When you’re in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, you get accustomed to the routine involved. A typical program has you waking up early and making the most of your time by following a set schedule. You probably have breakfast, engage in calming or spiritual activities like meditation and attend counseling. These things all become part of your routine, but what happens when you’re out of treatment and living independently again?
Establishing a daily routine without the accountability of your peers and counselors in treatment is a challenging, yet rewarding, step you must take to make recovery work for you in the long run. It’s one of the first things you should focus on as you plan for the future. We’ll take a look at what obstacles you may face and provide tips on how to create your routine, so you can thrive in recovery.
The Challenges of Developing a Sober Lifestyle
In early recovery, maintaining your sobriety will be especially challenging. You’re transitioning from a highly structured environment to one with few, if any, rules about what you should be doing and when. In treatment, you likely found that when cravings for drugs or alcohol threatened to overwhelm you, you quickly moved on to the next scheduled activity without much time to ruminate on those cravings.
When you transition back to independent living, you may suddenly have a lot more time on your hands and find this makes cravings harder to control. A daily routine alleviates boredom and reduces uncertainty and stress. The challenge of developing a sober lifestyle through routine-building includes these elements:
- Choosing consistent times to wake up and go to sleep
- Creating time for some daily exercise
- Meal planning and cooking
- Attending a support group and interacting with sober peers
- Making time for basic self-care
- Developing a schedule of chores to keep your environment clean
- Maintaining personal hygiene
- Attending school or going to work
- Consistently learning new skills
It’s a significant amount of juggling, and you might feel swamped at first not knowing where all the puzzle pieces fit. Sometimes, just getting out of bed at the right time feels like a chore. But with planning, organization and commitment, you can put together a routine that works for you, day in and day out.
Benefits of a Routine in Recovery
Your recovery revolves around the choices you make, and creating a routine takes you from the question “What should I do?” to “How can I make sure this gets done?” You might be surprised at how that shift helps maintain your resolve. These are some of the other benefits you’ll gain from crafting a healthy routine after treatment.
- A sense of purpose: When you know you have a schedule to meet and activities to take care of, you stay busy and know what you need to do. This purpose will reduce your opportunities to be tempted by drugs or alcohol.
- Better stress management: Stress is one of the largest single sources of cravings that can trigger a relapse. A good routine reduces the incidence of unexpected events and creates structure that helps prepare you for when stress does strike.
- Improved self-esteem: Once you start following through on the schedule you have created, you’ll begin to gain more confidence in the skills you learned in treatment and your ability to apply them.
- Better brain function: When your brain becomes overwhelmed with choices, it doesn’t function optimally. According to Dr. Kerry Ressler, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, having a routine has positive effects on overall health and development.
- Reduced chances of relapse: Setting up a routine creates automatic safeguards for your recovery. Your life-changing positive behaviors can do some of the work for you in combating cravings and helping you find meaning.
How to Develop a Routine in Recovery
You’re probably wondering where to start with developing a routine. There are a lot of considerations to take into account, but the following elements are some of the most crucial.
Your recovery can only progress if your body is nourished and healthy. Living independently, you are in charge of not only the cooking, but the grocery shopping too, which is not easy even for people who aren’t in recovery. Recent research shows nearly a third of Americans have anemia or are at risk of deficiency in at least one vitamin.
Substance abuse of any kind leads to poor nutrition, through undereating, overeating or making bad food choices. There’s also the common issue of developing cravings for unhealthy food during treatment and recovery, which can sabotage your progress. The good news is that making the right choices and following a balanced diet can have a significant impact on how you feel during recovery.
For example, research shows deficiencies in iron and omega-3 fatty acids can increase addiction-like behaviors. It can be easier to start meal planning when you know it will make you feel better and more balanced.
As you regain your strength through proper nutrition, it’s also time to get moving. Aerobic exercise can improve well-being by reducing the severity of cravings. Exercise can also relieve stress and bring your energy levels up, not to mention boost your confidence.
Starting an exercise routine is difficult at the best of times. Some people benefit from going all-out and joining a gym, especially if they have someone to go with who will help hold them accountable. Other people feel better easing into exercise by tackling smaller routines like walking around the block a few times or introducing body-weight exercises at home.
If, for some reason, you’re unable to exercise, outdoor activities can fulfill some of the same functions. Gardening, for example, exposes you to sunlight and fresh air while often having meditative qualities. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your plans.
Sleep is a huge factor in both your development of and recovery from addiction. When we’re stressed, sleep becomes elusive, and the temptation to take a Xanax® or have a nightcap to facilitate sleep can easily lead to dependence and addiction. But during recovery, sleep becomes challenging again, and you can’t turn to substances to fall asleep.
Setting a regular bedtime can be frustrating at first if you can’t fall asleep quickly. However, it’s essential to acclimatizing your body to go to bed at the same time every night. Performing soothing activities in the hour or so before your set bedtime can help you wind down enough to fall asleep faster. Taking a shower before bedtime is a common practice, and it helps by lowering your body temperature, which can better induce sleep.
Turning off your screens an hour before bed is also a good practice. Replacing the time you’d spend on your phone or laptop with time spent reading or relaxing in a bath can make it easier to drift off.
4. To-Do Lists
Life outside treatment is a constant stream of appointments, chores and other tasks that can be difficult to organize and take care of. To-do lists help you prioritize the things you need to do and give you a rough outline of your day. The best time to create a to-do list is in sometime in the evening, after you have processed the current day and before your bedtime routine. Alternatively, you can do it first thing in the morning after your essential activities and before you start work or school.
Laying out what you need to do in the coming day helps cement it in your mind and may increase your chances of follow-through. Additionally, the act of checking or crossing off items on a to-do list brings many people a welcome sense of accomplishment.
5. Fun Activities
You can’t forget to save time for fun. While the basics like eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep are essential to recovery, having fun helps enrich your days and provides healthy distraction from cravings. As long as the environment of the activity is free from drugs and alcohol, it has the potential to be highly beneficial for your mental health.
Everyone’s idea of fun is different. Social butterflies may benefit from joining a book club or art class, while another person finds joy in building birdhouses alone. Whatever your favorite sober activity is, be sure you make time for it in your schedule. Sometimes you might feel too tired or discouraged to want to do anything, but building it into your weekly routine helps motivate you to do it — and benefit from it — anyway.
Daily Structure and Mental Health
Creating stability is essential to recovery. Many people exit rehabilitation feeling lost, and those feelings can result in symptoms of anxiety and depression. The good news is that sticking to a daily rhythm can lead to better mood and brain function, as well as a reduced likelihood of developing depression.
A structured routine also reduces the turmoil you may feel when faced with the choices you make in daily life. When you have a meal plan, there’s less struggle involved to eat a side of vegetables instead of instant mac and cheese because you’ve already chosen for yourself ahead of time. When you’ve already signed up to attend a workshop, you’re less likely to spend time wondering if you should contact that old drinking buddy. Creating a routine and schedule essentially provides you with a backup, so it’s easier to say “no” without spiraling into anxiety or depression.
Your life will feel more manageable, and you’ll have a plan to rely on even during periods of stress. With a better sense of balance, you’ll be able to build your self-esteem and take responsibility for your well-being.
Tips to Develop a Routine for Your Daily Life
The type of routine you develop depends mainly on the essential activities you have to perform. If you’ve found a new job or are returning to your old one, a lot of your time is already full. If you’re out of treatment and haven’t found a job or aren’t in school, there is a lot more time to fill, and you’ll likely need to schedule more aggressively.
The first place to start is usually with a morning routine. Mornings can be rough at the best of times, but when you’re having trouble sleeping or experiencing severe cravings, the idea of facing the world can be hard to wrestle with. Here are some of the potential components you can use to create a morning routine that works for you.
- Meditation, prayer or silence: You may wake up with a dozen thoughts flying around your head at once. One of these methods can help quiet your mind and help you focus on what’s important at the moment and throughout the day.
- Journaling: If you need to sort out thoughts and feelings from the day before or for the upcoming day, spending a few minutes writing them down can provide a sense of calm.
- Affirmations: Choosing a few positive statements to repeat in the morning sets you up for confidence throughout the rest of the day.
- Goal review: You’ve likely developed some long-term goals throughout treatment and your early days in recovery. Review and visualize achieving them to help keep yourself on track.
You can schedule these activities before or after essential tasks including:
- Making your bed
- Taking a shower
- Brushing your teeth
- Personal grooming
- Eating breakfast
- Getting hydrated
If setting and following a routine is new or challenging for you, focus on getting your mornings right. When you accomplish small goals before even leaving the house, you feel more confident and capable of handling life’s many obstacles without being as tempted by substances. Making the most of every day helps remind you why you chose treatment and are working toward permanent recovery in the first place.
Many people find blocking out time on a schedule helps them visualize their routine and provides a sense of rhythm. Others view this as being too restrictive and prefer to keep a list of the tasks they need to complete. That way, if your meditation is granting you extra insight or calm, you don’t have to worry about shuffling around everything on your schedule, as long as every item gets checked off the list.
Healing at Tranquil Shores
Developing a recovery routine involves a lot of trial and error in the beginning, with commitment needed to bring it all together. But once you do, you’ll be amazed at how much you can do and the impact a personal morning routine has on the rest of your day. Your routine will provide another layer of shielding from stress and cravings while encouraging you to be your best.
If you want to learn more about the power of routine in addiction treatment and recovery, get your head start at Tranquil Shores. Our carefully developed addiction treatment programs help start you off with a healthy schedule you can use to create yours as you transition to independent recovery. To find out more about Tranquil Shores’ Integrated Recovery Model and begin your journey to sobriety, call us at (727) 591-4119.