Self-care is a term some people associate with vacations, shopping sprees, and luxury. Though self-care can include indulging in the sorts of fun activities that celebrities post on Instagram, it more often includes making quiet, steady choices to live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. At its core, self-care is the act of adopting habits, routines, and rituals that will guide you forward on the path you want to travel.
Why Do I Need Self-Care?
One of the risk factors for relapse is when a person frequently allows themselves to become hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT). Not having enough food, companionship, and sleep can make a person irritable, impulsive, stressed, defensive, and dysregulated. No one makes their best choices in such a state.
But wait…what about anger? How does feeling or not feeling anger relate to self-care? In short, everyone gets angry sometimes, but when you find yourself angry often and unable to calm yourself down, this might be evidence of a lack of self-care. Perhaps the anger results from not feeling like you have control over your life; in that case, self-care can help you make choices and have the courage you need to set boundaries. Self-care might also mean seeking professional input from a therapist.
What Does Self-Care Involve?
Self-care varies somewhat from person to person, but common themes frequently arise in addiction recovery:
- Human connection – we all need to feel connected to other people. A person in recovery generally has to back away from relationships with old friends who are still in active addiction. They may have also lost relationships with some or all of their loved ones while they were using, leaving them very isolated. Some self-care behaviors that can address this need would be making amends and repairing relationships with loved ones, attending recovery meetings to meet other sober people, and getting involved with the community.
- Nurturing one’s brain and body – addiction takes a toll on a person’s whole body, including their brain and its ability to create the chemicals the person needs to experience a sense of well-being. Eating healthy foods can help the brain and the body to heal more quickly than indulging in foods that contain little nutritional value.
- Working off the stress – getting exercise, whether it is a quiet nature walk, a rigorous gym workout, or a recreational swim, is a good way to help your body burn off stress hormones and create the feel-good chemicals it needs.
- Doing things to simplify your life – by thinking ahead about what will make your life easier in a few hours, a couple of days, or even next month, it is possible to reduce your future stress. Some examples of this sort of self-care might be setting up auto payment for bills, meal prepping work lunches, or pulling your winter coat out of storage before the day you actually need to wear it.
- Knowing yourself better – addiction can strip away a person’s sense of identity and pride in themselves. Self-care can facilitate the process of restoring them. By exploring new hobbies, meeting new people, learning about different spiritual practices, and finding opportunities to fulfill your dreams, you can become better connected to yourself.
Forming New Habits
With self-care, it is easier to stick with something once it becomes a habit. Anne-Laure Le Cunff, a PhD researcher in neuroscience, recommends taking three steps to turn a behavior into a habit:
- Choose a cue that will tell your brain that it is time to do something. Perhaps you want to attend a recovery meeting every Tuesday after work. You can put a reminder in your phone about the meeting, so that you remember to go as soon as you leave your job.
- Perform the routine you want to become a habit. If the routine is complex, start with small pieces and work your way up to the full routine. In the prior example, you would go to the meeting every Tuesday, even if it means sacrificing other activities during that time.
- Reward yourself for completing the routine, so that your brain will associate the new activity with a happy feeling. If you enjoy socializing, you might meet up with a friend for coffee after the meeting. If you’re more of a homebody, you might reward yourself with an episode of your favorite television show when you get home.
Self-care does not have to be complicated or expensive to be effective. Should you wish to know more, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, has a caring team of professionals who can tell you more about self-care and its benefits, not just to people in substance abuse recovery, but also their friends and family members.