It’s no secret that the ever-changing environment that COVID-19 has introduced has caused realities across the globe to turn on their heads and that many are struggling to cope in these uncertain circumstances. Not only has this pandemic created a massive threat to the physical health of our population, but it has also created a major vulnerability for those suffering from mental health and addiction. Perhaps the routines and schedules you have developed as coping mechanisms have been disrupted, leaving you lost and vulnerable to return to old habits. In times of high anxiety and stress, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental wellness. Finding ways to cope with these unusual times is crucial for making sure you don’t fall back into bad habits. We asked 7 industry experts for their advice on what to do to maintain a positive mindset and good habits while in quarantine/social distancing. Here is what they said:
Keep a Routine
In order to keep up with positive behaviours during these uncertain times, it is crucial to stick to a solid routine. According to Dr. Alex Lee from RiaHealth, this means sleeping and eating around the same time that you usually do each day. In doing so, you can keep healthy behaviours intact and maintain a level of predictability in your day.
Laura Redgate at Baseline Therapy stresses the importance of having both a solid morning and bedtime routine. Your morning routine can include anything from getting up at your regular time, journaling, meditating, going for a walk, doing a home workout, or eating a regular breakfast. Having a solid bedtime routine is equally as important. Redgate believes your bedtime routine should involve going to bed at your regular time, shutting down screen time 1 hour before, journaling, and meditating.
Providing similar advice is Dr. Brian Wind at JourneyPure, who believes that “maintaining a routine is essential. Set aside time to work out, cook healthy meals, and go to sleep at the same time every day. Keeping a similar routine to the one you did before the virus hit will help create structure and sense of normalcy, which is important for anyone who has a mental health condition.”
While this pandemic has shifted our realities greatly, it is important to find stability and a sense of normalcy to stay lifted. Dr. Irene Little from Access Counseling Group believes that “isolation, boredom and lack of accountability are major challenges for maintaining recovery from substance use and mental health disorders. It's important to create and maintain a schedule that includes being productive.”
Don’t let COVID-19 disrupt the positive momentum that you have been experiencing. Keeping up with your routine and introducing small daily habits will have the greatest impact in the long run.
Form a Network
During these times of isolation, It is more important than ever before to keep a solid network of positive individuals to keep your spirits lifted.
If you feel you have started to lose touch, it’s time to reconnect. Danielle Holtjer from Skylark Clinic stresses the importance of connecting and sharing your goals with others. This can lead you to greater accountability, creativity, brainstorming, and positive feedback on your hard work when it comes to change. “Often we are our own worst critics, so having input and support from others, with whatever goals we have, further inspires and motivates us to move forward.”
Being in the core of the digital age, there are many ways in which you can remain connected with your loved ones. Dr. Little recommends reaching out via facetime or video conferencing with friends, family and people who support your goal to maintain recovery. This time also presents the opportunity to learn a new skill that you have been interested in or join a new group online of people with a similar interest. There are multiple online resources that can carry these efforts forward such as Zoom, Instagram Live, and MasterClass, to name a few.
Dr. Wind provided some interesting advice regarding a recently published study on how COVID-19 has affected those in addiction and recovery. According to the results, isolation from family and friends are two of the main outcomes of the virus that are making it difficult for people to manage their sobriety. “Instead of getting sucked into isolation, make an extra effort to reach out to your support network. If you regularly go to online meetings, find a virtual meeting at that time or organize one yourself”. It is important not to underestimate the power that others can have on your wellbeing.
It should be no surprise that staying active can provide you with more benefits than one. According to Dr. Little, “if working out is important to your recovery, then make sure that each day at the same time you are doing something that provides exercise for you. Now is a great time to check out YouTube videos with new and challenging workouts. Staying active can even be something as simple as getting outside, opening your windows, and doing something to get fresh air and sunlight. This could mean walking up and down the stairs outside of your apartment or walking around the block in your neighbourhood. It is the little things that have the biggest impact!”
Dr. Lee also stresses the importance of remaining active during these times. “Muscle memory of motor skills will stay with you on average 3-6 months without any activity. After this, it becomes much harder to rebuild your exercise habits. Make sure to stay active! For example, try new online workout videos, set a timer for squats throughout the day, hold a plank before bed at night.” It is important not to leave these healthy habits in the dark.
Identify Your External Triggers
Dr. Menije Boduryan-Turner at Embracing You Therapy provided some thoughtful advice regarding identifying your external triggers. “If you are struggling with a pre-existing condition, the social-isolation and quarantine can trigger past unhealthy habits, such as excessive drinking. It is important to identify your external triggers, such as time of the day, and engage in replacement behaviours. We know that the urge to drink serves a purpose, such as regulating anxiety or helping you sleep. When you identify the trigger, you can choose other more helpful activities to meet the same need. Instead of having a drink, around 5 pm, you can go for a walk or do yoga. It can also be helpful to engage in delaying the decision, which means to decide to delay the decision to drink. This can slow down your impulsive behaviour. When you delay the decision, you buy more time to let your urge die down and you are more likely to maintain your recovery.”
Maintaining an awareness of your triggers is key when facing your cravings. According to Dr. Little, it can help to have something to look forward to which, in turn, can reduce your cravings. She also believes it is important to play the story out to the end when experiencing cravings. Cravings are about the short term, immediate gratification, and how to make the desire stop now. Being aware of when you are most vulnerable will allow you to find ways to combat your triggers rather than giving in to them. Ask yourself if you can wait one day or one hour and then decide if you still want to give up all that you have worked for.
Have a Virtual Accountability Partner
You don’t need to face this alone. Brigitte Granger at Supporti recommends “getting a virtual accountability partner to check in with at least every day, if not multiple times a day. Commit to your plan, anticipate any triggers that might come up, and create an action plan if triggers do arise. Report back at the end of each day.”
Your network doesn’t have to consist of only friends and family. There are endless online resources that can help you through this difficult time. Dr. Lee believes leveraging the power of a group can take you to new heights in terms of connection, collaboration and motivation. It is important to keep others accountable, which can be done by starting a group chat or video call with people who have a similar mindset and motivation.
Dr. Little emphasizes that it is no surprise that your cravings will increase during this time. “You have way too much time to think and way too little accountability. Share your thoughts and feelings about your cravings with your support system, this will help to decrease the cravings because you will be increasing your accountability.”
In agreement is Redgate, who believes it necessary for your accountability partner to know your goals so that they can call you out if you veer off the path. This individual will ensure that you maintain healthy habits, leaving bad ones out in the cold.
While the current situation is uncertain and you’re continuing to struggle with mental health and addiction, don’t be discouraged. There are many little things you can do to combat COVID-19 and the stresses that this virus has created. If you or a loved one needs extra help and support, reach out to us at 1000 Islands Wellness and Treatment Centre. We create personalized treatment programs for those struggling with addiction catered to individual needs. Let us help you get on the road to recovery today.