For the millions of Americans who have battled an addiction, finding ways to recover can be a long, difficult road. For some, it’s a matter of learning how to change bad habits and discover good ones. For others, it’s more about finding new ways to channel negative emotions and how to cope with stress, anxiety and depression without having a relapse.
Fortunately, there are several ways to combat addiction during recovery. One of the most popular is physical exercise, as not only does it help your body recover from the damage of substance abuse, it can also be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Learning how to change the way you structure your day and how to work around negative emotions can help you fight against triggers and figure out the best path to recovery for your needs.
Here are a few tips on incorporating exercise into your recovery.
Many different forms of exercise will help you focus, and you can train your mind to tune into the present rather than worrying about the past or future. This is especially helpful for individuals who suffer from anxiety or PTSD. Exercise can help you fight off cravings or work through triggers that occur unexpectedly. Strength training such as lifting weights is a great example of a workout that will help you learn to focus — and you can even do it indoors!
Such training requires intensity and focus, forcing your mind to zone in on the task at hand rather than the other thoughts and emotions bouncing around in your head. Plus, as doctoral research fellow James Whitworth explains, “Over time, you get better at something you’re doing, and you develop a sense of mastery and feeling that you’re getting stronger.” In other words, lifting weights not only gives you power, but it translates into higher self-esteem and confidence, showing that you can push yourself higher. Addiction can make you feel powerless, but lifting weights proves that you have power over your own body and can push through no matter how tough things get.
Daily exercise can help immensely during recovery because physical activity releases norepinephrine, a chemical in the brain that helps you handle stress. It can also help you channel negative energy into physical energy, giving you motivation to keep going even if you’re tired or are feeling low. “Exercise also increases blood circulation in the brain, which is linked to improvements in mood and attention. Spending as little as 20 minutes a day on exercise can actually increase your overall productivity, and decrease energy wasted from mental stress,” says clinical psychologist Jenny C. Yip.
Daily exercise can help you get social, which is sometimes an issue for individuals who are in recovery. If you don’t feel comfortable joining a gym, you might ask a close friend or family member to be your workout buddy to get things started, then branch out a bit by joining a running club in town. Look online for opportunities to workout in a social situation and ease yourself into one by joining with a friend. Surrounding yourself with generally healthy people can serve as a support system for you as well, pushing you forward when you are struggling and cheering you on when you’re soaring.
Get better rest
For many people who are in recovery, it can be difficult to get adequate sleep, either because of anxiety or because they have trouble resting without the aid of a substance. Although experts recommend between seven and eight hours a night, there isn’t a magic number, as every person may require a different amount. Exercising daily can help you get your muscles back into shape after substance abuse and will allow you to feel the “good kind of tired” at the end of the day, which will in turn help you get to sleep.
For individuals in recovery, making changes to a daily schedule can either be beneficial or it can lead to anxiety. Being careful about how you choose to structure your day can help you feel better and will give you peace of mind even when things are difficult. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to workout for both your mind and body, and remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Tailor your routine to your needs and work out a plan before you begin.
This month’s guest blogger is Jason Lewis. He is a personal trainer who specializes in fitness for seniors. For more information, please visit www.strongwell.org.