Addiction often takes priority over self-care. When you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, things like eating well, sleeping well, and practicing good stress management go out the window. Most addicts trade these things off for unhealthy coping habits that supply instant gratification or relief. When they’re tired or hungry, they may use stimulants to “take off the edge”. When they’re sad, lonely, or depressed, they might seek out substances to help them relax.
When you start recovery, learning how to properly care for yourself is an important part of getting well and staying that way. It’s about using healthy coping habits to deal with and manage the challenges you face. Good nutrition, getting adequate rest, and nurturing healthy, meaningful connections are all essential for building a stable, sustainable, and sober life. Efforts to care for yourself are also a vital acknowledgment of your self-worth. They create a solid foundation for success, and they make it infinitely easier to avoid returning to dangerous, self-harming behaviors.
What Does Self-Care Mean?
Self-care is everything that you do to improve and preserve your own health. Even simple actions such as:
- Brushing your teeth
- Washing your laundry
- Cleaning your living space
have an impact on both your physical well-being and your mental health. When your self-care falls by the wayside, you’re more likely to make up for the resulting deficits in unsafe, unsustainable ways. When it comes to recovery, practicing self-care is a preventative measure that every addict must make on a regular basis.
Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Selfish
There are countless reasons why people often struggle with self-care. Whether you’re at the very start of your recovery or have been abstaining for quite some time, you may find it hard to make yourself a priority. Even the decision to go to rehab can feel selfish. If you’re responsible for family members or loved ones, it may not be an easy decision.
Although addiction can have many underlying causes, feelings of low self-worth rank among the most common. One of the most important things to note about the recovery process is that you cannot be better, live better, or do better if you don’t believe that you’re worth it. Every time that you practice good self-care, this is an affirmation of your self-worth. Given that many recovering addicts routinely contend with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret, maintaining high sense of self-worth is often a challenge.
The Benefits of Self-Care Paired With Mindfulness
When paired with mindfulness, self-care is a good reminder that life can be enjoyed without using drugs or alcohol. Taking a hot, relaxing bath and then dozing off between crisp, clean sheets is a sensation that’s worth reveling in. Yoga and mediation can help you recenter after a long or difficult day.
Doing things that are good for you and that feel good will keep your journey exciting. As your brain and body heal and as your daily habits change, you’ll increasingly enjoy the benefits of caring for yourself.
Rehab professionals frequently remind their patients that they cannot care for others in any way until they learn to care for themselves. By taking actions that support your mental, emotional, and physical well-being, you’ll find that it’s easier to be:
and emotionally available to others. You’ll have an easier time establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, and you’ll feel better all-around. When you consider the benefits that practicing good self-care has on the people around you, you’ll find it much easier to invest your time, resources, and attention into meeting your own needs.
Tips for Taking Good Care of Yourself
One of the most daunting parts of leaving any formal rehab environment is learning how to maintain a balanced, healthy schedule on your own. One very basic way to remember the most important elements of self-care is H.A.L.T. During recovery, you should make a concerted effort to never let yourself get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired. When you make these four basic things the foundation of your self-care plan, you’ll have a feasible, manageable way to get started.
Mimic the Self-Care Routine That You Established in Rehab
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, consider creating a schedule that’s similar to the one you maintained in rehab. Start your day with a healthy breakfast and end it with a good night of sleep. You should be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep each night based on the recommendations of your personal physician or therapist. You should also maintain a balanced, nutrient-dense diet and a regular exercise plan. Routine exercise will boost your energy, improve your sleep quality, and help you better manage stress levels.
Seek Help When You Need It
If you’re unsure of how to establish a detailed and needs-specific stress management plan, speak with a counselor or ask for guidance when attending a sober meeting or any other post-treatment support group. Finally, never be afraid to ask for help. Just as hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue can place you at an increased risk of relapse, unmanageable stress creates this danger as well. If you need them, ask for options in transportation and housing assistance, job search or career-building assistance, low-cost health care, and more. Remember, you don’t have to do it all on your own, and it isn’t necessary to get everything right.
Examples of Healthy Self-Care
Basic self-care starts with good hygiene, good nutrition, regular socialization, and getting adequate rest. However, there are certain aspects of self-care that you might find surprising. For instance, when it comes to engaging with others, your commitment to self-care gives you the right to:
- Say no when you’re uncomfortable
- Set firm boundaries in all of your relationships
- Spend time alone when you need to
- Revise your goals, living arrangements, and other aspects of your life to avoid unnecessary triggers
When it comes to choosing how you will care for yourself and what you’ll define as self-care, consistently keeping your recovery as your top priority is best. When relationships, jobs, living situations, and other lifestyle factors put your recovery in jeopardy, taking reasonable and well-planned actions to change these things is key for both caring for yourself and recognizing/affirming your value.
What Happens When Self-Care Stops Being a Priority?
It takes time to establish healthy habits. Some sources say that a lifestyle change can take just 18 days to become a habit. Others assert that it can take as long as 200 days or even longer for habits to become unwavering commitments. With self-care in recovery, people often make small lapses in seemingly minor areas.
Worse still, if these lapses aren’t corrected, they can gradually spread to other aspects of your life. For instance, if you start staying up too late and getting far less than the recommended amount of sleep, you’re more likely to reach for high-sugar foods and high-caffeine beverages for a quick, jolt of energy. If you stop practicing stress management and begin lashing out, you’ll have a higher likelihood of lashing out at others and gradually distancing and isolating yourself.
In this progressive fashion, poor self-care gradually pushes people closer to relapse. Although you can certainly miss a few days at the gym or have a cheat day where you indulge in your favorite junk foods, your daily management of your physical and mental health should largely be consistent. This is the surest way to keep recovery as your top priority, and the best way to avoid relapsing.