The COVID-19 pandemic may be extremely difficult for those of us who struggle with substance abuse issues. Fear of becoming sick and uncertainty over where our world is headed can certainly become stressors, and the consistency of a daily routine can be important for maintaining mental health, wellness and recovery, which are frequently intertwined. A steady schedule of work or school, activity and social interaction may keep us feeling grounded, stable and supported. It’s sudden absence, along with unwelcome isolation, can increase anxiety, depression and cravings, sometimes leading to thoughts of relapse. Here are a few tips and resources to maintain mental health and safeguard sobriety during this time.
If you’re stuck at home right now, it’s important to stay active. A short walk in your neighborhood or a local park is a great way to get out and move your body without worrying about getting close to others. This likely goes without saying, but make sure it isn’t too crowded, and keep your distance from other walkers or runners. Physical activity, combined with getting out of your home into a different environment, feeling the sun and wind on your face, can be very therapeutic.
Visit TrailLink to find great walking trails near you, complete with reviews, photos and details like trail distance and parking access.
Embrace Virtual Support Groups
When you’re dealing with negative thoughts or cravings, staying home and being isolated can exacerbate these issues. Whether in-person or online, a support group can provide a safe and confidential “space” that gives you the opportunity to talk openly and honestly about emotions and feelings with others who understand, and it can even improve your social skills and your ability to cope with challenges. Sharing these feelings with others can help a great deal. Hearing their feedback can help you feel supported, and knowing that others have felt and gone through what you have is a great reminder that you’re not alone. Lastly, when you’re able to verbalize something, it can take the power away and lessen the burden.
The New York Times released this directory of virtual support groups across the United States for a wide range of purposes. In addition, our clinicians are facilitating virtual support groups that include reduced-cost pandemic groups, free groups for hospitality workers, and a Relapse Prevention Group.
Reach out to Loved Ones
Take this time to reach out to loved ones, family members and friends. Facetime, call, text, write them a letter or even drive by and wave. Even through physical distance, we can still find ways to stay connected to those that we feel supported by and who may need our support as well. The more we feel isolated, the more those negative thoughts can creep in and threaten our progress or peace. Engaging and interacting with others can help tremendously.
Sending thoughtful, digital greeting cards for free through Punchbowl can be a great way to show someone you care.
Anyone can benefit from meditation, and this is a great time to get started because it can help ground us in the present moment, reducing anxiety and reinforcing the mentality of “one day at a time.” Take ten or fifteen minutes every day to meditate: Focus on your body and the present moment, and clear your mind of the worries and stresses of what has happened or what may happen. The only moment we truly have control over is right now.
Take a look at this list of apps with free meditation resources from Mashable.
Focus on your Breathing
Deep breathing can also be a helpful exercise in mindfulness, whether you’re feeling tense, vulnerable or just having a bad day. Take some deep breaths and simply concentrate on your breathing; in and out. When we focus on our breaths, we’re mindful of the present, reducing anxiety and worry over the past or future and reminding us, again, that now is all we can control, and all we have.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the CDC also recommends deep breathing to improve emotional health. They offer a step-by-step tutorial.
Take Out your Bucket List
There are a great number of things we can do at home to keep active and productive, helping to quell negative thoughts or cravings and focus our energy. Take a look at that list (metaphorical or physical) of things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for; reading, cleaning, sewing, gardening, pilates, calling your grandmother. There are many free tools, classes and tutorials online for learning everything from the guitar to yoga to physics. Clean out that bed of weeds in your backyard and order some plants online. Maybe you can’t go skydiving, but you can learn to cook paella or practice cake decorating. You can read the Grapes of Wrath again. Let’s not let ourselves wallow, but instead look at this as an opportunity to do the things we don’t usually have time for.
Mashable released this list of over 25 gyms and studios offering free fitness classes at home, including yoga, dancing and more. Find free college courses online here. Get three months of free guitar classes from Fender Play. Learn to cook from top Houston chefs through Visit Houston.
Practice Radical Acceptance
Try practicing radical acceptance. We’re dealing with a lot of changes and uncertainty at this time, and it’s not something we can predict or control. We have to accept the way things are. What we can do is focus on helping ourselves stay grounded and moving forward with our lives, even in the midst of everything happening around us. If we can focus on that, we’ll not only come out on the other side of this; we’ll come out stronger and better able to handle what comes in the future.
Read more about practicing radical acceptance during the pandemic here from Psych Central.
If you or a loved one could use help or support during this time, tap here to contact The Lovett Center confidentially. Other Ethos healing centers may be able to offer help and support as well. For those looking to break free from addiction, The Prairie Recovery Center aims to provide a serene respite for guests to focus on wellness and long-term recovery. Tap here to find out if The Prairie could be the right fit for you.
About the author:
Ernest Patterson is a Master’s-level Addiction Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor at The Lovett Center with over 20 years of experience. Ernest was awarded The Houston Chapter TAAP Counselor of the Year award in 2012 and the Elves Smith Counselor of the Year award of Texas in 2015.