Ten Strategies to Maintain Sobriety during COVID-19

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While the emergence of COVID-19 has impacted everyone, this time may be particularly difficult for those in addiction recovery. Recent social-distancing policies have disrupted daily routines and contributed to a growing sense of uncertainty. This newfound isolation is challenging and may heighten feelings of stress and anxiety which, if not well-managed, can trigger substance abuse. To promote mental wellness and maintain sobriety during this time, consider the following strategies:

1.) Develop New Routines

Structure can help us feel more stable. As daily life changes in response to COVID-19, it can be helpful to maintain familiar routines as much as possible or develop new routines. Consider how you incorporate activities that help promote total wellness like exercise, time with family, mindful eating, time outdoors, meditation and journaling.

If cultivating an entirely new routine feels overwhelming, practice self-compassion and consider focusing on just one part of your day, like your morning or evening routine.  Moreover, give yourself permission to make mistakes while adjusting to the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape and prioritize whatever allows you the mental and emotional space to feel your best.

2.) Stay Connected with Your Support System

A lack of in-person time with your support system can be challenging. While there is no replacement for connecting with people in-person, leveraging technology can be extremely helpful during social distancing. Many support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are now providing their services virtually. 

To stay in touch with your biggest supporters, consider using video, rather than just audio or messaging. Find ways to nurture positive and supportive relationships by joining an online community, engaging with loved ones through video-conferencing, or even participating in an online support group. 

3.) Do Meaningful Things with Free Time

There are limitless ways to engage during free time. Activities that are particularly meaningful incorporate the five interconnected dimensions of wellness to foster overall wellbeing:

  • Physical Wellness- Follow a sleep-wake schedule, prioritize healthy nutrition and engage in regular exercise.
  • Social Wellness- Stay in regular contact with loved ones, check on neighbors and participate in virtual social groups or activities.
  • Emotional Wellness- Reframe negative thoughts, play with pets, or engage in activities that you find relaxing.
  • Spiritual Wellness- Meditate, express gratitude, practice yoga or religion, appreciate music or art, or spend time in nature.
  • Intellectual Wellness- Read, learn a new language, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, play games or solve puzzles. 

4.) Avoid and Cope with Relapse Triggers

Relapse triggers can be people, places, things, thoughts or emotions that lead you to think about using. Common relapse triggers include environmental cues, fatigue or exhaustion, self-licensing and stress or other negative emotions

While avoiding these and other relapse triggers is ideal, total avoidance is not always possible. Understanding your triggers can help you identify healthy ways to cope should they arise. For instance, if boredom is a relapse trigger, it may be helpful to identify and practice hobbies you enjoy. 

5.) Manage Stress

It is normal to feel stress in reaction to COVID-19. Although this is an unprecedented time, it can be helpful to implement stress management strategies that have worked well for you in the past. Be aware of your personal signs of stress and consider practicing your preferred stress-management strategies should they arise. 

While there is no one-size fits all solution to managing stress, maintaining routines, participating in fun or intellectually stimulating activities, cultivating hobbies and focusing on the things you can control, like hand washing, can all be helpful. Practicing relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, stretching, meditation, journaling and other self-care activities, may also help mitigate, minimize and prevent stress.

6.) Continue Treatment, Therapy and Support Groups

Telehealth has helped many people in recovery to stay connected to treatment, therapy and support networks during this time. If you are currently in treatment, engaged in therapy or involved in support groups, continue to participate safely. Many outpatient recovery programs, therapists and support groups are providing their services virtually by leveraging video-conferencing.

If your current providers are not offering telehealth services, there are many others who are working to close the gap. At this time, safety is the highest priority and engaging with treatment remotely is a great way to stay healthy while maintaining sobriety.

7.) Stay Connected to the Present Moment

Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, or worrying about the past or the future can increase stress and aggravate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to focus on the present moment by engaging with intentionality in the world around you. 

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including intentional breathing, paying attention to the five senses and meditating. There are also many available meditation and mindfulness apps including: Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Stop Breathe & Think, Calm and Headspace.

8.) Practice Gratitude

When faced with adversity, people who practice gratitude experience improved health outcomes and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Taking time to appreciate, enjoy and express gratitude for the things that make life meaningful can also help ground you to the present moment.

One strategy for practicing gratitude is through journaling. Consider starting a list of people, places, experiences and small, daily things for which you are grateful. Set aside a few minutes each week to grow your list.

9.) Take Advantage of Online Resources

In addition to online meetings, there are many apps and podcasts that can provide support during recovery. Consider supplementing other treatment activities with one or more of the following online resources:

10.) Monitor Relapse Warning Signs

Relapse warning signs are subtle clues that a person in recovery may be moving towards a relapse. Recognizing and monitoring relapse warning signs can help you intervene and prevent a relapse from happening.  If you or a loved one is experiencing relapse warning signs, confide in your support system and seek help. 

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