Recovery: Six steps to help you stay on track during the pandemic

February 9, 2021 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

For people in recovery for substance or alcohol use disorder, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a double-edged sword. The high levels of stress caused by fear of contracting the virus, loved ones who become ill, job loss and financial problems, and the isolation associated with social distancing may be triggers that lead to drinking or using substances. In addition, a great deal of the in-person care that people in recovery rely on to maintain sobriety is not currently available as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, making the already difficult process of recovery more challenging.

These six steps are a good starting point for building a strategy to stay on track with your recovery:

  1. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider and support system. Remaining in regular contact, by phone or video chat, with the healthcare provider managing your treatment is key. Your provider can make sure you continue to have access to any medications you’re taking as part of your treatment and can provide support and connect you with the resources you need to continue the process of recovery. If you are in a support group and have a sponsor or mentor, call or video chat regularly to help replace the support you got through in-person meetings. And connect with family members and friends who support your recovery frequently.
  2. Tap into online recovery resources. Many recovery programs, including Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, and others, offer virtual meetings. While these meetings may not entirely replace the support and camaraderie of in-person meetings, they do offer a way to remain connected to your recovery support group and may help you feel less isolated.
  3. Create and maintain a daily routine. Structure can help you manage feelings of depression and anxiety, which could lead to using alcohol or substances as a coping mechanism if left unchecked. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day and eat regular, healthy meals (try dining virtually with friends and family via video chat to make meals a positive experience). If you’re working from home, stick to the hours you’d keep if you were at work in person. If you’re not working, make a list of things you need to do and work on one of those tasks each day.
  4. Get active to manage stress. Taking part in regular physical activity is not only good for your health, it’s an effective stress reduction strategy. Choose an activity that you enjoy to increase the likelihood that you’ll make it a regular habit. If you’re living with or in a pod with friends or family, ask them to do the activity with you, another way to help make sure you follow through with your plan.
  5. Manage your media consumption. The 24/7 news cycle, with constant updates about the pandemic’s toll, politics, and other stressful topics can increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger that may trigger substance and alcohol use. Instead of doom scrolling throughout the day, check the news once in the morning and once in the evening to stay up-to-date. It’s also wise to skip reading or watching news or spending time on social media right before bed, because it may make it more difficult to fall asleep. And strive to get your news and information from reliable sources to avoid unneeded distress and confusion caused by disinformation.
  6. Give yourself some space. Living with family or roommates can create its own stresses. Make sure you take some time for yourself each day to help you maintain your equilibrium. You could listen to music with headphones, meditate, read a book, or go for a walk to give you some breathing room.




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