With the days getting shorter and darker and the amount of vitamin D we get from the sun decreasing, many of us are experiencing some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Because of this, it is important to take care of yourself at this time of year. Given this reality and the fact that loved ones of people struggling with addiction already find self-care challenging, we will spend the next 5 programs talking about things you can do to take care of yourself through this potentially difficult time. You are no good to yourself or anyone else if you are burnt out. You may make poor decisions or say and do things you’ll later regret. Self-care will boost your resilience and help you to stay ‘up’.
1. Conserve Energy and Sleep
Conserve your energy by setting boundaries, saying no when you need to, not focusing on others unnecessarily, and acknowledging your limitations and respecting them as well as asking others to respect them.
Loving someone in addiction or early recovery can be challenging at times, so conserve your energy and get enough quality sleep. Try to leave enough time for sleep, limit caffeine, maintain an environment where you can sleep uninterrupted and have a chance to get into the different sleep stages.
This can be hard at the height of a loved one’s active addiction. When you are in survival mode, you’re likely operating on autopilot during the day. Then when you come home and your mind finally quietens at night, you launch into worrying and ruminating. Mindfulness practices can help with this or by reading a book. Try to do something to help you fall asleep rather than lie there running the hamster wheel.
Self-care is so important for personal resiliency and keeping up your energy. Both can be particularly challenging to maintain not only this time of year but also if you are in a relationship with someone struggling with addiction or in early recovery. Last week we talked about ways to conserve your energy and have good sleep. This episode is about staying organized.
There’s the old saying, “an organized home is an organized mind” and it is true. I know that whenever I have a project that requires mental concentration, I end up cleaning the house first. Simple things like putting things back where they belong (e.g. keys or a wallet) go a long way in preventing unnecessary stress later. Routines and schedules help maintain structure and some predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world. Small things like this go a long way in our everyday lives to reduce stress and maintain energy.
3. Healthy Eating
Winter is the time of year where many of us eat more carbs and fewer vegetables, drink more caffeine, and eat more sugar and fat. All of this can mess up our blood sugar levels, which can cause energy spikes and crashes. Eating healthy is not always easy to maintain. It can be more expensive and time-consuming to eat whole foods rather than processed foods. But it is worth it in the end for both your physical and mental wellbeing. Especially with the holiday season coming and more food temptations along with it, now is a good time to set some healthy eating habits.
Just like with healthy eating, exercise can seem like a chore, but it has great benefits. Exercise helps immediately relieve stress and makes you feel better by releasing endorphins. Regular exercise will lead to you feeling physically stronger, helping boost confidence and self-efficacy. Exercise is proven to improve your mood and focus just as well as any medication on its own. Interestingly, exercising actually boosts your overall energy levels too. It is a great way to burn off negative energy. Ever notice how you have a better perspective on a situation after going for a walk?
5. Catastrophic Thinking
In this fifth and final part, I am going to discuss making adjustments in your thinking style so you can move from surviving to thriving. Many people get caught up in catastrophic thinking, where they go from zero to 100, making mountains out of molehills. This is particularly true of people under stress, so being a loved one of someone struggling with addiction, this may be you.
Catastrophic thinking can start with misreading others. Not only their communication but also the intention we assign to them. When we’re under stress we are more prone to jump to negative interpretations. Being poor at emotional regulation and becoming overly reactive can also add to catastrophizing. Ironically and unfortunately, all of this behaviour most often leads to more stress. Your best bet is to take a moment to gain some much-needed perspective. This is most easily done if you have time and space (mental space). Becoming more objective can help to calm down any runaway thoughts and emotions.