After your active addiction is over and you have completed treatment, you will find likely yourself in recovery. The core aspect of that recovery is maintaining your sobriety. And, to do that, you must be equipped with several different skills, know when to reach out for guidance, and find ways to improve your overall lifestyle.
For many, learning how to live sober comes from attending Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. There, individuals from all walks of life and backgrounds come together to share the stories of their addictions and recoveries in ways that can help provide insight, compassion, and understanding amongst all who attend. These programs are based in the 12-Steps, which are a set of guidelines that help recovering addicts and alcoholics stay on track in their recovery.
While the 12 Steps themselves never actually mention the words “nutrition” or “healthy living”, the steps themselves are effective at helping individuals free themselves from the confines of active addiction and the compulsions and behaviors that come along with it. In doing so, a healthier life can be established. Therefore, as the steps are worked through, many people find that they are more willing to make additional lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy and living in a manner that promotes overall wellness.
For others, their recovery might not be rooted in the 12-Steps, but in other types of aftercare, such as ongoing individual therapy sessions or more experiential-based therapies. Some even utilize forms of self-care, such as meditation or yoga, to maintain their sobriety. Regardless of how an individual maintains his or her recovery, doing things that help promote sober living can easily contribute to one’s overall health and wellbeing.
How Can Nutrition and Healthy Living Impact the Mind?
Many addicts and alcoholics have spent long periods of time ignoring their psychological needs. In fact, the time spent using has most likely been when they have neglected their mental health the most. However, when an individual transitions into the stage of recovery, he or she is provided with the opportunity to tend to his or her psychological needs in a number of ways.
While someone in recovery is likely attending therapy sessions or going to 12-Step meetings to help support some of his or her psychological needs, he or she can also be doing more to help boost the functionality of their minds. One of the many (and easy) ways to do that is to begin eating well.
Replacing caffeine-filled drinks or drinks that contain large amounts of sugar can be a good start. Now, these things are OK when consumed in moderation, however consuming these drinks frequently can lead to a number of problems.
Studies show that drinking large amounts of caffeine in a day can trigger the onset of panic attacks, which can be extremely upsetting to someone who has an anxiety disorder (which is very common in those who also have a history of addiction). Plus, drinking lots of caffeine or sugary drinks can cause an individual to “crash” in the middle of the day, leading to loss of energy or an overall feeling of being “zoned out”. Therefore, it is best to trade these drinks with water and other healthier beverages so that the mind can remain clear and the individual can stay focused.
Also, there are many vitamins and supplements available over-the-counter that can help boost brain function, all while promoting good physical health. For instance, studies have shown that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish oil and flaxseed oil) can help treat symptoms of depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Vitamin D supplements can help treat symptoms related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and boost the immune system. And, consuming enough folic acid in foods like spinach and beans can lower the risk for depression. Taking any one of these supplements (or all) while working to achieve a healthy lifestyle can support strong psychological health.
In addition to eating well, exercising is easily one of the best ways to promote healthy living, and it is also one of the best ways to maintain sobriety.
Doing things such as going to the gym, running, taking walks, dancing, or partaking in any other physical activity will release dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. Therefore, when engaging in physical activity, dopamine is released, causing individuals to feel both happy and rewarded.
Socializing and Self-Care
It is not uncommon for an individual who is in recovery to be working on his or her relationships with others. In fact, during this time, it is encouraged to reach out to others, strive to make amends, and begin building on a new foundation. And, as that process is occurring and individuals in recovery are starting to feel important once more, the brain releases serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that makes individuals feel worthy. Fostering healthy relationships as a part of an overall healthy lifestyle is one way to make the Serotonin flow.
Additionally, when a romantic relationship is involved during recovery (such as with a husband or wife), learning to engage in a healthy sexual relationship can produce oxytocin the brain, which helps increase feelings of intimacy and trust. The relationship doesn’t even have to be sexual, as simply hugging a loved one can release oxytocin in the brain. However, without adopting a healthy lifestyle, relationships such as these can be void of physical communication.
In the same breath, it is important to have a good relationship with yourself. This means that you find time to take good care of yourself, whether it is by treating yourself to a message, saving time in your day to read a chapter of a book, or waking up just to see the sunrise because it makes you happy.
Finding Your Way
Whether you are 20 days sober or 20 years sober, maintaining recovery is extremely complex and sometimes overwhelming. However, working to build up a strong set of coping skills can be the difference between staying in recovery and relapsing.
Coping skills, such as having a strong support network of loved ones or learning when to leave a situation that makes you uncomfortable, are critical in staying sober. Living healthy by fostering strong relationships, eating well, exercising, and practicing good self-care can all work in your favor when you are in recovery.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.