Protect Your Addiction or Mental Health Recovery During the Coronavirus Pandemic: 7 Tips and Ideas

It seems like the coronavirus or COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of the American people (and the world) almost overnight: events cancelled (I love you, March Madness), business hours reduced or non-existent, toilet paper being rationed. To borrow a trendy phrase: This is Crazy-Town!!

For those who are in recovery, this “crazy-town” situation can provoke stress, anxiety, and triggers. Whether you’re recovering from addiction, destructive relationships, a traumatic history, mental health concerns, or something else, becoming over-stressed is always a red flag. It is tempting to return to old behaviors that used to bring us comfort, excitement, a feeling of safety, or at least numb us out for a while. Of course, returning to those behaviors will bring us two problems: the coronavirus AND the consequences of those old behaviors!

Just like we plan for our physical needs in a crisis (i.e., stock up on toilet paper), we need to plan for our mental and emotional well being. Here are 7 suggestions to help you stay grounded and sane during stressful times:

  1. Maintain Your Support System (or Get One)
  2. Lean Into Your Spirituality
  3. Turn Off the News
  4. Exercise and Practice Good Nutrition
  5. Do Acts of Service
  6. Focus on the Positive
  7. Get Outside

1)    Maintain Your Support System (or Get One)

  • If you attend 12 Step meetings or use other mutual support groups, figure out how you can get this type of community, even if your face-to-face meetings are cancelled. Many 12 Step and other groups have services that don’t require in-person contact. These may include phone meetings, video-conferencing, chat rooms and other online services. Many local groups are making plans to have their regular meetings via electronic sources until it is safe to be in the rooms again. Visit your group’s website for information and updates on these efforts.     
  • If you don’t have this kind of support, why not check them out now. If your normal routine has been  slowed by quarantine or social distancing, you might need something to do with your time. What a great opportunity to explore online or phone meetings! There are many kinds of meetings to support people in all kinds of addiction and mental health recovery. Starting with phone or online meetings can give you the courage to check out a face-to-face meeting when they are available again. Visit our post to learn about groups that may be helpful to you.
  • If you have other kinds of support, reach out and develop a plan for staying in regular contact over the next days and weeks. There are many online and electronic options. Many churches and local social groups are choosing to meet via these venues instead of face-to-face. And, of course, there’s just picking up the phone and calling family or friends. (I know. Who does that?!

 2)    Lean Into Your Spirituality

Coronavirus is here, like it or not. There’s no way to avoid its presence. All of us are feeling it’s effects, either directly or indirectly. In 12 Step rooms, this is called “Life on Life’s Terms”. No amount of fighting or denial will change it. It’s here, and now we get to decide how we will deal with it. This is one area where spiritual practices can be helpful.

Staying connected spiritually is a great way to surrender what we can’t control (i.e., COVID-19). Using our spirituality to help us find meaning and purpose through this predicament can help alleviate anxiety and loneliness. Use religious, spiritual, and/or recovery literature to help you put this event in context of your larger spiritual beliefs. Take actions that help you stay spiritually sound: meditating, connecting with nature, journaling, praying, yoga, listening to music, reading, listening to inspiring podcasts, or other tools that help you connect.  

If you have extra time on your hands, how about learning something new, spiritually speaking? For example, learn how to meditate (there are many helpful guides via YouTube and/or various apps focused on meditation). Take a slow hike through the woods, noticing all the life around you. Start journaling to connect with how you’re feeling. Find a way to be curious and creative. What do you have to lose? The coronavirus scare just might give you the time to add new and meaningful practices to your spiritual life!


3)    Turn Off the News!

It’s important to stay updated, but information overload, especially about something stressful, can begin affecting your mood and create increased anxiety. Find a way to get the information you need, without becoming obsessed with more. For example, set aside brief times to listen to or read the news (not opinion pieces) each day. This allows you to get up to date information without taking in all the overblown worries, catastrophizing, and conspiracies that seem to take up much of the 24-hour/day news cycle.

While it’s important to stay up to date,its equally important to get this information from reliable sources. Limit your exposure to “talking heads” on t.v. and opinions expressed via social media. Go to trusted news sources, the WHO, the CDC or reliable government resources to learn current information regarding this illness and actions you should take to protect yourself and others.


4)    Exercise and Practice Good Nutrition

Move your body. Get outside. Take some time to breath in fresh air. Get your heart rate up a little. However you choose to do it, be sure to exercise a little several times a week. Exercise improves our mood, our sleep, and our energy levels. Exercise can help us deal with stress by regulating our emotions and improving our cognitive functioning.

Similarly, eating healthy also sustains mood, blood sugar levels, and energy levels throughout your day. While it’s tempting to pass the time with excess food and sugar, try to limit these behaviors. Find other ways to occupy yourself that don’t involve making it harder for your body to be healthy. By attending to exercise and sound nutrition during the COVID-19 situation, you will help ensure your body and mind have the best chance at weathering this crisis in a sane and healthy way.  


5)    Do Acts of Service

 Helping others has been shown to have positive benefits across the spectrum. Those in 12 Step recovery know that service work is an essential aspect of addiction recovery. Science backs this up. Research shows that helping others improves our overall health and increases life expectancy. Even more so, helping others decreases feelings of stress when facing challenging situations! Feeling useful during difficult moments can make us more connected, more fulfilled, and more content. For example:

  • There are many individuals who have to take extra isolation measures to ensure they do not catch COVID-19. Maybe you can call or visit (if its safe) someone in this situation and help them feel seen and loved.
  • A lot of people are scared and don’t know what to do. Can you provide comfort or care?
  • There are vulnerable people who just got started on their recovery journey. Maybe they need a boost right now, some encouragement to keep going and not give up even when things are difficult.
  • Or maybe your neighbor just needs her trash can brought back to the house after trash day.

Whatever it is, find ways to be loving toward others. Doing this will help you protect your own recovery and will likely bring even more gifts to your life.

6)    Focus on the Positive

When we’re facing stressful situations, it’s easy to let our anxiety and fear run away with us. Before we know it, we’re smack in the middle of a panic attack or obsessive thinking. Instead of letting your thoughts spin around, intentionally focus on the positive by:

  • Look for uplifting, positive, or funny stories. Instead of spreading more fear via social media, share these to boost the spirits of your family and friends.
  • Choose a positive mantra to repeat to yourself. For example: “This is temporary. I will get through this.” Or “This too shall pass.”
  • Pay attention to gifts you may be getting through this situation: more time to work on projects you've been putting off, more time with family, connecting with people you wouldn’t normally get to know, growing stronger in you spiritual connection, etc.

 7)    Get Outside

One place where it’s pretty easy to practice social distancing is outside, in nature. Being in nature has been shown to improve your energy, boost your mood, and help your immune system. The coronavirus comes at a time when the weather is becoming warmer and life is beginning to come back from it’s winter break. It’s a great time to hike in the woods, take walks in your local park,or just sit on your porch soaking up the sun. So take time everyday to get outside and breath in the fresh air.

Take Care of Yourself!

These are some of the ways you can prioritize your recovery. Protect yourself from becoming overwhelmed with stress and stay connected while waiting for solutions to this current crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is a temporary problem. Be sure to take care of yourself now, so you can be ready to return to your life once the pandemic is solved.

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