Why Is Self-Care Essential in Recovery?

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A topic that will frequently come up during treatment for substance misuse is the importance of self-care in recovery. Many people may have a skewed vision of what self-care really is. Self-care has nothing to do with being selfish. Rather, it involves doing anything necessary to support your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. There are many factors that make self-care essential in recovery.  

Part of the recovery journey is learning how to be the best version of yourself. This is not something that is accomplished overnight, but something to continue to work toward every single day. Practicing self-care is one of the best ways to accomplish this. It helps you to restore yourself so that you have the energy and motivation to continue learning and growing. 

At Pathways Recovery Center, we view self-care as a crucial part of the recovery journey. It is something that we help our clients learn to practice on a regular basis and recognize that it can play an important role in relapse prevention. 

Why Is Self-Care Essential? Different Ways to Practice Physical Self-Care

Physical self-care may often involve the basic elements of a healthy lifestyle. However, it can often be pushed aside or overlooked. Physical self-care simply means taking care of the physical needs of your body. This can at times be more difficult than you would expect. 

Many people live very busy lifestyles. You may have a hectic career, children to take care of, or classes to keep up with. Personal and professional responsibilities can quickly add up and become overwhelming. You may find yourself rushing from one thing to the next all day long only to crash into bed without ever taking time for yourself. 

This can be a negative cycle to get into, especially if you are on your recovery journey. This is because mental health and physical health go hand in hand. When you're not making the time to take care of your physical health, your mental health is likely going to begin to decline as well. As a result, you are not going to be in the best possible headspace to handle stress and avoid possible cravings.

Some of the most important things to consider with physical self-care include:

  • Staying hydrated 
  • Avoiding heavily processed, sugary or high-sodium foods
  • Getting good quality sleep every night 
  • Avoiding skipping meals
  • Making time for some sort of exercise each day

Healthy Eating as a Form of Physical Self-Care

When it comes to physical self-care, make sure you're starting with the most crucial basics. This involves eating as reasonably healthy as possible. Nutrient-dense foods, foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and leafy greens are going to keep you feeling fueled and energized. Remember that in many ways food can be considered a kind of medicine. 

Nutritious foods are especially important for those in recovery for several reasons. When you engage in substance misuse, your body becomes deficient in several vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body to run as it is supposed to. Now that you are in recovery, you can begin to restore those vitamins through the foods you eat. 

Working with your doctor or a nutritionist can help you determine what specific nutrients you are deficient in. They can also help you to come up with ideas for meal plans that will help restore those nutrients. For many people in recovery, there are often some specific vitamins that they are deficient in. Some examples include:

  • B vitamins (B1, B6 and folic acid)
  • Potassium 
  • Magnesium 
  • Potassium 
  • Vitamin C
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D

Regular Exercise as a Form of Physical Self-Care

Making time for physical exercise on a daily basis is another very important aspect of self-care. Even just getting moving and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day can make a major difference. When you exercise, your brain releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. This is why you might feel a boost in your energy or mood after working out. 

In recovery, regular exercise could help you combat cravings and prevent relapse. It can also play a dramatic role in improving how you respond to stress. While in recovery, proper stress management is especially important. This is the ability to handle stress in healthy ways instead of turning to substance misuse to cope. 

 Some of the other many benefits of practicing physical self-care include: 

  • Diabetes prevention
  • Weight management 
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Decreased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased flexibility 
  • Better quality sleep 
  • Prevention of many types of cancer
  • Lower risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety

When it comes to physical exercise, it really involves discovering what works best for you. It should be something that you enjoy, not something that you dread doing each day. You don't even have to be a member of a gym or exercise facility to get your daily exercise in. There are plenty of things you can do that are completely free. 

Some great ideas of ways to make time for physical self-care include: 

  • Taking a bike ride
  • Going to an exercise class
  • Taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood
  • Following along with an exercise tutorial on YouTube 
  • Going for a hike 
  • Doing some pilates or yoga
  • Taking a jog
  • Going swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, or engaging in other water sports

Why Is Self-Care Essential? Different Ways to Practice Emotional Self-Care

Many people who struggle with substance misuse suppress their emotions by turning to drugs or alcohol to numb how they are really feeling. Now that you are in recovery, this is no longer an option. It is up to you to attend to your emotional needs by checking in with yourself regularly and seeing how you are feeling. This is another answer to the question, “Why is self-care essential in recovery?” There are a lot of different ways that you can do this on a regular basis. 

Try practicing mindfulness. This is not as complicated of a process as it may seem. It simply involves allowing yourself to be fully present in the moment while taking in your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Some people choose to practice mindfulness and yoga simultaneously for additional benefits, but this is totally up to you. 

While practicing mindfulness, it can be helpful to go somewhere quiet where you can be alone without any distractions. You can set a timer for as long as you want and then simply sit in silence with your eyes closed. The first couple of times you try this you might not feel as if you are getting much out of it. But stick with it and you may be surprised to find how this practice can truly help you. 

Another great way to practice emotional health is to try journaling. You might feel a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling around your head at any given time. They may become overwhelming and hard to decipher. By journaling, you have the chance to get everything out onto paper and process things more clearly. 

Finally, one of the best ways that you can take care of your emotional health is by making time for what matters to you most. This could be certain passions or hobbies that are important to you. It could also be spending quality time with friends and family. Essentially, this involves taking the time to do things that bring up true joy, purpose, and fulfillment.

Why Is Self-Care Essential? Different Ways to Practice Mental Self-Care

Mental self-care is truly just as important as any other form of self-care. Without prioritizing it, other aspects of health are destined to fall by the wayside. What makes mental self-care essential in recovery is that it can play an important role as you navigate the recovery journey and learn more about yourself along the way. 

One of the most important aspects of strong mental health is a sense of gratitude. Gratitude helps boost joy and contentment because it causes you to focus on what you do have instead of what you don't. Fostering gratitude may not come naturally to everyone, but it is something that you can build into a daily habit. Before long, you may find thoughts of gratitude coming to you throughout your day without having to make a conscious effort. 

One of the best ways to begin fostering gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. This involves saving even just five to ten minutes a day to consider what you are grateful for. It could be anything as simple as good health to something good that happened to work. Then, whenever you find yourself in a rut, you can look back and remind yourself of the good you have in your life.

In this day and age, technology and social media play a major role in our day-to-day lives. While having a smartphone by your side at all times can certainly have its advantages, it can be very mentally draining as well. You might find yourself stuck in a habit of aimlessly scrolling instead of absorbing content that enriches your mind and soul. When this happens, it is important to take a break from technology so that you can re-focus on what really matters. 

Some additional things that you should consider doing to practice mental self-care include:

  • Asking others for help when you feel overwhelmed 
  • Listening to calming music
  • Reading a chapter of a book instead of watching a television show before 
  • Spending time out in nature 
  • Taking breaks from work when you're experiencing burnout 
  • Making time for a favorite hobby or activity each day 
  • Drinking a relaxing cup of tea 
  • Setting social boundaries and not being afraid to enforce them
  • Taking a nap when you need one 
  • Spending quality time with those you care about without distractions 
  • Don't be afraid to say no to social invitations if you don't have the energy for them 

Why Is Self-Care Essential? The Role of Social Support in Self-Care

We as humans are very social beings, and being around others is important for our overall health. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with substance use disorder (SUD) isolate themselves from others due to guilt or shame. This can take a major toll on one's mental health and lead to depression and anxiety. In recovery, you now have the chance to reconnect with others and begin to build your relationships to be even stronger than before. 

Peer support is one of the most important ways that you will experience social support in recovery. You likely have friends and family members who are eager to do whatever they can to support your recovery. However, if they have not been through it themselves before, they may not be able to offer the advice you need. This is where 12-Step support group meetings come in. 

The most well-known 12-Step support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Within these groups, you have the chance to share your story with others who understand what you're going through. You have the opportunity to learn from one another and don't have to worry about any sort of judgment. Through these meetings, you can learn more not only about yourself but what recovery looks like in the long term. 

At Pathways Recovery Center, we believe that regularly attending 12-Step support group meetings can play an important role in relapse prevention.

Outside of 12-Step support group meetings, social support self-care can be as simple as making time to spend time with friends and family. This could involve scheduling a day to go out for a cup of coffee. Or it could involve making time for regular Zoom meetings to keep in contact with those who may not live nearby. 

Why Is Self-Care Essential? The Role of Self-Care in Preventing Relapse

You have probably heard the saying, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” In other words, you cannot continue to give without taking the time to restore yourself first. Often this phrase is used within the caregiving community. But it really can apply to your recovery journey as well. Recovery takes a lot of energy and work, so it is crucial that you are gentle to yourself along the way. 

Failing to practice self-care in recovery can often lead to something known as burnout. This is when you don't have the same level of motivation or dedication to your recovery as you once did. Burnout can lead to the first of three stages of relapse. These stages, in order, include emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. 

Relapse can sneak up on you without you even knowing it. This is why it is so important to be able to recognize the signs. By understanding the signs, you can seek the proper help before reaching the final stage of relapse. 

#1. Emotional Relapse: With emotional relapse, you are not yet thinking about turning back to substance use. However, you may have stopped engaging in the steps necessary to protect your sobriety. For example, maybe you have stopped attending your 12-Step support group meetings or have been skipping therapy sessions. Or maybe you haven't been making time for fun sober activities or proper stress management. 

#2. Mental Relapse: With mental relapse, you are now actively thinking about engaging in drugs or alcohol again. You may be reminiscing or glorifying your old days of substance misuse. Maybe you are even coming up with a plan of how to obtain drugs or alcohol. During this stage, you may tell yourself that this time will be different and you'll have control this time. 

#3. Physical Relapse: With physical relapse, you have now actively begun using drugs or alcohol again. At this stage, you may be feeling a tremendous sense of guilt, shame, or regret. However, it's important to remember that this does not mean treatment has failed. You simply have to pick yourself up and start again. 

Hopefully, this article has provided insight into what makes self-care essential in recovery. By taking care of each aspect of your overall health you are doing everything possible to set yourself up for success and avoid relapse. 

Recovery from substance misuse is a journey and not a destination. While this is a very fulfilling process, it can also take a lot of energy. This is why making time for self-care in all aspects of health is so important. It can allow you to become the best possible version of yourself. If you are ready to make the brave decision to get sober, our team at Pathways Recovery Center is here to help. We have helped countless people take the first steps toward a happier and healthier life. Don't wait and give us a call at (888) 771-0966 today. We will be happy to work with you to determine which treatment is right for you. 

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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