Living through a global pandemic presents many challenges most of us have never faced. Businesses are closing, children are learning how to learn from home via virtual learning, common outlets for stress relief such as gyms are temporarily closed, and for some reason, we are all running out of toilet paper. It’s natural to feel stressed and uncertain. Our world has been changed, and for many of us, this means learning how to handle old problems in new ways. Even in ideal circumstances, addiction recovery can be difficult. Add a pandemic into the mix, and things can start to feel overwhelming and unmanageable. But maintain hope, managing addiction and recovery is possible.

COVID-19 related social isolation and stress can increase susceptibility to substance misuse, addiction, and relapse. At the same time, social media is full of messages, memes, and jokes about using alcohol and other substances as accepted and expected coping mechanisms. For people in recovery or those who live with addiction, stressful times like these can lead to relapse or increases in substance use and misuse.

What can be done to help combat this added pressure in unprecedented times? Managing addiction and recovery during the pandemic may be an everyday uphill battle, but you can do this. It’s understandable to feel challenged by these worries, but they don’t have to derail your recovery process. Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate the road ahead. 

Practice Showing Yourself and Others Compassion 

You may have never experienced anything so stressful or life-altering as the COVID-19 pandemic and the physical distancing it’s brought about. Life isn’t proceeding in the usual way. It’s OK to not feel OK right now. Showing yourself compassion is always an important step when dealing with addiction and recovery. But now more than ever you have to care for yourself from the inside out. You deserve kindness as much as anyone else, especially during uncertain times. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by this unprecedented time keep these simple steps in mind:

  1. Mindfulness Begins and Ends with You-  Practicing mindfulness helps us take a step back and disentangle from what is bothering us. 
  2. Common Humanity Brings us Together- Remembering we are all in this together is an antidote to the loneliness that may come with social distancing. When we recall that we’re not alone no matter what we’re going through, things become more bearable.
  3. Work on Self Kindness- Thinking about yourself and what you really need is an antidote to fear. Kindness regulates fear through connection and warmth, similar to what we might experience with a dear friend. Simply asking ourselves, “How do I care for myself already?” is a self-compassionate act, and actually doing something nice for oneself is even better. For example, when we’re sequestered in our homes, we can still listen to music, dance, read a book, Skype with friends, or play games with family members.

The fruit of self-compassion practice is learning how to hold our struggles and ourselves in a loving embrace, just as we are. Self-quarantine can be like a retreat, albeit involuntary, and it’s an excellent time to learn the practice of self-compassion.

Maintain a Routine for Managing Addiction and Recovery

Pretty much everyone is trying to find some kind of routine right now, but it’s especially important for those who are managing addiction and recovery. Get up every day at the same time, take a shower, and get dressed. Start your day off by calling your sponsor or with a morning meditation. Don’t lay around all day in your pajamas. If you do, you’re bound to get depressed. People don’t like to feel like they have no control, especially if they aren’t working because of the pandemic. Maintaining a routine will provide a sense of direction and control. Make a list of things you want to do in your home, and pick one to follow through on each day. You don’t have to plan out every minute of your day, of course, but having some semblance of structure can help. 

Explore New Interests 

At this point, you’ve probably heard this over and over again, but now might be a great time to teach yourself a new skill or take up a hobby. Keeping your free time occupied with activities you find enjoyable can distract you from unwanted or triggering thoughts that might negatively affect recovery. Doing things that interest you can also make the time you spend at home seem less bleak. Sure, you can Netflix-binge. But you can also learn so many new things! 

Keep these tips in mind when searching for a new way to spend your time:

  1. Hobbies are supposed to be fun. If you don’t feel like you have the mental capacity to pick up something new right now, that’s totally fine.
  2. The internet offers plenty of how-to videos for DIY projects, cooking, and crafting skills, like knitting or drawing.
  3. Revisit old (sober) hobbies that you used to enjoy. Did you use to rock at finishing a jigsaw puzzle? Used to love to make jewelry or other crafts? Have you been working on a novel that is at a standstill? Pick back up where you started and fall back in love with an old way to pass the time! 

Physical Distance Doesn’t Mean Emotional Distance

Everyone is starting to feel the lack of physical presence. Although physical distancing guidelines mean you shouldn’t have close physical contact with anyone you don’t live with, you certainly don’t have to cut yourself off completely. Avoiding isolation is the best coping mechanism. Make a phone or video appointment to talk with your sponsor, counselor, or therapist; reach out to family and friends for support and connection; or find virtual group meetings to attend. There are also many online party and streaming platforms popping up to pull us out of complete isolation. It’s imperative to seek out community and social connections during this time.

Remember COVID-19 Won’t Last Forever

While managing addiction and recovery will be a part of your life forever, this unprecedented pandemic will not. It might feel especially challenging to maintain recovery when your process involves things that are currently on hold — whether that’s work, spending time with loved ones, or hitting the gym. Addiction thrives on secrecy and loves to catch people off-guard. It can progress quickly, especially during COVID-19 social isolation. If you’re dealing with strong cravings or relapse, contact your provider immediately and, if possible, include your family or close friend.

Don’t Give Up! 

It’s important to understand everyone is dealing with the stress and anxiety of the current situation. Find the things that work for you in this new reality, and if things aren’t working, don’t wait until the situation feels overwhelming. You don’t need to collapse and relapse. Treatment is effective, but it’s up to YOU to see it through this trying time.

Do You Need Help Managing Addiction and Recovery in the Pandemic?

No matter how challenging things might feel right now, you’ve come a long way. Respecting your journey so far and continuing to work toward the future can help you stay grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing addiction and recovery may feel like an uphill battle, but you are not alone. Our team at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is here to help you every step of the way.

Above all, hold on to hope. This situation is rough, but it’s not permanent.