Not only is the news scary, but the unprecedented nature of the response has everyone on edge and we’re all uncertain what the future will bring.
These days, it seems like the bad news is coming from all angles. Hospitals are overwhelmed, small businesses are closed, and the economy is tanking. And yet, somehow, we have to find a way to keep from falling into despair.
The good news for people in recovery is that you’re experienced at overcoming challenges. You’ve been desperate and overwhelmed, and made the choice to do the hard work needed to survive and thrive. All of that is applicable to how you respond to the current upheaval in the world.
“As a person in long-term recovery and a practicing recovery coach, the one phrase that comes to mind throughout all of the craziness is, ‘this is what I prepared for,’” says Michael Ahearn, a recovery coach at Mountainside Treatment Center. “This is what the work we do is all about. All the therapy sessions, meetings, self-care — this is the biggest stage for all of that in a way.”
Even with all that preparation, dealing with this crisis can be difficult. Not only is the news scary, but the unprecedented nature of the response has everyone on edge. Plus, no one knows what the coming weeks or months will bring.
And yet, we have to try. Here are six tips to keep your head up during the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent response.
1. Draw on your recovery principals
It might sound cheesy, but before you roll your eyes, consider this: most people in recovery have done tons of personal work. All of that can strengthen the way you respond during this crisis.
Richard A. Singer has been in recovery for 15 years. He had a relapse last year, but even then was able to focus on the lessons he had learned in recovery to come “back stronger than ever.”
“The slogan one day at a time, combined with mindfulness practices, help me get through any and all challenges in life,” Singer says. “Staying in the moment and being present allows me to deal with things that confront me one step at a time which simplifies my life in this crisis and in the struggles of regular everyday life.”
2. Stay busy
Letting your mind spin too much can feed into anxiety and maybe even thoughts of relapse. That’s why it’s important to stay busy, even when you’re at home. Mike J., who has been sober for nearly two and a half years, has been self-isolating for nearly a week. Even while he’s at home, he’s making sure to stay as busy as possible.
“Keeping your mind busy is key,” he says. “If you don’t let yourself think about drinking you stand a lot better chance to succeed.”
In addition to focusing on new tasks like a shift to working from home and trying a home exercise regimen, now is the perfect time to tackle projects around the house. Mike, for example, has been painting his guest room.
3. Look for new inspiration
Ahearn, the recovery coach, challenges himself to find new inspiration during challenging times. That means spending time with books, movies, and art that he finds awe-inspiring.
Although many cultural institutions are free right now, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration from home. Broadway shows are available for streaming; thousands of museums, aquariums, and zoos are offering free virtual tours; and musicians from The Indigo Girls to The Dropkick Murpys are streaming “COVID concerts.” Many libraries have also increased access to audiobooks and other media.
4. Be of service
If you follow the 12 steps, being of service is a central tenet of your recovery. Even for those who aren’t friends of Bill W., the feel-good endorphins that come from helping others can be just the boost you need during these trying times.
So, pick up the phone. Check in on a friend or sponsee. Ask your neighbors if they need anything before you brave the stores. Smile and wave (from a distance) when you’re walking around. These little interactions are more important than ever at a time when most socializing has come to a screeching halt.
“It can be something as simple as calling a friend or fellow in recovery to ask how they are doing. Don’t talk about yourself, talk about them. This shifts your thoughts, focus and entire attitude,” says Ryn Gargulinski, a recovery coach.
5. Use technology mindfully
Technology and social media are allowing people to socialize even when we’re stuck at home. That’s great —digital meetings, hangouts, and even telemedicine sessions will help people stay healthy during this time.
However, it’s important to be mindful about your social media use. Being on social media too much can increase anxiety during the best of times, and there’s no doubt that the effects are amplified during the outbreak. Don’t be afraid to unplug entirely or consciously limit your use. If you’re looking for a mindless activity online, try a museum tour instead of scrolling through panicked posts.
6. Check in with yourself daily
Jay Shifman, a recovery coach, recommends that people take a few minutes each day to monitor their feelings and emotions. Even if you’re not experiencing cravings, you might notice changes to your sleeping and eating patterns, or to your temperament.
“Changes in these are often red flags or warning signs for these weeds growing and pushing up through the dirt,” Shifman says.
Shifman recommends opening a note on your phone and typing the words “I feel…” Then, complete the sentence again and again until you have no further thoughts.
“Think of this as clearing away some of the dirt and seeing what’s growing. Sometimes you discover a few weeds you need to deal with,” he says. Then, if necessary, reach out to someone who can help you deal with whatever issues you’ve uncovered.