One common characteristic among those struggling with substance use is the lack of a self-care routine. This is especially true for professionals who work in high-stress, high-responsibility careers. As they try to “do it all,” they commonly devalue and neglect their own physical, mental, and emotional needs. Yet we know reducing stress is crucial to recovery. Balance in the patient’s life is critical if healthy living is to be obtained.
So what does self-care look like for busy, stressed professionals? Here are some good practices to start with.
Mindfulness & Meditation for Stress Relief
Evidenced-based practices like mindfulness and meditation attempt to redirect current thoughts to the present place and time. Meditation can alter the body’s physiological response to stress. In one study measuring dopamine levels during meditation, it was found that a 65% increase in endogenous dopamine is released through meditation. Dopamine is the “feel-good neurotransmitter.” It helps reinforce our feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Meditation has also been deemed effective in strengthening the immune system, improving social relationships, decreasing depression, and reducing anxiety. With practice and consistency, significant health benefits can be obtained while meditating.
Furthermore, Dr. David Cummins, Medical Director and Addictionologist at Parkdale Center, states, “The wonderful thing about meditation is that it can be done anywhere by anyone at any time.” Meditation can be achieved through self-direction or through guided assistance with an experienced instructor. It doesn’t require special environments or props. Meditation can be practiced anywhere quiet and calm, including on a break at work, after the kids go to bed, or when you’ve just woken up.
Exercise for Physical and Mental Health
People who work high-stress jobs while balancing family life or other stressors routinely put their own health on the back burner. They “don’t have time,” and often feel guilty taking time for themselves. But regular exercise helps our bodies and minds learn to deal with stress and produces an all-over feeling of satisfaction and even euphoria. Making time to take care of their bodies is crucial to the ongoing health and recovery of substance users. According to J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D, a sport and exercise psychologist, "What appears to be happening is that exercise affords the body an opportunity to practice responding to stress, streamlining the communication between the systems involved in the stress response… The less active we become, the more challenged we are in dealing with stress."
Any exercise is beneficial – within reason – but yoga is an especially good choice for reducing stress while staying active and toning muscles. Yoga is unique in that it incorporates the benefits from both meditation and exercise. Yoga requires the practitioner to hold certain postural poses while concentrating on the present moment. These sometimes-strenuous positions require concentration and continued muscle tone, thereby promoting the release of endorphins. Yoga often includes other known dopaminergic releasing activities such as music and pleasurable visual stimulations. It is no surprise why Yoga is included to manage substance use disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
Healthy Diet to Help Your Body Heal
Marisa Crane writes “Drug and alcohol [use] can cause nutritional deficiencies and issues with digestion. Users often have depleted levels of vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids and fats, which can lead to a number of mental and physical problems.” Substance use can also lead to loss of appetite, dehydration, malnutrition, and even organ and immune system problems. So, an essential part of continued recovery is developing healthy eating habits. Improving one’s diet doesn’t have to be complex. Select foods with complex carbohydrates, reduce caffeine intake, drink plenty of water, minimize sugar and processed food intake, and eat more protein and fiber. You may want to take vitamin supplements as well, to replenish any deficiencies. Giving our bodies the nutrients they need helps us fight off stress and maintain good physical health.
Healthy Relationships for Emotional Well-being
Unlike exercise or hobbies that can occur intermittently, healthy relationships provide emotional “nutrition” on an ongoing basis. In contrast, unhealthy personal relationships not only deprive one of the benefits of loving relationships but also increase stress. Fostering and maintaining healthy relationships can be hard for those with substance use disorders. That is why it is a crucial facet of self-care. Nurture healthy relationships and examine those that are “unhealthy.”
Hobbies for Relaxation and Positive Reinforcement
Dr. Ethan Bickelhaupt, Psychiatrist and Addictionlogist, states “When treating patients with mental health disorders it is important to re-engage them in the healthy activities that previously brought them joy and satisfaction. Aside from the immediate benefit of decreasing stress, the continued release of endogenous dopamine is crucial in repairing the neurobiology effected by the disease process.” Activities that are known to increase dopamine levels include listening to music, playing an instrument, painting/drawing, singing, dancing, and cooking. Finding healthy activities that engage our minds and bodies is a key element of reducing stress and enhancing our quality of life. Enjoying hobbies shouldn’t be viewed as “taking away” time from other aspects of life, but rather as a way to achieve balance and joy in our lives.
Finding Balance, Keeping Balance
As with all good things, finding and keeping balance in one’s life requires dedication, effort, and consistency. These attributes are second nature when those in high-responsibility professions are called to take care of others, but can go missing from their personal lives. Despite increased stress both professionally and in their personal lives, professionals in high-pressure positions are often programed to forge ahead and help others, no matter what the cost. Although it may appear altruistic to others, this continued self-neglect and chronic stress undoubtedly affects mental and physical well-being. In such circumstances, people can turn to unhealthy habits to find relief. Finding true balance requires an objective approach, honest self-assessment, and a commitment to value one’s own well-being.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, please reach out to us. Help is available.
Adapted from “Finding Balance and Well Being” published in Indiana State Board of Nursing Focus Magazine by Rodrigo Garcia, MBA, APN-BC, MSN, CRNA, Parkdale Center, CEO & Claudia Garcia, MBA, BSN, RN, LAC, CADAC II, Parkdale Center, COO. Dec 2016, Edition 48.