Moving into a new year can seem like a time to start over, to refresh and to reevaluate your life goals. If you’ve recently gone through recovery, you’ve likely recently achieved that reset. Your goals for this new year, and likely several afterwards, will be to maintain your recovery. That can be difficult, especially if you’re stressed, trying to hold yourself to too many goals, or haven’t’ sought out treatment and support.
While staying in recovery will sometimes seem difficult, these 7 tips for avoiding relapse in the new year should help you as you navigate your new lifestyle. Hopefully, as the year progresses, you can become more secure in your hard-won recovery and will begin to find more and more joy in living a life that is clean and sober.
Invest in Stress Management
Managing stress is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your recovery. In fact, stress is a primary contributor to vulnerability to substance use disorder and to relapse. Investing in ongoing stress management will help you to improve your quality of life while improving your ability to stay in recovery. Many of us think of stressful events as things like traffic jams, being late to work, having a boss who’s always upset, losing your job, having a fight with your partner, etc. It’s also important to remember that good things, such as getting a new job or a mortgage, are also stressful in their own way.
Make time to recognize and deal with stress. A good strategy here is to attend therapy to learn stress management and reduction. You can follow up with mindfulness such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), meditation, or light exercise such as yoga, tai chi, etc. Similarly, ensuring you eat healthy and get enough sleep will reduce stress.
Get Regular Exercise
Did you know that exercise helps your mood, your energy levels, your ability to handle cravings, and your stress management? Most experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day. You don’t need a heavy workout or to be exhausted after, in fact, it’s better if you aren’t. Instead, aim for something that keeps you moving, that you can engage with, and that you see as fun.
Exercise boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, helping your brain to naturally produce chemicals you may be cravings. This might reduce cravings. It also puts you in a more emotionally and mentally balanced place to step away from cravings and to make good decisions. Exercise also boosts your blood oxygen levels, giving you an energy boost for as long as 2 hours after the workout. Of course, this won’t hold true if you completely exhaust yourself working out.
Make time for regular exercise. Consider trying out a few sports and picking up something you can easily maintain and hopefully see as at least a little bit fun. Yoga, cycling to work, a morning walk, etc., are all very good choices.
It’s also a good idea to pay attention to your nutrition and what you are eating. Believe it or not, food actually plays a large role in your ability to stay clean and sober. Why? A large quantity of sugar and caffeine can actually mimic addiction. Rather than recovering from your addiction, many people turn to coffee, energy drinks, and sugary goods to get similar serotonin and dopamine highs (although they are much shorter). Many experts suggest that this actively interferes with long-term recovery and could put you at a significantly greater risk of relapse.
Another important reason to pay attention to your nutritional health is that nutritional deficiencies directly affect your mental health. You might feel tired, depressed, anxious, or have low energy because you aren’t eating well enough. All of these put you at greater risk of relapse. This is made more important by the fact that substance abuse exacerbates nutritional deficiencies by causing gastrointestinal problems resulting in poor nutritional absorption. Many people also leave substance use disorders with a long history of making poor food choices while drunk or high.
What can you do? Make sure you regularly eat healthy food. Follow guidelines like those on MyPlate.gov or similar and try to make sure that at least 80% of your meals have good nutritional value.
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Attend Self-Help Groups Like 12-Step
It’s not easy to go at anything alone. Humans are social creatures, and we are heavily driven by social support and accountability. Attending 12-Step groups as part of your ongoing recovery can provide powerful motivation and accountability to help you stay on the right track as the year progresses. Most importantly, because nearly every area has its own Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, you can commit to attending meetings no matter where you are.
Many also offer video and online meetings, so you can check in with Zoom, Google Hangouts, or another secure (and usually anonymous) video chat system.
Joining these groups can give you insight into what your peers are doing, how they are overcoming similar challenges, and the knowledge that you are not alone. It also allows you to share to an audience that truly understands where you’ve been and why. And, with everyone in the same “boat” together, you can more easily set goals and hold each other accountable, because all of you know what the other is facing. 12-Step groups like AA offer guidelines to help you find yourself but these are normally secondary in importance to social and personal accountability.
Take Time for Yourself
It’s very easy to decide to do too much, especially in the new year. Here, you might be excited about change and new possibilities. At the same time, it’s important not to take on more than you can handle. If you decide to do too much, you won’t have time to relax, you’ll be stressed, and you will eventually fail your goals. Failure sets you up for more failure and eventually for relapse. Why? Once you’ve failed one thing, it’s very easy to mentally give up on other goals because you’ve already failed.
Plus, added stress, which we already talked about, makes it harder to resist cravings, creates the need for an outlet or release, and will push you towards substance abuse.
What can you do? Set reasonable and achievable goals, don’t set too many goals at once, and make sure you have time for yourself planned into every day. If you feel overwhelmed, figure out how to resolve that now and for the future.
Focus on Improving Mindset
Whether you use mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, journaling, or any other tactic, working on and improving your mindset is crucial to maintaining recovery. Millions of people not in recovery actually set similar goals. But, staying positive, maintaining a gratitude journal, etc., isn’t actually as easy as it sounds. Finding things to be grateful for every day is repetitive and boring. If you settle on a daily journaling process, make sure you find something about it that makes you happy.
You can also look to meditation, mindfulness, and simply taking a few minutes at least once a day to appreciate little things. That can be birds, a hug from a loved one, your house being clean, a hot bath, etc. The goal is to find beauty and joy in little things and to appreciate them.
Get Professional Help
Whether you’ve already been to rehab and treatment or got clean or sober on your own, ongoing professional treatment is almost always a good idea. Here, you can seek out counseling and therapy sessions, professional therapy to help with relationships and family, or attend counseling and therapy for addiction and substance use disorders. If you’re struggling, if you notice you’re having a harder time dealing with cravings, or you’re withdrawing from your support network, get help. Knowing when to ask for help is the single best coping mechanism you can have.
The new year is a wonderful time to plan to set aside space for your recovery. Maintaining that recovery throughout the year will require hard work and determination. It will also involve taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional state. You won’t get there alone. You need friends, family, and hopefully a support group of peers and professionals to help. Once you do build that network, staying sober is still work, but you will have tools, training, and people to help you whenever you ask.
Good luck with your recovery and happy new year.