Across the nation, winter has arrived. In many states, this means the arrival of colder weather, snow, and the strong desire to hunker down inside away from the chill outside the door. The winter season also brings along new stressors or helps to elevate those you may already struggle with. November and December are months that are often tightly packed with various events and obligations related to the holidays. While these may be enjoyable for some, if you are currently in recovery, these situations can bring about feelings of stress and anxiety. They also increase the potential for exposure to triggers and, depending on your place in recovery, increase relapse potential.
For addicts in recovery after completing addiction treatment at a treatment center such as The Hills in Los Angeles, California, winter can also bring about increased isolation as you actively try to avoid exposure to events or situations which could be triggering. Also, you may find your weekly (or daily) support groups or therapy sessions are canceled or rescheduled due to weather or other circumstances. All of these difficulties often combine to make maintaining sobriety a challenge.
Outside of your traditional support systems, there are other options you can look to maintain recovery during the winter and holiday season. During treatment, you likely learned about mindfulness and self-care practices. Depending on the treatment program you completed, mindfulness may have been part of your treatment model through alternative and holistic therapies. If you have not been integrating these practices into your recovery journey, the winter months may be an excellent time to start.
What is mindfulness (self-care)?
You don’t have to look very far these days to hear or read about self-care and mindfulness practices. Many people talk about and encourage their use; however, what are mindfulness and self-care? Mindfulness practices have been part of individual lifestyle choices since The Buddha first introduced it over 2,500 years ago. Mindfulness is defined as being present in our own lives. It is the process of shutting down the “noise” in the environment around us and opening our minds to greater awareness and the opportunity for growth. Mindfulness and self-care practices both improve mental health while promoting physical health and overall emotional well-being. They can also help to calm the mind, which, in turn, helps alleviate anxiety and other emotions that may challenge your sobriety.
Connecting Self-Care to Recovery
Self-care and mindfulness practices have been shown to alter how the brain operates. The brain itself is an organ designed to be shaped by experience and practice. Depending on one’s habits, shaping can be either positive or negative. For example, suppose you repeatedly engage in thoughts and behaviors responsible for propagating your addiction. In that case, you were unknowingly shaping your brain in ways that encouraged it to work against you and prevent it mindfulness and self-care. Self-care exercises allow you to intentionally reshape how your brain works, and as a result, change your thoughts and allow for greater control, awareness, and happiness in all aspects of your life.
Ways to Practice Self-Care
When the winter months bring about increased stress and anxiety, it is essential to take care of your emotional and physical health. During these times, it can be beneficial to sit with your emotions and take a few moments to remind yourself of your beliefs and the reasons why you chose to seek treatment and follow the path of sobriety. The levels of isolation you may feel during the winter (and the holiday season) can easily lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and increased stress. There are several different things you can do to look after your mental and physical health during this time. In addition to some of the more popular self-care options that are listed below, you could also consider simple “me time” breaks such as taking a long shower or bath, watching a favorite movie, reading a book, or doing some baking. Regardless of your choice, the purpose of self-care is for you to take a few moments away from everything else to regulate your emotions and calm your mind.
Exercise is an excellent way to keep boredom at bay while keeping your body healthy. Although public exercise facilities such as gyms and fitness centers might be challenging to get to, there are many other options available to help you create or continue a daily exercise routine. Exercise serves multiple purposes and, for many people, is an essential part of their recovery plan. First, exercise helps keep your mind off emotionally charged situations or events. Also, it helps keep your body healthy in shape, which can help you fight off illness and disease while attaining better overall physical and emotional health. Many fitness organizations offer online programs in addition to home fitness programs that are part of many streaming service plans.
If you would prefer, take the time to go outside and enjoy physical activity. If you live in an area where you can walk, hike, bike, or do something active outdoors, it can be highly beneficial to your emotional well-being. Winter does make this challenging; however, there are often outdoor activities available in any season. Finally, it is important to remember that a small amount of physical activity can be highly beneficial. It is suggested that even 15 minutes per day is enough to help you continue to remain physically and emotionally healthy.
Yoga, Meditation, and Relaxation
If meditation and yoga were introduced during your addiction treatment program as part of an alternative therapy program, it is excellent to continue throughout your recovery. Meditation or yoga both provide the opportunity to calm the mind and the body. This allows you to reduce stress and anxiety while finding alternative coping mechanisms for triggering events. If alternative therapies such as these were not available as part of your treatment program, consider trying guided meditation as a new form of self-care practice. There are multiple options available online, ranging from five minutes to as long as thirty. Guided meditations such as these are excellent for beginners as they walk you through the process. Relaxation can be achieved in many simple ways. If meditation or yoga is not of interest to you, you can immerse yourself in an activity such as gardening, painting, or playing music. The actual activity is not as important as finding what works for you are using it when you need to calm your mind or negotiate a triggering emotion or situation.
Try Something New
It is not uncommon for people to put off procrastinate on learning or trying something new. We often find we are too busy, or family obligations get in the way. If you find you are struggling during the winter months, it is the perfect time to focus on you. Perhaps you have always wanted to try painting, pottery, or another hobby. Take this time to find a local class or an online option to take advantage of. There are many online courses available, some of which are free of charge. If not a hobby, perhaps you have been considering learning a new language or even starting or finishing your college degree. Again, the winter months, when isolation and emotional challenges are often heightened, may be the perfect time to give these new things a try. You may find the distraction not only helps alleviate depression and anxiety but also introduces you to a new support circle of like-minded peers who share similar interests. These individuals can provide you with much-needed peer support during a time of excess stress. This is especially important if you are struggling with having to distance yourself from family or friends who are not supportive of your ongoing sobriety and recovery efforts.
The winter months and associated events related to the holidays can bring about changes and expectations that can be difficult to manage, especially when you are in recovery from addiction. Mindfulness and self-care practices can all promote a sense of inner calm and promote emotional and physical well-being. Those who struggle with a history of substance abuse and addiction often find the winter to be challenging due to increased isolation, challenges attending social support groups, and ongoing expectations associated with family or work functions related to the holiday season. Self-care can provide a list of other options and practices you can turn to when you need help with the emotions you may experience during this time. Winter can increase stress and anxiety for everyone. If you are in recovery from a substance abuse disorder, these emotions are of significant concern as they can result in relapse or increase the urge to self-medicate. The best part about self-care and mindfulness is that they can be called upon anywhere, at any time. They do not require you to go anywhere or “be” with a group of people. You can call upon self-care techniques the moment you feel triggered to help immediately reduce emotions and reduce their potential impact.
If you are struggling with substance use or addiction and have decided now is the time to seek sobriety, contact us at The Hills in Los Angeles. Our luxury addiction treatment facility in California can help you learn to identify and manage heightened emotions that often come with the winter season. During your treatment here, you will also learn essential self-care skills that you can call upon throughout your recovery. If you have already completed treatment and are concerned about relapse (or have relapsed), please contact your treatment provider or reach out to the caring and compassionate team at The Hills. Addiction treatment is not a one-time process for many. Addiction is considered a chronic condition from which as many as sixty percent of people will experience at least one instance of relapse. Don’t let addiction steal another day. Let the staff at The Hills help you attain sobriety and long-term recovery.