No one is able to have a positive attitude all the time. Everyone has ups and downs and it’s only normal to feel bad sometimes. However, it’s also important to avoid being swamped by negative emotions. Cynicism, pessimism, and general negativity can be a sign that your recovery is in trouble, what’s sometimes called “stinking thinking.” Relapse is a process that may take weeks or months. Typically, the first stage of the process–emotional relapse–is characterized by isolation, bottling up emotions, being concerned with other people’s problems and neglecting self-care. Fortunately, at this point, it’s still relatively easy to right your course. Even better is if you develop habits that make it easy to have a positive outlook, such as the following.
As noted above, the first stage of relapse is typically characterized by, among other things, neglecting self-care. At a basic level, this means eating healthy, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough. Trying to stay positive while neglecting the basics is like fighting uphill. One study from UC Berkeley found that participants were about 30 percent more anxious following a night of sleep deprivation. Regular exercise can improve your sleep, improve your mood, and reduce your vulnerability to stress. You tend to see things in a better light when you’re well-rested, well-fed, and relaxed after a bit of exercise.
As noted above, no one can be positive all the time. For those inevitable dips in mood, it helps to be around positive people who can lift you up. In fact, just spending time around supportive people can make you feel better, even if they aren’t specifically trying to cheer you up. Having people you can rely on reduces your stress and anxiety because you have more resources to help you solve problems. Even if you don’t ask for help, you feel better knowing help is available. A supportive group can also set positive expectations. When you spend a lot of time around others, you pick up some of their habits, including seeing things in a more positive light. A personal recovery assistant can be an especially valuable resource for showing you how to apply the lessons of treatment to real-life situations and help keep you from feeling discouraged.
One way to be more positive is to use cognitive behavioral therapy tools to challenge negative thinking. The idea is that we aren’t discouraged by events but rather by our thinking about events. Negative thinking is powerful because we are often not even aware we’re thinking. So for example, if you’re discouraged by a slip up, you might think, “This is hopeless; I’ll never quit drinking.” A slip up is just a slip up. People have them all the time, then regroup and have a stronger recovery. What brings you down is your thinking about the slip up. When you start to notice distorted thinking, you can challenge it instead of letting it control you. For example, you might think instead, “The slip up was bad but not catastrophic. I still have a lot going for me and I can use this as a learning experience,” then you might even find some benefit in a bad situation.
There are many studies supporting the benefits of gratitude, which include better relationships, improved physical health, and better emotional health. Gratitude has also been found to improve self-esteem and resilience. One reason for this is that having a grateful attitude makes you focus on what’s going well in your life instead of what’s going badly. There are two proven ways to increase feelings of gratitude. The first is to keep a gratitude journal. Once a week, write down a few things you were grateful for that week. One study found that keeping a gratitude journal for 10 weeks made participants feel better about their lives and more optimistic. Another powerful practice is a gratitude letter. Think of something someone did for you that you appreciated but never properly thanked that person for. Describe it in a letter and describe what it meant to you. If you want to, deliver the letter. This has been shown to increase happiness for more than a month.
Comparing yourself to others is perhaps the fastest way to feel miserable. One study found that people who frequently compared themselves to others were more likely to feel envy, defensiveness, regret, and guilt. They were also more likely to lie, blame others, and have unmet cravings. Clearly, these are not feelings that contribute to a positive mindset. Perhaps the easiest way to reduce unhelpful comparisons is to limit your use of social media. Several studies have linked more social media use to more feelings of depression and anxiety. One study asked half of participants to limit their social media use to just 30 minutes a day while the other half was asked to keep using social media as usual. At the end of three weeks, the first group reported feeling much less lonely and depressed. The effect was especially strong among participants who had felt more depressed at the beginning of the study.
One way to keep yourself motivated in recovery is to look for inspiring examples. These might be people you know, such as relatives, colleagues, or members of your 12-step group. They may also be people you’ve never met. There are many excellent recovery memoirs. Reading about how others have overcome huge challenges in their lives can inspire you to do the same.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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