Self-care is one of the most important aspects of addiction recovery. It includes things like eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, taking time to relax, staying connected to supportive people, and pretty much any regular activity that helps you thrive in the face of life’s challenges. Self-care is so important that letting it slide is typically one of the first signs someone might be heading for a relapse. As important as self-care is, many people have trouble making time for it. It’s easy to get bogged down in work or family commitments and sacrifice your own needs, feeling like you have no choice. However, it’s important to realize this way of living is not sustainable. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. If you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for self-care, here are some tips.
There are many forms of self-care. They may include getting at least eight hours of sleep, eating healthy, exercising, spending time with friends, taking a hot bath, going to meetings, going to church, journaling, meditating, reading, listening to music–the list goes on. You might conceivably fill an entire day with self-care. However, a handful of things will have the greatest impact on your wellbeing. For you, that might be getting enough sleep and exercising at least 30 minutes a day. For someone else, it might be journaling and listening to music. Figure out what gives you the most value for your time and make those things a priority.
Once you’ve identified your self-care priorities, schedule them. Too often, people try to fit self-care into whatever time they have left in the day. As a result, they eventually end up feeling stressed, overwhelmed, burned out, or run down. Understand that keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy is essential to everything else you do. Put it on your schedule, the same way you would with a meeting or doctor’s appointment. This has two major advantages. First, it ensures you have dedicated time in your day for your most important self-care activities. Second, having a specific time for doing something increases the likelihood that you will actually do it. This is especially important early on when you’re still trying to establish healthy behaviors.
Another way to make sure you take care of yourself every day is to make it part of your regular routine. A routine is a way of automating decisions so you don’t have to exert willpower every time you want to do something healthy. You just do it automatically because it’s part of your routine. So for example, if your morning routine includes a 30-minute walk before you take a shower, you’ve automatically made self-care part of your day. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to fit in exercise between work and dinner.
Another problem people often have is that they feel like they need to dedicate big chunks of time to a self-care activity. Sometimes this is true. If you want to get eight hours of sleep, you will need eight hours. However, small acts of self-care can be powerful. For example, taking a short break once an hour to breathe and stretch your legs can help keep stress from accumulating throughout the day. One study on gratitude found that participants felt more optimistic and better about their lives just by writing down a few things they were grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. That’s a practice that takes less than five minutes a week and can have a significant effect on your sense of wellbeing.
There are opportunities for self-care everywhere if you know how to look for them. Don’t get trapped in limited ways of thinking. For example, exercise isn’t something that only happens in the gym. You can park farther away from buildings, carry your grocery bags to the car instead of bringing them in the cart, taking the stairs at work, raking the leaves instead of using the blower or mower, and so on. The same goes for other aspects of self-care. Say, for example, you always end up sitting in rush-hour traffic. Maybe you could go to a nearby place and meditate for half an hour while traffic clears. It doesn’t matter where it is, you just need a quiet place.
Some people really are incredibly busy but most of us just feel busy because we waste a lot of time. Do this experiment: For a couple of days, write down everything you do each hour and be honest. Don’t just write down the things you were supposed to do or that you felt good about doing. You will probably be surprised how much time you wasted. For most people, the biggest time-wasters will probably be social media or games on their phones. These are like black holes for time. You probably don’t realize just how much time disappears while you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Once you make a conscious decision to limit these activities, you’ll find you suddenly have more free time to do more important things.
Finally, it’s important to set and maintain boundaries. Other people will always think they have better use for your time than you do. Learning to say no to things and be consistent and assertive about protecting your time for self-care not only allows you more time for self-care but it reinforces your sense of self-efficacy.
Self-care is a crucial part of recovery and you absolutely have to make time for it. You may be able to get by for a little while without it but eventually, it will catch up to you. Everything else in life depends on staying sober so don’t feel bad about setting boundaries and protecting your self-care. Personal recovery assistants from Hired Power can help you set up a self-care program after treatment and apply the other lessons you’ve learned to real life. To learn more about personal recovery assistants and other services, call us at 714-559-3919.
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