In many parts of the country, February is still the dead of winter.
Days are short and dark, and the weather can force people inside for days at a time. It is normal for many to experience higher levels of stress and decreased mood as a result, and depression very frequently follows.
This is bad enough, but if you are in recovery and experiencing these issues, it can be a huge trigger for relapse. Here are some things you can do to increase your energy, improve your mood, and lower your stress levels to survive the winter with your recovery intact:
- Force a smile
- Focus on nothing but the breath
- Put on your favorite playlist
- Practice yoga
- Hang out with an animal friend
- Get moving
- Get a massage
- Explore your creative flow
- Give yourself a break
That’s right – fake it till you make it. Studies show that when you make yourself smile or laugh, even with no real cause, it triggers the same physiological response in the brain that corresponds with a happier mood. This means that even if you do not feel that you have a reason to smile, if you engage your whole face including your eye muscles in a big smile, your brain will start the process of helping you to feel better.
Watch a marathon of your favorite TV comedy, go see a standup comedian, or otherwise entertain yourself with online videos of silly animal antics to get yourself truly laughing. The more you do, the more you will improve the function of your immune system, circulatory system, and your body’s overall function – all of which will help you to feel less stressed and less depressed.
If you feel too bogged down to even force a smile, it can be helpful to give yourself permission to do nothing but breathe. Through mindful meditation where you sit and focus on the breath, you increase the oxygen flow to your organs and automatically slow the heart rate and decrease stress. This is a good tool to use regularly in order to maintain low levels of stress, and it is also a great coping mechanism to employ during acute times of stress.
Music can help to manage your mood, and depending on how you are feeling different, types of music may help to alter your mood. For example, if you are feeling depressed, then upbeat music can lift your mood. If you are feeling stressed out, then mellow music can help you to find a place of calm; certain kinds of classical music specifically can help you to manage high stress levels.
There have been a number of studies that support the use of yoga in a comprehensive treatment program to address addiction. In addition, yoga can be extremely effective for the reduction of stress. Practice can be as simple as 10 minutes using a free video on YouTube or as involved as finding a studio that offers classes in the type of yoga that best suits your personality. Just be sure to engage in regular practice a minimum of three times a week for maximum benefits.
Spending time with a dog, cat, or other animals can have a therapeutic effect, and it can even help to ease depression. It doesn’t have to be your pet if you do not feel you would like to take on the responsibility of a pet at home. Seek out a neighbor’s dog, go to a local farm or petting zoo, or volunteer at the animal shelter to get in some time with an animal friend.
Regular exercise can boost your mood, help you to sleep more soundly, and give you a self-confidence boost as well. You don’t have to train for a marathon to experience the positive effects of exercise; just make an effort to get up and move around for 5-10 minutes a few times a day and/or head to the gym to lift weights, go swimming, or get on the treadmill to get your heart rate up.
Not only is a good massage a nice break from your day, but it can help to work on physical pain issues that are causing you to slow down during the day, strengthen your immune system, and improve your mood as well.
There is a reason why art therapies are so helpful to people who are exploring their past experience, self-perception, and goals for the future in addiction treatment. Getting the creative juices flowing reminds us that we are free to explore different ways of existing in the world, and it can inspire positive change.
If you are having a hard time staying focused, struggling with guilt, or feel stuck in your routine, schedule a five-minute break into every day. Take the time to just stare out the window, use aromatherapy, meditate, or read something enjoyable – just make sure that you choose something that truly allows you to shut down without interruption and is something you enjoy.
If you are struggling with depression or have low energy in the winter, do not let it get in the way of your recovery.
Talk about the problem with your therapist, your doctor, and/or at your support group meetings to get the help you need to boost your mood and avoid relapse.