Being in recovery is challenging for many reasons, and one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the emotional ups and downs that are often associated with recovery, especially in the first few months. Giving up the use of substances that served to numb or calm difficult emotions allows feelings like shame, blame, emptiness, and perceptions of low self-worth to surface, and these can feel overwhelming.
While engaging in your recovery work, part of which is to correct such misconceptions about yourself, it is important that you take proactive steps every day to help yourself feel better – physically, mentally/emotionally and spiritually.
Mental/Emotional “Feel Better” Tips
Here are some tips that can help you reshape your thinking and reduce your emotional distress:
- Recognize that you are in an evolving, changing situation and your disturbing feelings are temporary. You will feel better; you can find happiness again. Focus on the work of recovery and the positive strides you are making versus the difficulties you experience, and they will feel less intense.
- Remember, you do not need to feel that you are in this alone. You should develop and use a support system of friends, family and recovery resources (12-step groups etc.) to assist you and encourage you as needed.
Along with these general guidelines, here are some feel-better tips, adapted from a Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Blog, Self-esteem: Take Steps to Feel Better About Yourself.
- Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Avoid these common (but most often inaccurate) negative self-evaluations: all or nothing thinking (I made a mistake, so I’m a total failure); focusing only the bad and not the good (my mistake overshadows and diminishes any positive elements of this situation); jumping to (negative) conclusions (my friend did not answer my call; he no longer supports me); negative self-talk (I don’t deserve to feel better and have success).
- Replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with positive thoughts and affirmations. Try adjusting your thoughts to have a more positive perspective. Use hopeful statements. (Even if I did make a mistake, it is not the end of the world. I can correct it.) Forgive yourself. (Just because I made a mistake, that does not mean I am a bad or unworthy person.) Focus on the positive. (I have done well in many areas. I am improving my coping skills daily.) Re-label negative thoughts, as signals to use your new, positive perspective. (I started thinking of this as a failure, but now I see that it offers me an opportunity. I can make changes and have a better outcome.)
Physical “Feel Better” Tips
Changing your mental and emotional perspective is key to feeling better every day. Here are some practical health-focused tips from webmd.com that can help you as well:
- Try to get some sunlight each day. Sunlight stimulates the brain chemical serotonin, which is associated with positive mood. Sunlight also helps with the return of a regular sleep-wake cycle, which is disrupted by substance use, so sunlight can help with the recovery of normal sleep patterns.
- Exercise daily if you can; at minimum, exercise 30 minutes or more at least three times per week. Studies show that exercise is effective in reducing symptoms of depression, by increasing brain chemicals called endorphins, that trigger positive feelings and reduce sensations of pain or anxiety.
- Eat nutritious foods. Good nutrition feeds you not only physical, but mentally and emotionally as well. “Super-foods”, including vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage support the immune system and help detoxify the body. Fresh foods, fruits, beans, vegetables and whole grains provide energy and help prevent blood sugar dips, that can cause mental fogginess and feelings of anxiety.
- Address sleep issues. It is common in early recovery to have difficulty sleeping. Know that the adjustment to normal sleep will come, usually without the need for medication, though it may take several weeks or even months. Develop a pre-sleep ritual, where you follow the same routine every night. (Ready yourself for bed–brush your teeth, put on pajamas, etc. Do something relaxing such as meditating, listening to quiet music or reading inspirational material; avoid television and physical activity close to bedtime.) Maintain a regular bed time schedule.
Social and Spiritual “Feel Better” Tips
The Mayo Clinic also suggests:
- Make a spiritual connection. Each day, try to do something that makes you feel connected to a higher purpose or gives you a sense of meaning. Spend time in nature, do some inspirational reading, listen to music, help a friend or neighbor, or share an activity with loved one.
- Stay connected to your support system. Spending time with the people and organizations that support you will keep your connection with them strong and make it easier for you to call on them for help if you should need it. Attend a meeting; keep up with contacts by phone, text, or visit.
- Practice gratitude. Keep a “Gratitude Journal” where you write about people, situations and feelings that you are grateful for. Putting your gratitude thoughts into a permanent form helps you recognize the progress you are making and helps you retain your motivation.
Keeping the “Feel Better” Feeling Going
Once you have established a routine that helps you feel better each day, you will want to make permanent the habits that are working for you. Shift your mindset from the viewpoint that you are participating in activities and behaviors that will get you feeling better to a mindset that you are participating in activities and behaviors that will keep you feeling better. Recognize the fact that you have created positive, new habits and, now that they are established, these habits can be carried forward with greater ease.