Prior to entering recovery, the term “relaxation” was usually correlated with ingesting some type of downer that artificially provided you with a feeling of calm and serenity. Of course, that feeling only lasted so long, so you take another, then another, and thus comes eventual addiction. (It’s a bit more complicated than that but you get the point)
After a while our body and mind become accustomed to winding down with the use of some type of external variable which ultimately results in a habit. Our body learns that a pill or a shot of vodka, means relaxation time causing our brain and body to basically forget how to relax on its own. In other words, our brain forgets how to relax naturally without the substance being ingested.
Well, now that external variable (as I so politely called it above) is no longer and option for you.
What are you going to do to cool your jets?
Especially early in recovery, any large or small life event can spike our anxiety levels. You drop your phone…BOOM…anxiety raises. People also tend to experience heightened anxiety prior to going to bed or just at night time in general. Everyone has experienced those racing thoughts that can occur late at night that can make you feel like sleep won’t be gracing you with it’s presence any time soon.
Well the good news is that there are some simple, natural techniques or options that can get you through those tough times! Try them out and then let us know how they’ve worked out for you:
Now, look. I’m not going to attempt to talk to you through a complicated meditation that has been performed by Buddhist monks for centuries. It’s not practical and would take way too long.
What I am going to do though is describe a basic 10-minute meditation technique that can help to improve your focus and steady a scattered mind. By performing this exercise prior to your bedtime each night you are slowly re-training your body to know it’s time to calm down from a hectic day and go to bed soon. The calming effects of this meditation can be felt immediately and the beauty of it is that you can’t overdose on meditation. Don’t feel calm after the first ten minutes? Wait a bit and try again:
- Start by finding a comfortable chair or place to sit.
- Keeping your eyes open, start taking some deep breaths. Make them loud enough so that if someone was sitting next to you, it would be awkward.
- After about 5 or 6 deep breaths, close your eyes on an exhale. Bring your attention to the feeling of the weight of your body and the warmth between you and the place you are sitting. While doing this, listen to the sounds in the room and become aware of your surroundings.
- After a couple minutes of becoming aware of your surroundings, bring your attention to the rising and falling of your stomach or chest as you breathe. In…Out…In…Out
- Next bring your attention to your feet, let your attention be gentle yet focused. Next move your attention to your belly button. After a few more seconds, bring your attention to your sternum. Again a few seconds later, bring your attention to your chest. Following that same pattern, move to your throat, then your eyebrows, and then focus your attention about 6 inches about your head.
- Next work your way down through those body parts and then back up while letting your focus on each body part last about as long as it takes for you to inhale then exhale. Move up and down through these body parts about 5 times. Before releasing your focus all together and focusing on nothing for about 30 seconds.
- Bring your attention back to the noises in the room and then slowly open your eyes a few seconds later.
*Helpful Tip: It is ok if your mind wanders, especially at first. That is totally normal. Eventually your mind will be able to stay focused as long as you keep practicing this technique on a regular basis. Try not to get frustrated by your wandering mind, respect that it’s happening, and gently bring your focus back to your meditation.
Walk It Off
I realize this isn’t rocket science but I have never met anyone that is upset or anxious after they take a 20 min walk outside. How many times have either you, your parents, or you’ve seen in a movie that after someone gets a little hot-headed they say “I’m going for a walk!”
A walk outside, not only, gets your body moving (think: move a muscle, change a thought) but it takes your focus off whatever issue you’re ruminating on. A walk can help clear your mind thus enabling you to become more focused and mindful of your current surroundings/situation.
I know you aren’t going to like me saying this but put your phone away while you are on your walk. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no texting, and no talking on the phone!! Use the time on your walk to focus on your surroundings. Detach from the overstimulation of your day that may very well be the root cause of your anxiety spike.
*Fun Fact: Did you know that there have actually been scientific studies proving that a walk through a forest or woodsy environment essentially calms anxiety and reduces stress levels naturally. Seriously, look it up.
Sometimes our mind and body can use a little natural help from external sources that promote health and wellness.
There are a number of different vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that actually help to promote feelings of calm. They can be taken at night (or during the day) to help calm that racing mind and the best part is they are not narcotic, they aren’t abuse-able, and they are non-addictive.
Without going into too much detail because we would be here forever if I did, these supplements naturally assist the brain in producing the chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. The production of many of these neurotransmitters may have been negatively impacted by long-term drug/alcohol use so sometimes they can use a little extra push to get the engines going again.
Vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, Vitamin-C and even B-vitamins are known help in the reduction of stress. Other nutrients like the amino acids L-Tryptophan, 5-HTP, or GABA are also known to help naturally promote feelings of calm and take the edge off of from life’s daily stressors.
There is a supplement company called Liquid Recovery Nutrition that produces supplements that are geared towards supporting the recovering addict’s nutritional needs. Their PM formula contains most of the nutrients mentioned above so it’s great for that person who is struggling with sleep or the inability to relax and are looking for a natural option to help alleviate those issues.
*WATCH OUT: There are a number of “naturally calming products” out there that should be avoided by someone in recovery. Things like Kava, Valerian Root, and Kratom can potentially be abused and/or addicting. That being said, many people have used these substances and been totally fine but if there is a potential for abuse or addiction…why take the chance?