Threats to sobriety and recovery are looming over our world during a time when isolation is not only a recommendation but a social duty. Though social distancing for COVID-19 is clearly the best choice for health, its isolation with no defined finish line is an obstacle for healthy habits and a trigger for old dysfunction that few of us saw coming.
Swipe open any social media outlet, and you’ll see what seems like a never-ending lineup of friends, acquaintances, and celebrities raising a glass to pass the time as they self-quarantine in their homes. Healthy stress relievers like going to the gym, attending a yoga class, going out to dinner with friends, and gathering for a church service are off the table for the time being.
COVID-19 is rocking the boat. Our sanity, routines, self-care, and stressors are thrown off balance, and finding a temporary new normal feels intimidating when kids are jumping through the doors of your home office, you just remembered why you don’t work for the same company as your spouse, or you aren’t sure when you’ll get to return to work to earn your next paycheck.
The uncertainty is flowing, and it’s threatening chaos.
Ryan Soave is the Associate Clinical Director at All Points North (APN) Lodge and also serves as President of APN Coaching. A Certified Trauma Therapist, Certified Breathworker, and facilitator of mental health workshops for thousands of participants over the years, Soave has a few things to say about finding sanity and maintaining sobriety while social distancing.
Schedule your day
“Look at what is being recommended for kids right now,” says Soave. “It’s important to establish some normalcy, even though it may feel odd at first. When you wake up, get dressed and ready for the day like you normally would. If you’re able to work, plan out when that will be. Is it eight to five or are you building in shifts with your partner to help take care of the kids?” Whatever routines are helpful for your recovery and mental health in your normal life, figure out how to adapt those routines into at-home ones. Whatever it is, build a schedule and stick to it.
One of Soave’s quick tips for essential self-care is taking “breathe breaks”. He says, “Like some would take a smoke break, build in time for yourself to step outside alone. Slow down for a moment and take seven deep breaths, in and out as slowly as you can.” Even this brief break can serve as a miniature-reset for the chaos of your mind, household, or day.
If you’re living alone, you may find it easy to escape for a hot bubble bath, break out a yoga mat, or hop on the treadmill. But if you’ve got family in the house with you, getting some significant “me-time” might sound laughable right now. Each day, grab a few minutes to pray, meditate, or journal. Self-care doesn’t have to be extensive or elaborate, just consistent.
Give worrying a time slot
“Schedule time to worry,” insists Soave. “Reading the numbers and news all day long is only going to increase your stress. There are certainly realities that we need to stay informed about, but do that once a day.” Soave suggests making a list of things you’re feeling worried about and separating the list into two categories – things you can control and things you can’t. Get your worries out of your head by writing them down on paper. Soave says, “For the things you can control, write down action steps that you’ll take to minimize these stressors.” Once your worrying-time is up, focus on the action steps instead of the worries.
Make agreements with your people
If five o’clock hits and your partner is eager for you to take the kids or hop on some chores, quell the impending arguments by taking the time ahead of time to agree on a schedule with your partner too. Do they need you to take a walk with the kids over your lunch break? Great. Agree on that. Can they wait 20 minutes after 5pm for you to start on dinner so you have a second to take a breather and transition from “work” to “life”? Great. Agree on that. Soave explains that communication, understanding, and agreements are key to adapting to this new normal with a partner.
Get back to basics
“It’s more about maintaining sanity and mental health during this time than it is about fighting cravings,” says Soave. “Whatever helped you during your first year of sobriety, try pulling some of those back in.” Prevent the cravings before they come by fighting any “hungry, angry, lonely, tired.” Eat food that fuels your body. Maintain peace with your people. Stay connected with online AA meetings and teletherapy, regular phone calls or video calls with your friends and family, or creative apps like Netflix Party, Houseparty, or Jackbox. And of course, schedule your sleep, just like you schedule your day.
As much as we’d like to nail down exactly what to expect in the coming months, it’s time to fight for consistency and contentedness – not control – while we wait.
What are your best tips for mental health and sobriety during social distancing?