Maintaining Overall Health: Why It’s Important and How to Go About it
Your recovery and wellness as a whole, is rooted in self-discovery, personal growth, working through setbacks, and learning from your experiences.(1)
In doing so, you’ve fostered a better understanding of yourself and your unique needs while laying a strong foundation on which to build. You’ve put in a lot of hard work! Upholding that commitment to your well-being is just as important.
By understanding the connections between mental health and addiction recovery, taking small and immediate actions, and continuing to make emotional, physical, and spiritual investments into your wellness, maintaining your overall health and recovery is possible - and can be enjoyable too.
Mental Health and Recovery: How They’re Connected
There is widespread recognition of the interplay between mental health and addiction. (2) Roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse, with 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of those who abuse drugs also having at least one serious mental illness. Similarly, of those diagnosed with mental illness, 29% abuse either alcohol or drugs. (3)
It’s unsurprising then, that stressors or circumstances that may exacerbate or create new mental health challenges, can also impact recovery. Your mental health influences your thoughts, actions and feelings, and weighs on some of the most key elements of recovery: coping with stress, building relationships, self-worth, among others. No question, maintaining and striving to improve your mental health is an important step in maintaining and furthering your recovery.
Understanding the powerful connections between mental health, addiction, and recovery can be effective tools in motivating progress toward overall health. Remind yourself that growing your skills and coping techniques will inherently lift your mental health and recovery. Feel encouraged that as you hone the techniques you’ve worked on in recovery, you’re also boosting your mental health. Attention paid to one inherently results in benefit to the other – double the perks!
How Small, Incremental and Immediate Actions Can Improve Your Overall Health
Regardless of how long you’ve been in recovery, maintaining it and your overall health can be daunting. No two journeys are the same, but inevitably, there will be unknowns, obstacles and challenges resulting in difficulties, discouragement or even relapse. Remember, these rocky moments are not a sentence or a judgement, only minor setbacks. You’re still the author of your story. You can keep the ball moving toward recovery. And whether you feel terrific or are struggling, taking action is a great way to bolster your overall health.
Small, incremental changes and actions
Goals are powerful. Research shows that goals are so meaningful to our emotional lives, simply having them is associated with greater well-being, regardless of if we reach them or not. (4) So, get your goals on! Don’t be afraid to dream big - using little changes and purposeful actions will put you well on your way. Small, incremental changes and actions are pragmatic, executable steps that inch you closer toward larger and long-term behaviours and goals. The best part of these tiny changes? They work. Breaking down big goals into more approachable pieces increases the odds of success.
Is your goal to run a 10 kilometer race? Your small actions and changes may include:
- buying new shoes
- reading some articles on training for a 10K
- jogging instead of walking the dog
- taking the stairs at work
- joining a local running group
- installing a running app to track progress and keep you motivated
Or is your goal to remain motivated to maintain your sobriety? Your actions and changes could be:
- committing to call a sponsor, daily
- creating a list of your key motivating factors
- asking friends and family who support your recovery to connect more often
- researching new healthy activities in your community
- scheduling multiple advance appointments with your counsellor
- journaling, consistently to track progress, feelings and achievements
No goal is too hefty, no step too small. Even the tiniest actions and changes can create positive momentum and help dismantle the all-or-nothing mentality that can derail us. If you stumble? That’s okay. It doesn’t define you, your journey, or your greater goal. In fact, your next small step will always be right there to welcome you back on track.
Every decision you make and its follow-through is an immediate action, the split-second choices and the ones that take a moment or two. Each of these actions directly impact you and, in turn, your overall health. Learning to consciously recognize this sequence as it happens helps harness immediate action as an empowering learning tool and contributor to feeling your best. Immediate actions generally, produce instant (or occurring in short order) outcomes that translate to positive or negative impacts on your health and goals. If your action creates a good result, that’s great! Immediate reward. You’ve moved your wellness and recovery forward. These instant satisfying “wins” can be tremendous mood and esteem boosters. For example:
(Action) Pausing to hold the door for someone and (impact) receiving a warm “thank you!” and unexpected connection.
(Action) Going to bed early instead of watching TV and (impact) having a longer, better sleep, feeling happier and then enjoying a more productive workday.
As with making small, incremental changes, immediate actions provide abundant opportunities to learn from both positive and unwanted outcomes and remind you that no one misstep undermines your value or your achievements to date. There will always be a new choice to make, a new action to steer things in the right direction. Actively blending both types of action and changes also makes navigating the inevitable ups, downs and hardships less overwhelming and more manageable. Consciously noting the thought processes - and the results - of your actions can be empowering, promote adaptability, personal accountability and pride - all reinforcing your overall wellness.
They key is to keep going! Every action, every change is significant.
Your Overall Health and Wellness: Tips for A Well Rounded Approach
Your mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Poor mental health can lead to physical issues like stomach pains and headaches. Mind-body-wellness connections run deep and are well documented, so a combined emotional, physical and spiritual approach is ideal to maintain and further your recovery and health.
Add these tips and methods to your health and recovery toolbox:
Breath work: In all forms of breath work, you intentionally change and become more aware of your breathing pattern. (5) Breathing exercises help increase oxygen-flow, relaxation, reduce tension and relieve stress. (6)
Counted breathing is breath work that paces and elongates your inhales and exhales. To try the well-known variation, “4-7-8 breathing”, inhale to a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale to an eight count and repeat, as needed. If you’d rather something even more straightforward, try exhaling completely, then inhaling, slowly, through the nose, to a count of eight. Exhale, fully, emptying your lungs. Repeat.
Conveniently, most breath work can be done anywhere making it accessible whenever and wherever you need it.
Mindfulness: A type of meditation focussed on intense awareness of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment without interpretation or judgement, (7) try starting your own mindfulness practice with a “body scan meditation”.
Begin on your back, arms at your sides and legs extended, fully. Deliberately, mentally bring your awareness to your toes. Focus, wholly, on any emotions or minute sensations you’re experiencing. Can you feel your heartbeat in your toes? Do any of your toe bones ache? Is any one toe warmer or cooler than the others? Linger, unhurried, in these detailed observations. Then, slowly, intentionally shift your inner focus to your next connected body part, repeating your observations and absorbing sensations: ball of the foot, centre and heel, each leg muscle, arms, hands, torso, jaw, face and forehead. As you get more comfortable with body scan meditation, you may be able to practice sitting down or incorporate breath work exercises too.
Gratitude: A practice that is well worth the effort, being thankful is strongly and consistently associated with improved health, greater happiness, positive emotions, the ability to relish good experiences, deal with adversity and build strong relationships. (8)
Gratitude can easily be worked into your everyday life: Make a point of saying thank you to acknowledge others’ kindness. Write thank you notes or letters of appreciation whenever you can. Journal about the things you’re grateful for. More a tech-savvy sort? Set electronic reminders throughout the day to pause and pay appreciative mind to the people or things you’re grateful for in the moment. What are you thankful for? Lunch with a dear friend? The sunshine? The fragrant lilacs you walked by on the way into the office? Seek out and actively appreciate it all!
Nutrition: The literal fuel your body needs, putting the right stuff in your belly is critical to maintain your overall health and wellness. Healthy eating needn’t be complicated: Try to stay away from or cut down on processed foods that don’t nourish your body. Enjoy a fruit and vegetable-rich diet complete with lean proteins and whole grains. Incorporate a balance of fibre, good fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals every day. And give yourself a pat on the back knowing that even your small changes like swapping out that chocolate bar for an apple, or drinking more water while cutting out the caffeine, are making a big difference.
Exercise: Moving your body is essential to cultivating and maintaining wellness.
Exercise has proven stress, anxiety and depression reducing benefits and combats a plethora of other health conditions including obesity and heart disease. Indeed, people who exercise feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. (9) So whether incorporating a brisk walk into your morning is your cup of tea, or you want to get a little sweatier and hit the weight room, simply starting and maintaining some sort of movement on the daily will pay off.
Sleep: Most adults need seven to nine hours, nightly, to function their best. Get yours by sticking with an evening ritual and routine that relaxes you. Consistently shut down all electronics and get your head on the pillow at the same time, even on the weekends. Use your bed for sleep only and keep your bedroom quiet, cool, dark and peaceful. Lack of sleep is linked to a wide variety of health issues including cardiovascular disease, compromised immune function, diabetes, hypertension and even susceptibility to injury, (10) so be sure to get those zzz’s!
Individual introspection: Spirituality may be one of the most personal things in your life. Nurturing it in your own individualized way can significantly help to maintain overall health and recovery.What does spirituality mean to you? What do you gain - or hope to gain - from it? What questions or concepts are you curious to know more about and how might they shape your faith? Reflecting on your spiritual thoughts and feelings can provide unexpected insights, and re-inspire your faith.
Spiritual practices: Nurturing your spirituality through practices that bring you comfort, joy, insight and peace are active ways to grow your spiritual health and fold it into your overall wellness planning. These may include prayers, meditations, visiting places of worship or simply taking conscious moments to connect with yourself or something larger. Don’t be afraid to explore new, different practices that may spark new perspectives or invigorate your current ones. Prioritizing the practices that fulfill you honour your spirituality and your health.
Connection: Reaching out to others whose spirituality aligns with yours can be a remarkably validating and enriching experience. Community connection is known to facilitate better mental and physical health (11) and common ground like spirituality can further enhance these bonds. It’s never been easier to reach out to others and find a group that’s the right fit for you, so go ahead! Visit or volunteer at your place of worship. Seek out online communities with similar spiritual leanings. Savour the benefits of having a shared space to discuss, question, celebrate or expand your spiritual beliefs.
Your path to overall health, recovery and beyond is strengthened by using the connections between mental health and addiction recovery to your advantage. By taking thoughtful action and making conscious changes, your commitment to remain engaged and maintain your overall health and recovery is something you can feel confident and excited about.
1. "Healthy Habits: Actions to Recovery.” www.homeweb.ca, Homewood Health Centre, homeweb.ca/articles/5d2c782099149c9661ac5571.
2. “The Importance of World Mental Health Day.” www.homeweb.ca, Homewood Health Centre, homeweb.ca/articles/5bcf3421429e0a0662c5f35a.
3. Segal, Jeanne, et al. “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues.” HelpGuide.org, 14 Feb. 2020, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm.
4. Feldman, David B. “5 Tips for Setting Healthy Goals.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, http://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/supersurvivors/201902/5-tips-setting-healthy-goals.
5. Legg, Timothy J, and Emily Cronkleton. “What Is Breathwork?” Healthline, 29 Apr. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/breathwork#rebirthing.
6. Lopez, Ashlie. “How Deep Breath Can Be Helpful for Mental Health.” Australian & New Zealand Mental Health, 12 Mar. 2020, anzmh.asn.au/2019/10/16/deep-breath-helpful-mental-health/.
7. "Can Mindfulness Exercises Help Me?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Aug. 2018, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356.
8. Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
9. Robinson, Lawrence, et al. “The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.” HelpGuide.org, 16 Feb. 2020, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm.
10. “The Importance Of Sleep.” www.homeweb.ca, Homewood Health Centre, homeweb.ca/articles/5a85c381b6dcb32404a01871.
11. "Connecting With The Community.” www.homeweb.ca, Homewood Health Centre, homeweb.ca/articles/563bcdde172a7b7a2486d404.