing a space with people you don’t get along with. Take time to recognize where stress factors are coming from, mitigate them where possible, and take time to relax.
What might that look like? If you’re working from home and managing children, managing your time and a schedule might be the most important thing you can do. For example, you might find that without the distraction of coworkers, you can finish work more quickly providing you stay disciplined, and then spend the rest of the day with family. You might also find that you struggle to concentrate in a home environment. Setting up an office environment and sticking to your routine may help. If you’re alone, taking time to connect to people and reach out may help to alleviate some stress.
It’s also a good idea to actively invest in relaxation, through calming exercises, breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, reading, or something else that works for you.
Reducing stress will logically help you to reduce anxiety, but it may also help you to reduce the risk of relapse.
Most of us either have too much to do or not enough. You either suddenly lack work and school responsibilities or you suddenly have to take on working from home, homeschooling, and caring for parents. Few of us have a balanced schedule. It’s critical to review your schedule and to balance it as much as possible. If you’re constantly overworked, you will be anxious and stressed. If you’re constantly doing nothing, you’ll be pent up, worried, uncertain, and anxious.
Overwhelming yourself with too much to do will likely lead you to being stressed and anxious. This can contribute to a relapse. Similarly, sitting around bored all day will result in triggering cravings and possible a relapse as well, while creating feelings of restlessness and anxiety. Managing your time so you have enough to do and are not bored or overwhelmed will prevent anxiety.
Dozens of self-help and counseling groups have moved online to continue offering virtual support throughout the pandemic. You can attend many of them for free. If you’re already part of a 12-Step or Non-AA group, chances are, they have moved online. AA, Smart Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, Support Groups Central, 7 Cups, and many others are offering free online meetings. These can help you to discuss your fears and anxiety in a helpful setting, with your peers. In some cases, you can also look to support from trained volunteers such as 7 Cups, for help tackling specific issues with anxiety. Most importantly, if you need help, you can almost always seek out a therapist for virtual sessions.
It’s also important to consider that virtual groups don’t have to be purely about anxiety or about self-help. Simply talking to a group of friends on Skype or Discord will help you to relax, will boost serotonin levels, and will help you to feel better. Social interaction is still one of the best ways to boost your mood.
Everyone experiences anxiety, especially during a time of global stress and trauma. It would be wrong to say that you can navigate this pandemic without it. However, you can actively work to reduce anxiety in natural ways, so that you stay in control. If you are in recovery, it’s important to take the time to seek out extra assistance, to stay in touch with your doctor, and to maintain accountability for yourself. Staying safe means reducing stress and anxiety, so you can stay clean, sober, and healthy.