Depression and anxiety are common co-occurring mental health disorders among men and women seeking treatment for substance abuse. In many cases, these conditions can be managed through the same lifestyle modifications that promote lasting sobriety.
Stabilize Your Mood Through Good Nutrition
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Making a conscious effort to eat nutritious foods can help minimize your cravings for drugs and alcohol while stabilizing your overall mood.
Eating a diet that is high in omega-3 fats and clean saturated fats with moderate amounts of protein will give your body the nutrients it needs to promote a stable mood without causing too much inflammation. You may also wish to try increasing your intake of polyphenols (micronutrients with antioxidant activity) by consuming dark-colored fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric.
If you struggle with depression, it is recommended that you avoid refined sugar as much as possible. Sugar provides a temporary boost to serotonin levels, which can momentarily boost your mood. Unfortunately, when the effect wears off, you’ll be left feeling even worse than you did before.
Caffeine should be avoided if you struggle with anxiety. The caffeine in coffee, soda, or chocolate produces energy by giving the nervous system a jolt, but this nervous energy can trigger an anxiety attack in certain susceptible individuals.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise can promote mental health by increasing your energy, promoting a positive body image, releasing mood-boosting endorphins, and reducing physical signs of stress such as an elevated heartbeat or hypertension. Playing team sports or joining a gym also offers the benefit of promoting stronger social connections.
If you’re currently leading a very sedentary lifestyle, look for ways to gradually increase movement throughout the day. Park further away from your destination, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or march in place when you’re talking on the phone. Small changes can make a big impact if you’re consistent.
Spend Time Outside
A Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to low mood in some people. Spending time outside is a great way to boost your body’s production of Vitamin D, in addition to all the other psychological benefits that connecting with nature brings.
Spending time outside can involve whatever activity you find enjoyable, so you don’t necessarily need to commit to a long camping trip to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. Go for a walk with a friend, play with your children, or simply relax on a park bench and read a few pages from your favorite book.
Make Sleep a Priority
In today’s fast-paced world, cutting back on sleep often seems like a tempting strategy for accomplishing everything on your to-do list. However, a lack of sleep can contribute to cognitive impairment, fatigue, and general low mood.
Insomnia in the early stages of recovery is quite common as the body adjusts to life without drugs or alcohol, but you can make it easier to get the rest you need by promoting good sleep hygiene. Set a regular bedtime and avoid using electronics at least 30 minutes before you plan to turn off the lights. Create a calming routine such as taking a warm bath, meditating, or writing in your journal. Keep your sleeping environment cool, quiet, dark, and clutter free.
Consider Using Essential Oils
Essential oils are growing in popularity as a way to promote wellness. Bergamot, vetiver, lavender, chamomile, and frankincense are some of the most popular oils used to treat anxiety and depression.
Oils can be used in a diffuser or an inhaler, as well as applied topically. To stay safe, remember that oils should always be diluted with a carrier such as fractionated coconut oil before being applied to the skin. Ingesting oils should never be done without consulting an experienced certified aromatherapist.
Keep a Journal
Journaling is an excellent self-care tactic for people who suffer from anxiety and depression. Getting your thoughts down on a paper often forces you to look more objectively at the problems you are facing, especially if you’re able to see previous journal entries and realize that similar issues you worried about in the past were resolved with minimal fuss.
Your journal can take whatever form makes you feel most comfortable. If you don’t enjoy writing long narratives, you can simply list your thoughts. If you’re more of a visual person, you can include doodles or collages that explore your feelings in more detail. The format doesn’t matter as long as you find a way to stick with a consistent journaling routine.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Wanting to make others happy is admirable, but not if it comes at the expense of your own health and wellbeing. If you are so overscheduled and burdened with other people’s problems that you have no time for self-care, setting firm boundaries with friends and family can greatly improve your mental health.
Self-care is not selfish. If helping others is affecting your ability to eat well, exercise, and maintain a wellness-focused lifestyle, you don’t need to feel guilty about cutting back. Giving yourself the space to tend to your physical and mental health will allow you to better be of service to your loved ones when it is most important.
Recognize When Medication May Be Necessary
Although there are number of lifestyle modifications you can make to manage depression and anxiety, medication may be necessary in some cases. You should discuss your symptoms and desired treatment plan with your healthcare provider to make the decision that best fits your unique needs.
If you are currently taking medication to manage your depression or anxiety, keep in mind that abruptly discontinuing many of these drugs can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and potentially dangerous mood fluctuations. Tapering your medication is considered the safest way to transition to managing your condition throughout lifestyle modifications alone.