At the moment, people in the US and all over the world are being asked—and in some areas ordered—to stay at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. Events are canceled and businesses are closed, sometimes for good.
This is a stressful time for everyone, especially for people who struggle with substance use disorders and other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We all face uncertainty about our own health and the health of our loved ones. Our economic situations are perhaps even more precarious and we have no idea how long this quarantine is going to last.
Perhaps worst of all, many of the ways we typically cope with this kind of stress are now unavailable. There are no 12-Step meetings, no spending time with family—except whatever family you live with—no going out with friends, and no church services.
In some places, you can’t so much as go out for a walk. This is a major test for anyone recovering from a substance use or mental health issue. However, we can get through it together. Here are some tips.
One of the most challenging aspects of the quarantine is that we don’t know how long it will last. Current projections range from several months to a year-and-a-half, the time when vaccines are expected to be tested and distributed.
The uncertainty magnifies anxiety. The only thing to do is take it one day at a time. There’s a reason that “one day at a time” is a common mantra of AA and other 12-Step programs. People in recovery know that staying sober indefinitely is too much to contemplate all at once.
Thinking about staying sober just for today is usually comprehensible but sometimes you have to focus on making it through the next hour, or even the next five minutes. What’s true of recovery is doubly true of recovery under quarantine. Focus on what you can do today.
The biggest challenge for most people will be that they can’t go to 12-Step meetings. Meetings are an anchor for many people in recovery and people starting out often go to meetings every day or even twice a day.
It keeps them focused and connected. They know they can talk about their problems and most people in the room will understand. To have that suddenly taken away can be very hard.
Fortunately, we live at a time when there are more ways to communicate than at any other time in history. A lot of meetings have moved online using platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts.
If your regular meeting didn’t already make arrangements to meet online before the quarantine or you didn’t have a regular meeting, a quick search will probably turn up a meeting you can attend virtually. You might also check with aa.org for Zoom meetings or call your local chapter to see about online meetings.
Also, keep in mind that 12-Step meetings aren’t the only game in town. There are other mutual-aid groups such as SMART Recovery and LifeRing that have been doing online meetings for years. This might be a good time to give one of those a try.
These groups aren’t mutually exclusive, so you don’t have to choose, and you might learn some new skills or get a different perspective. Also, be sure to check in with your therapist to see about arranging virtual sessions. Many therapists are getting on Zoom and other platforms to help their clients who are stuck at home.
While not being able to attend in-person meetings and therapy sessions, not being able to go to the gym, not being able to volunteer, and so on, put major dents in your recovery plan, most of your plan can still remain intact. You can certainly maintain or continue working on adopting healthy lifestyle changes, you can still journal, you can still pray or meditate, you can still reach out and apologize or make amends, and so on.
And, as noted, you can still attend virtual meetings, which aren’t ideal but are far better than sitting alone ruminating all day.
Most of our lives have been significantly disrupted by the quarantine. You may be working from home or suddenly found yourself unemployed.
Your normal errands and entertainments have been greatly curtailed. It’s easy to start keeping weird hours and lose track of the days. Combat this tendency by creating a routine for yourself in quarantine.
Try to get up at the same time every day, even if it’s a different time than you would normally get up for work or whatever. Take a shower, eat regular meals, and so on. Having a few anchor points throughout your day will help keep you from feeling so restless and untethered.
Try to avoid the temptation to slide into vacation eating habits. Many studies have found that what you eat affects your mental health.
A poor diet, high in processed grain, processed meat, sugar, and fried food has been strongly linked to depression. Instead, try to eat whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and lean meats, such as fish.
If you can’t cook, this is an excellent time to learn to make a few easy dishes. Learning to make a few staple foods like rice, quinoa, lentils, potatoes, steamed vegetables, and eggs is really easy and will vastly improve the quality of your diet.
Exercise is also crucial for relieving stress and anxiety. In most areas in the US, it’s still considered safe to walk or run outside, assuming your neighborhood isn’t too crowded. If you really are stuck inside, there are plenty of exercise and yoga routines on YouTube to help you stay active, even in a very small space.
This is a tough time for everyone, especially since the camaraderie that typically takes the edge off of these kinds of situations has been greatly restricted. However, thinking about what you can do will serve you better than dwelling on what you can’t do.
This may be a good opportunity to focus on reading, meditating, or learning new skills—anything you were previously too busy to think about. All the skills you learn in treatment and therapy, especially how to regulate emotions, solve problems, and manage your behavior, will be useful for coping with the quarantine as well.
At Hired Power, we know that recovery doesn’t end when you leave treatment. That’s why we provide recovery assistants, case management, and other recovery services to help clients manage difficult times in recovery. To learn more about our services, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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