Six Good Things That Happen Once You Quit Drinking
When people with an alcohol use disorder decide to quit drinking, there’s usually one big reason. Maybe they lost their job because of their drinking, their spouse threatened to leave and take the kids, or they ended up in a drug court with a choice between getting help or going to prison.
Even if you do have one big reason for quitting, there are many less important — but still pretty nice — benefits that come with it. Whether you have a serious problem with alcohol or you feel like you could just use a break from alcohol, the following are some of the good things that happen once you quit.
You sleep better.
A lot of people assume alcohol helps you sleep better, but really the opposite is true. Alcohol helps you fall asleep more easily, but it also prevents you from reaching deep, restorative sleep.
When you’ve been drinking, you spend more time in the shallow parts of the sleep cycle, especially REM sleep, which is why you tend to remember your dreams more. After the first few hours, your sleep becomes disrupted as the alcohol is metabolized and your body starts to experience the rebound effect, which typically results in increased anxiety.
Typically, people find they sleep better pretty quickly after they stop drinking. They feel more rested because they sleep more deeply and sleep all night instead of waking up frequently in the early morning hours. If you’re getting sober after a serious addiction, it may take weeks or months for your sleep patterns to return to normal, but it will happen eventually.
You feel better.
If you drink a lot, it might be that you only feel good or even normal for a short period when you’ve had a certain amount to drink. The rest of the time, you may be hungover, sleep deprived, or in the early stages of withdrawal.
If you’re a very heavy drinker, you may be feeling some health effects such as lack of energy from malnutrition, frequent illnesses, or even problems resulting from heart or liver disease.
When you quit drinking, you may temporarily feel worse while you’re going through withdrawal, but then you’ll start to feel much better in general. You won’t be hungover or starting withdrawal and you’ll have more energy because you’re digesting your food better and sleeping more deeply.
You think better.
Obviously, no one is mentally sharp while drunk but the cognitive effects of drinking tend to persist even when you’re not drinking. One reason is alcohol’s effect on sleep.
When you’re not sleeping deeply and running a chronic sleep deficit, your brain doesn’t work as well. Research shows that sleep deprivation and sleep deficit lead to cognitive impairments, including poorer working memory, poorer concentration, poorer long-term memory, and worse decision making.
Poor sleep also interferes with memory consolidation, so if you’re in school or trying to learn new skills, drinking will make it harder. When you quit drinking, you will probably notice your head feels clearer even if it takes a while for your sleep to get back to normal.
You lose weight.
Most people find they lose weight pretty quickly once they stop drinking. Alcohol has a lot of empty calories, which add up fast, even if you’re only having a few drinks a night.
For example, a can of beer has about 150 calories, so you could easily drink an extra 600 calories a night — about a quarter of the daily caloric needs for an average male — without even reaching the threshold for binge drinking. Not only that, but alcohol boosts estrogen production in both men and women, making it harder to metabolize fat.
As a result, many people are surprised to find that they lose weight when they stop drinking, even if they aren’t trying. It should be noted though, that some people actually gain weight. It’s not uncommon for people to start eating a lot of sweets when they quit drinking, which quickly leads to weight gain.
You look younger.
You’re probably aware that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it extracts water from your body. That’s why you pee so much when you drink — you actually discharge more liquid than you consume. This has a number of effects, but the most apparent is its effect on your skin.
When your skin dries out, it becomes less elastic. As a result, you might look older and more wrinkled after just one night of heavy drinking.
If you drink often, the effect is compounded. However, once you quit drinking, you start looking younger pretty quickly. Your body wants to be adequately hydrated, so it will hold on to that water once you stop messing with your system.
You have more free time.
Most people are not aware of how much time drinking consumes until they quit. Heavy drinkers often block off time specifically to drink, which means they aren’t doing other things with that time.
Alcohol also distorts your perception of time, especially when you start missing chunks due to blacking out. What’s more, alcohol often makes people and activities seem more interesting than they really are. When people quit drinking, they suddenly find they have a lot of free time on their hands they can use to spend time with people they care about, engage in new hobbies, read, get things done, or whatever else they want to do.
A lot of good things happen when you quit drinking. The benefits described above are only the ones you might notice pretty quickly and don’t even include many of the health or relationship benefits that will become apparent with time. At The Foundry, we know that recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is about far more than just abstinence; it’s about becoming free to live the life you want to live. To learn more about our treatment programs, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.
Addressing Your Own Fears and Anxiety While Your Family Member is in Treatment
Family members address and navigate through seemingly endless stormy waters once their family member enters treatment. Having a family member in treatment is demanding of our time and resources and most of all, it’s emotionally exhausting.
Our worry and anxiety fluctuate throughout the process and we often find ourselves in a constant state of “fight or flight.” This helps to keep us prepared to take action when dealing with a crisis or a threat. It is a constant state that keeps us striving to take “control” of the fear or worry. The challenge of taking “control” of a situation this way is that it really only works if we are in physical danger. When dealing with anxiety, perceived or real, our version of taking “control” becomes more of a problem…an emotionally exhausting problem.
There is no doubt that our fear is real, especially when our family member’s needs must be met through more intensive interventions. However, our tendency to allow our thoughts to create and exacerbate anxiety keeps us in this state of automatic response, constantly reacting to our perceived fears using ineffective tools to take “control.”
Below are 10 useful ways to manage your anxiety more effectively as you engage in this journey with your family:
10 Ways to have Long-Term Success with Managing your Anxiety:
- Find control within ourselves to decrease the need to control “the situation”
- Change negative beliefs
- Cultivate new approaches to thinking
- Increase awareness of thoughts and storylines that we follow, especially those that always increase anxiety
- Learn how to stop replaying the past and rehearsing a dissatisfying future
- Decrease self–judgment and blame
- Distinguish between urgency and importance when it comes to situations that need addressed
- Increase self-awareness and identify patterns that are impacting our success as a parent
- Change language to change behavior to increase self-awareness
- Learn how to decrease expectations and truly allow for acceptance
- While it can seem challenging to change how we think and cope with difficult situations, we must also remember that a loved one is trying to learn an entirely new life without addiction. In our Family Program we can work with you and your loved one to create a new path together.
Jen Murphy, M.Ed., LPC is the Family Director at The Foundry, a rehab and substance abuse treatment center in Colorado, providing services specifically for Foundry family members to provide support and guidance throughout their family member’s treatment process. In our work with families we continually honor the family’s therapeutic process and creatively support the unique needs of each individual family. Jen Murphy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have You Suffered Emotional Abuse?
Abuse is a major risk factor for developing mental health issues such as major depression and anxiety and for developing substance use issues. This can happen to both children and adults and while childhood abuse and neglect have a greater effect on people over the lifespan, abuse is a major concern for adults too.
When we think of abuse, physical and sexual abuse are typically the first things to come to mind. However, emotional abuse can be just as damaging and more insidious. While people are typically aware they are being physically or sexually abused, emotional abuse is often more subtle. Part of the power of emotional abuse is its deniability and emotional abusers are often adept at making you doubt your own judgment.
As with physical abuse, the goal of emotional abuse is to control you. However, while physical abuse mainly works through intimidation, emotional abuse gets inside your head and undermines your confidence and judgment. People who are emotionally abused often feel like they are incapable or unworthy of leaving an abusive situation. Although they may know they are unhappy, they may not be aware that what they’re experiencing is emotional abuse. The following are some common signs of emotional abuse and what to do about it.
What It’s Not
First, it’s important to clarify that someone is not being emotionally abusive just because they do something we don’t like or something that makes us feel bad. Arguing, for example, is common in almost every close relationship because it’s normal for people to sometimes have conflicting needs and desires. Even yelling is typically not a sign of emotional abuse. Breaking up with someone or otherwise protecting your own boundaries is not emotional abuse, nor is honest communication. Emotional abuse is done with the intent to make someone feel bad, inadequate, stupid, guilty, or weak and usually for the purposes of control.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of emotional abuse is disparaging behavior. This is an overt assault on your sense of self-worth. Disparaging behavior may include name-calling, such as outright calling you stupid, weak, ugly, hysterical, fat, and so on. A slightly subtler way is to use “pet” names that are played off as playful or affectionate but are really belittling. If you’re the object of such a pet name, you can easily spot it by how it makes you feel. Other ways of disparaging include making sarcastic remarks, making jokes at your expense, or making light of your interests or accomplishments. This is all intended to make you feel worse about yourself so you feel like you need the abuser’s approval and so you don’t think you could do better elsewhere.
Isolating or Controlling Behavior
As noted above, emotional abuse is primarily a means of control and therefore any controlling behavior – overt or covert – is also a form of emotional abuse. Controlling behavior can take many forms. One way that has become disturbingly common is checking your partner’s phone for incriminating texts. This implies your partner is untrustworthy and it makes unfair demands on their privacy. If you believe your partner is cheating on you, you should ask. If you feel like you can’t trust your partner, then break up.
Another common and subtle way to control is withholding affection unless the other person does what you want. This tactic can be used by romantic partners or by parents and it can be especially harmful to children. However, it’s not the same as not being affectionate because you’re arguing or angry about something specific.
Isolating is another common control tactic. The idea is to keep the person dependent. The abuser might try to keep you from interacting with friends and family, for example. They don’t want you to have options they don’t approve of and they don’t want other people filling your head with ideas they don’t like.
Gaslighting is a way of undermining your sense of reality. This is typically done by contradicting things they know to be true. For example, they might spring plans on you at the last minute and when you say you didn’t know anything about it, they might insist you talked about it last week. Over time, you start to doubt your own memory and start to rely on your partner, who seems to remember everything. Often, a gaslighter will lie about things that aren’t important at all just to undermine your confidence.
Having Unrealistic Expectations
Other tactic emotional abusers use to undermine your confidence is to have unreasonably high expectations. These might pertain to them specifically, such as expecting you to spend all your time with them or make unreasonable sacrifices on their behalf. It might also be more general, such as never being satisfied with anything you do, never complimenting you, always finding fault, and generally making you feel like you always fall short. If you set the bar high enough for someone you can always be sure they will fail, or at least feel like they’ve failed. This is especially damaging because it develops a sense of learned helplessness – nothing you do is good enough, so why try? It also keeps you seeking the abuser’s approval.
What to Do
Emotional abuse is hard to escape because much of the time, you’re not even sure it’s happening. Awareness is the first step. Pay attention to the patterns. Your parents, teachers, boss, spouse, or romantic partners aren’t supposed to make you feel bad about yourself. If you’re always walking on eggshells around them, something is wrong. Look out for the behaviors described above.
Next, know it’s not your fault. Emotional abusers often make a good show of being kind and supportive and it’s easy to fall for. If you experienced emotional abuse as a child, you probably just thought that it was normal. The sooner you realize it’s not, the better.
Get away from the abusive situation as soon as possible. If you can’t for some reason, work on setting boundaries. This can be incredibly hard and you may need the help of a therapist and possibly a support structure, which an emotional abuser certainly won’t like. What’s more, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can fix an emotional abuser. They’re good at making apologies and promises, but they also have their own problems and they aren’t likely to change their behavior for good.
If you’ve been the victim of emotional abuse, it has probably caused you some problems, which might include depression, anxiety, or substance use issues. Of the 10 adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, linked to increased addiction risk, emotional abuse accounts for two, each of which at least doubles your risk of addiction. Awareness is the first step.
At Foundry Treatment Center, we share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
How to Feel Better by Ending Rumination
You probably know the feeling: you’re a bit bored at work or home, or maybe you’ve just gotten into bed, when some thought pops into your head and you can’t let it go. Maybe it’s something embarrassing you did when you were a child or something you’re worried might happen at some undefined point in the future.
Maybe you start replaying a conversation, thinking about all the things you should have said. The next thing you know, you’ve been rehashing these thoughts for 20 or 30 minutes, perhaps even longer. You haven’t gotten anything done, you haven’t slept, and now you feel more depressed and anxious than you did before.
This is rumination and it’s strongly associated with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. When you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, ruminating definitely doesn’t help, but it’s also a hard habit to break. The following tips can help you quit ruminating and feel better.
Learn to recognize rumination.
Like other bad habits, you can start ruminating without even being aware of it. You quickly get swept up in your thoughts and are not aware of what your mind is even doing.
If you want to stop ruminating, then you have to learn to notice when you’re doing it. This is a skill called metacognitive awareness — being aware of what you’re thinking about. The first step is to label rumination whenever you catch yourself doing it.
It’s important that you do not scold yourself when you realize you’ve been ruminating. Instead, congratulate yourself for noticing: “Ah, there’s rumination again, good catch!”
Notice your rumination triggers.
Noticing rumination is only the first step. Your real goal is to better understand what’s causing it.
Rumination typically has triggers, just like any bad habit. That is, it doesn’t come out of the blue but rather is caused by something you hear or see — or even a particular train of thought.
When you catch yourself ruminating, notice what you’re ruminating about and notice what triggered it. For example, maybe you were reading an article that mentioned a topic you recently argued with someone about or that reminded you of a bad decision you made, perhaps years ago.
You will probably notice there are only a few topics you get stuck ruminating about and your triggers are likely things closely related to these topics. Once you are aware of your triggers, you can be more vigilant about falling into the rumination trap in the first place.
Our minds are very associative and once you fall into the rumination trap, it’s hard to get out just by trying to force yourself to think of something else. If you’re sitting or lying in the same position, in the same room, trying to do the same task, you’ll probably keep getting drawn back into the rumination.
Although rumination has negative outcomes, it is also more interesting to your mind than whatever you’re supposed to be doing because your mind thinks it’s solving a problem. If someone were running toward you and yelling, you would definitely pay attention to them even if you’d rather not have to deal with that situation.
Rumination is similar, except the threat you’re preoccupied with might be far in the past or a hazy possibility in the future.
To get out of that rut, you may have to change more than your focus. You might have to get up and walk around for a while, switch to a different task, go to a different room, or do something that demands more attention than whatever you’re ruminating about.
Maybe get some exercise or play a video game. The more you ruminate on a particular topic, the deeper that groove gets in your brain.
That means you fall into that rut more easily and have a harder time escaping. Distracting yourself will limit rumination and help keep that groove from getting much deeper.
Write down your thoughts.
Writing down your thoughts helps with rumination in several ways. First, it helps you recognize when you’re ruminating, identify your triggers, and distract yourself, as discussed above.
When you write about rumination, you’re automatically enlisting some of your metacognitive awareness. Second, when your mind ruminates, it believes it’s solving a problem, except that it never gets very far.
It just keeps rehearsing the initial steps. Typically, it’s gotten hold of some insight it doesn’t want to forget, so it gets stuck in a loop.
Writing down your thoughts commits them safely to paper so your brain can stop rehearsing it. Writing it down also helps you actually make progress thinking through the problem instead of repeating the first few thoughts.
This helps you process whatever it is you’re ruminating about. If it’s something you’re worried about happening in the future, it can even lead you to some concrete steps that might help you solve the problem and worry less about it.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to expand metacognitive awareness, since it’s essentially a practice of spending 20 or 30 minutes a day just watching thoughts and emotions rise and fall in your mind.
With practice, you learn to avoid getting swept up in your thoughts. Mindfulness meditation also helps moderate activity in the brain’s default mode network, which is active during rumination.
Remember that it takes practice.
Finally, keep in mind that getting rumination under control will take practice and persistent effort. Rumination is a habit, probably one that you’ve been doing for years.
Breaking it for good will probably take months. The good news is that every time you catch yourself ruminating and take some definite action to stop it, you’re also sparing yourself a lot of pointless anxiety and self-criticism. After a while, you will notice rumination gradually diminish.
When you’re recovering from addiction, it’s crucial to look after your mental health. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues are common among people recovering from substance use disorders and they are all conditions highly associated with rumination. Awareness is key, followed by action.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery begins in the mind. That’s why we use cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, and other treatment modalities to help our clients become emotionally resilient. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.
Caring for Your Mental Health During Quarantine
At the moment, Americans and people around the world are currently advised to stay home to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, or the coronavirus. While this is a sensible precaution to protect public health, it may seriously test many people’s mental health, especially anyone with a history of anxiety or depression. No one knows how long the quarantine might last but the current estimate is at least eight weeks. On top of that, people aren’t sure how this virus might affect their jobs or the economy overall.
Then, of course, there is the possibility that you or someone you care about might get sick. Compounding all this uncertainty, we are denied major sources of comfort such as spending time with family and friends, religious and spiritual gatherings, and 12-Step meetings. If the quarantine has got you on edge, here are some suggestions for managing your mental health.
Don’t Obsess Over the News
It’s tempting to spend your day refreshing Twitter or watching cable news, trying to keep up on new developments with the virus. That’s especially true since this is--we hope--a once-in-a-lifetime event. We want to know if we should be doing anything, if there have been new cases or cures, how many cases there are in our area, what the government is doing, and when this whole thing might be over.
However, obsessing over the news, now more than ever, is only going to make you feel worse. While a lot of the media coverage has been uncharacteristically measured, it can still give you the feeling that we’re all living in a disaster movie. Try to limit your news consumption to once a day. Check the CDC website for information and updates, and otherwise keep calm and carry on.
Stay In Touch With Your Therapist
If you’ve had issues with anxiety, depression, or substance use, you may have a regular therapist. You may or may not be able to keep your regular appointments, depending on where you live. Be sure to contact your therapist and make some kind of backup plan. A lot of therapists are now offering HIPAA-compliant video sessions, so that may be an option.
Other people have been doing phone sessions or Skype sessions. If you don’t have a regular therapist or if you can’t get in touch with your therapist and you or someone you care about is feeling overwhelmed, sad, depressed, anxious, or possibly a danger to yourself or others, call 911 or call SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
Since the quarantine feels like something between a sick day and a holiday, you might feel tempted to splurge on junk food. However, it’s important to keep two things in mind. First, this might go on for a while and you don’t want your cheat day eating to become a habit. Second, what you eat has a pretty direct effect on your mental health. This effect appears to be especially strong for depression.
Try to eat meals that are mainly composed of whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and lean meats, especially fish. As much as possible, avoid processed foods, especially processed meats, which are highly inflammatory, sugar, and fried food. If you’re recovering from addiction, it should go without saying that you should avoid alcohol as well.
Try to Get Some Exercise
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your mood and lower stress. It releases mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin as well as BDNF, which grows neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps consolidate memories. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as planning, emotional regulation, foresight, and self-control--all of which are great to have in a crisis.
At the moment, it’s still considered safe to walk, run, or bike outside, since the risk of transmission is low in outdoor environments. There are also plenty of workouts and yoga routines you can do in a small space at home. Check out YouTube for some options that appeal to you.
Reframe How You Think About the Quarantine
The funny thing about the quarantine is that up until a few weeks ago, there seemed to be no end of complaints about how Americans never properly socialize anymore. We all just stay home and play video games and watch Netflix.
When we do go out, we spend all our time looking at our phones. Now that we have to stay home, it seems like a huge burden. Instead of feeling constrained, choose to focus on all the stuff you can do at home. Catch up on reading, cleaning, TV shows, or other projects that you seem to always put off.
Stick to Your Regular Routine as Much as Possible
Part of the stress of being quarantined is that it feels like the whole world has suddenly changed. Change is always a bit stressful, especially changes you can’t control. Part of the solution in this case is to take control of the things you can control and stick to your normal routine as much as you can while still complying with public health recommendations.
Keep getting up at your regular time and taking a shower, even if you don’t have to be anywhere. Eat your regular meals, do the things you normally do, and go to bed at your regular time. If you are recovering from addiction or a mental health issue, there are probably things you normally do at home as part of your recovery plan and there’s no reason why you can’t keep up with those.
Stay in Communication With Friends and Family
We have more ways to communicate than any people in history. Don’t get so much into your reading or binge watching that you don’t keep in touch with friends and family.
Remember, We’re All in the Same Boat
If you’re sitting home alone during the quarantine, it’s easy to feel like you are alone in the world. However, there are millions, perhaps hundreds of millions who are having very similar experiences at the moment. So first, consider that whatever discomfort you’re feeling as a result of the quarantine is a small sacrifice that you’re making willingly to help protect the most vulnerable people in our society.
Second, consider the welfare of other people under quarantine. Approaching the situation with compassion helps you feel less alone and you may think of some small way to help your neighbors too.
You never know what kinds of challenges you may face when recovering from a mental health issue or a substance use disorder. While we typically prepare ourselves to cope with more mundane sorts of stress, the same principles basically apply for outlier events like a pandemic. At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about giving you the skills to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. To learn more about our treatment programs, explore our website or call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What’s the Difference Between CBT and DBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, are both forms of psychotherapy frequently used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Both have been proven effective for treating substance use disorders as well as many commonly co-occurring mental health issues. As the names suggest, CBT and DBT have much in common. In fact, you could say that DBT is a specialized form of CBT. Which is best for you depends on your particular situation. The following is a look at the important differences between CBT and DBT.
CBT Came First
As noted above, DBT is a specialized form of CBT. CBT was developed in the 1960s by psychologist Aaron Beck, based in part on the rational-emotive behavioral therapy, or REBT, of Albert Ellis. Beck was trained as a psychoanalyst but wanted some way of giving his clients more tangible results in less time. The core insight of CBT is that the things that happen to us don’t directly cause our emotions.
Our emotions are a result of our thinking about what happens to us. What’s more, many of our thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions are distorted in such a way that we suffer more than is necessary when things don’t go how we would like. Much of CBT is about identifying and challenging these faulty beliefs and thereby changing our emotional reactions.
Behavior is another important element of CBT. Imagine thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as sides of a triangle. Any change in one has some effect on the others. So, for example, you can change your emotions by changing your thoughts or by changing your behaviors. Therefore, CBT also emphasizes strategies for behavioral change that don’t necessarily require you to feel like doing something. More than anything, CBT represents a fairly large toolkit--skills that therapists can teach their clients to help them better control their emotions and behavior.
DBT Was Developed to Help With Borderline Personality Disorder
DBT was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Marsha Linehan to treat clients with borderline personality disorder, or BPD. BPD is a condition characterized by volatile and intense emotional reactions and frequent relationship problems. For example, someone with BPD might adore a particular friend one day, then feel like that friend has betrayed them--often based on little or no evidence--and switch to hating that person the next day. The friend, understandably, would be confused by this behavior and consequently, close relationships are fraught for someone with BPD. Linehan found that her BPD patients were often resistant to typical CBT.
The main issue was that CBT emphasizes changing challenging emotions by changing faulty thinking. Patients often felt this approach failed to validate their feelings. As a result, Linehan developed an approach to therapy that attempted to balance change and acceptance, and this is where “dialectical” became part of the method. Treatment becomes more of a discussion about which feelings are more valid and which might be constructively altered.
While DBT was originally developed for people with BPD, it has since been adapted for treating other conditions. It has been proven effective for substance use disorders, as well as commonly co-occurring conditions like eating disorders, self-harm, PTSD, and suicidal depression.
DBT Emphasizes Distress Tolerance and Social Skills
In addition to more emphasis on acceptance, DBT also focuses on distress tolerance and social skills. These are particular areas where people with BPD typically struggle the most. CBT focuses on managing challenging emotions by managing thoughts. The volatility and intensity of emotions common in BPD can make this challenging and the patient’s desire for validation may make them less likely to employ cognitive strategies.
Therefore, DBT adds an element of distress tolerance. These are skills include mindfulness and acceptance skills, as well as short-term survival skills like distraction and self-soothing. The idea is that the patient will inevitably feel unpleasant and strong emotions but they can develop the skills to keep them from causing problems in life.
Social skills are another important aspect of DBT. These are typically incidental in CBT. For example, you may have social anxiety resulting from an unfounded belief that others are judging you harshly. Since relationship problems are such a central feature of BPD, it makes sense to give special attention to developing social skills--called interpersonal effectiveness. These include skills like expressing your needs, saying no, and resolving conflict.
DBT Is More Structured
In a way, DBT is more intensive than CBT and it is also more structured--both in terms of time and content. In terms of time, people in DBT typically meet individually with a therapist once a week to work on specific issues and skills. They also have a group session each week, which typically lasts two-and-a-half hours. In between sessions, patients will typically check in with the therapist over the phone.
There are also four specific modules in DBT. Distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness are two of them and have been discussed above. The other two include mindfulness and emotional regulation. Mindfulness is especially helpful in distress tolerance. It emphasizes observing emotions and events nonjudgmentally. Emotional regulation includes skills like recognizing and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotions, and applying distress-tolerance techniques.
DBT Has a Group Component
As noted above, DBT typically includes both individual and group therapy. CBT can be used with either or both but doesn’t specifically incorporate both. The purpose of including group sessions in DBT is to give patients an opportunity to practice their new interpersonal and emotional regulation skills in a safe, supervised environment.
Neither CBT nor DBT is necessarily better than the other. It really depends on your specific needs. If you do struggle with borderline personality disorder, major depression, an eating disorder, or PTSD, it’s likely you will need DBT. Each of these conditions carries a very high risk of a co-occurring substance use disorder and if you have both, you need treatment for both. Substance use and mental health issues each make the other worse so it’s crucial to treat them in an integrated way. At The Foundry, we know that everyone seeking help for a substance use disorder has different needs. We offer many options for individualized treatment, including CBT and DBT. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
6 Common Thinking Errors that Worsen Anxiety
Anxiety is a common problem for anyone struggling with or recovering from addiction. The National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions surveyed more than 43,000 people and found that among people who had experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, about 15 percent had at least one substance use disorder--about twice the rate of addiction as in the general population. And that didn’t include post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is an even greater risk factor for substance use than generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder.
At the moment, most of us in the US and elsewhere are under lockdown to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. If you are already struggling with anxiety, this only adds to the challenge, compounding uncertainty with boredom and isolation. Unfortunately, our own thinking is typically the biggest source of anxiety. The following errors in thinking may be making you more anxious than you need to be.
Trying to Eliminate Anxiety
The first thing to realize is that anxiety is a normal and useful emotion. You can’t eliminate it entirely, nor would you want to. Anxiety alerts us to danger and spurs us to prepare for upcoming challenges. People who never felt anxious left the gene pool a long time ago, which is why everyone feels anxious occasionally and as many as 30 percent of American adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Trying to eliminate or avoid anxiety, ironically, just ends up making you more anxious. What does make sense is to think about anxiety--and things that make you anxious--rationally. When you do feel anxious, recognize that it’s just the ancient parts of your brain trying to protect you. Accept your anxiety for what it is--a feeling, a sort of warning signal. Then, try to figure out if the thing you are anxious about is really a threat or if you’re making it worse with faulty thinking.
Jumping to Conclusions or Predicting the Future
Worrying about the future is always an issue for people with anxiety issues because the core thinking of anxiety is always something along the lines of “Something awful is going to happen and I won’t be able to do anything about it.” At the moment, that kind of worry is both more concrete and widespread than normal. Right now, a lot of people have the same few worries--will they be able to keep working?
How long can they go without income? How long will we be quarantined? Will I or someone I care about catch the virus? And so on. It’s likely that most of us will face a challenge on one or more of these fronts but attempting to predict the future only makes you worry unnecessarily. No one knows what’s going to happen but when you think about it, the same has been true every day of your life.
When you have trouble with anxiety, you tend to imagine the worst possible outcome and assume that it is inevitable. In reality, the future is fundamentally unpredictable. All we can do is make sensible preparations right now and trust that we will find ways to meet challenges in the future.
Should thoughts come from a belief that you, other people, or the world should be different somehow and that it’s awful that they aren’t. When you apply should thoughts to yourself, the result is often depression, whereas applying should thoughts to other people and the world tends to increase stress, anger, and anxiety.
So, at the moment, a lot of people are thinking this quarantine is unfair, that they should be able to go to work, go out with friends, play sports, and so on. However, should is just a wall for you to beat your head against. It would be lovely if the world and other people conformed to our wishes but most of the time they don’t. Insisting they should, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, only makes you more miserable.
Black-and-white thinking, sometimes called all-or-nothing thinking, is the idea that if an outcome isn’t exactly what you want, you shouldn’t bother. This is also sometimes called letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
There are many ways black-and-white thinking can lead to anxiety. In our current situation, if you’re trying to figure out how to cope with being under quarantine, you may not bother with measures that can make you feel better if they aren’t perfect solutions. For example, many people have started doing therapy sessions and 12-Step meetings over Zoom and other online platforms. These are clearly not as good as in-person meetings, but they are considerably better than nothing.
Mental filtering is the habit of only seeing the bad things that happen. It’s a special case of the larger phenomenon of confirmation bias, which is when you only look for evidence that supports your current beliefs. When you do mental filtering, you’re only seeing evidence that supports your belief that something bad is going to happen or is already happening.
In times of crisis, it’s far too easy to focus on the negative, especially now, since all we see on the news is the rising death toll and the shortage of medical supplies to treat new patients. However, if you look for them, there are positive things too. As Mr. Rogers said, look for the helpers.
In addition to medical workers and people supplying critical goods and services, there are a lot of communities coming together to help each other and find ways to adapt. If you’re stuck at home, it might be a great opportunity to read, make art, or learn new skills.
Emotional reasoning is the belief that something is true because it feels true. It’s easy to fall into this trap when thinking about the future because ultimately, we don’t have much evidence to rely on. The central belief of anxiety--“Something bad is going to happen and I can’t do anything about it”--relies entirely on emotional reasoning. In reality, no one knows what’s going to happen; everything is a guess.
However, you may be able to refute the second part to some extent. Most of us have survived trying experiences. One thing you can do is to look back on those times and think, “If I made it through that, I can make it through this other thing I’m worried about--if it even happens.”
Anxiety is a common challenge for people recovering from addiction and right now is an especially trying time. Anxiety is normal and healthy, but our thinking often makes anxiety far worse than it needs to be. Learning to identify and change this faulty thinking is one of the main priorities of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. It can be very hard to recognize your distorted thinking on your own and a good therapist will speed up the process. At The Foundry, we use CBT, DBT, and several other evidence-based methods to help our clients recover from substance use and co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
When Should You Consider Changing Therapists?
Therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment and most people will continue therapy, at least intermittently, throughout recovery. In an ideal situation, your therapist is your partner in mental health.
You work together to figure out what’s not working in your life and what to do about it. However, as with any relationship, your relationship with your therapist might not be very good or it may start out good and later fall apart. Here are some times you should consider finding a new therapist.
Obviously, if you’re moving, you may have to find a new therapist. Consistency is important in therapy and if you have to drive an hour or more to appointments, it will probably wear you down eventually. However, geography is becoming less of a barrier to treatment these days.
Many therapists were already expanding to remote sessions and that number has probably increased dramatically, since, at the moment, we’re all under quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So if you like your therapist and you’re moving, see if remote therapy is an option. Otherwise, consider asking your therapist for a recommendation for someone who can see you remotely or who works in the area you’re moving to.
Unprofessional conduct is definitely a sign you should consider switching therapists. It depends to some extent on how bad the conduct is. For example, breaching confidentiality or making sexual advances should make you dump your therapist right away. These behaviors are pretty rare, given that the vast majority of therapists genuinely want to help people and they depend greatly on their professional reputation.
Other forms of unprofessional conduct might include missing appointments, showing up late, or canceling appointments last minute. Sometimes these things are unavoidable, so it shouldn’t be considered unprofessional unless it becomes a pattern. Behaviors, like looking at their phone during your session, eating, or otherwise not paying attention, are also not encouraging. If you generally like your therapist but you’re bothered by these behaviors, it might be worth a discussion before moving on to someone else.
You Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress
You may get to the point in therapy where you feel like you’re not making any progress. Ideally, you will have set out some goals for therapy and some benchmarks so you can tell how you’re progressing, so it should be fairly obvious when you’re stuck. Another way you can tell you're stuck is if you feel like every session is the same.
You come in and complain about the same things for 50 minutes, then leave and nothing seems to change. Therapy can start to feel like a chore if you’re not getting anything out of it. If this happens, discuss it with your therapist. Perhaps you can change strategies or re-examine your goals.
Your Needs Change
Sometimes people find that they make a lot of progress in therapy at first and then somehow they get stuck. This is often because your needs change as you go. For example, maybe when you first started in therapy, your biggest challenge was coping with drug and alcohol cravings but as you got those under control, you found the biggest problem in your life was your relationships.
Yet your therapist keeps focusing on managing cravings and so you feel bored and stuck. Typically, your therapist will check in from time to time and make sure your needs are being met, but they are not mind readers. If your goals have shifted, you need to let them know. Usually, you will be able to refocus and work on your new priorities.
However, therapists, like everyone else, are better at some things than others. It’s possible your therapist was great at helping you deal with cravings but not so good at helping you improve your relationships. If that turns out to be the case, it may be time to look for a therapist whose strengths better match your needs.
You Feel Like You Can’t Speak Freely
If there’s one thing that’s essential in a therapist-client relationship, it’s that you should be able to speak freely. This is why confidentiality is so critical. You can’t be worried about whether your therapist is going to testify against you in court or blab all your secrets to their barber if you’re going to share what’s really bothering you.
However, confidentiality isn’t the whole issue. If you feel like your therapist is judgmental or critical, it can be just as hard to speak openly, as if doubting their discretion.One skill every therapist should have is non-judgmental listening. As a client, you should feel heard and validated.
That doesn’t mean your therapist has to approve of everything you say or do, just that you shouldn’t be made to feel like a bad person. However, we all have our prejudices and sore spots. It’s not always possible for your therapist to refrain from judgment. If you raise the issue and it doesn’t improve, it might indicate that your therapist isn’t the best person to help you with your particular issues.
Your Therapist Has Boundary Issues
Healthy boundaries means you protect what’s important to you and you respect what’s important to others. A good therapist might give you suggestions but they shouldn’t try to control you, tell you what to do, or otherwise violate your autonomy.
Nor should they be too familiar. While you should feel like you can be open with your therapist, your therapist is not your friend. If they share too much about their personal life or try to have a relationship outside of therapy, it signals a lack of boundaries and you may want to find someone else.
It’s important to keep in mind that it can take a little while for a therapeutic relationship to develop. It may take several months for you to feel comfortable opening up and it may take that long for your therapist to get a clear picture of your background and needs. For those reasons, it’s always better to talk it over first if you are not happy with the way therapy is going. It’s usually better to fix a problem if it can be fixed rather than start over with someone new. However, some problems just can’t be fixed, at which point, you should just move on. At The Foundry, we know that mental health is a key aspect of a strong recovery and we use evidence-based methods to treat substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
8 Tips for Dealing With Anger When You’re Sober
Emotional regulation is one of the key skills to learn when recovering from addiction and anger is one of the most challenging emotions to regulate. Anger can come on quickly and feel overwhelming. It can lead to rash decisions, arguments, strained or broken relationships, or even accidents.
If you tend to repress your anger, you can avoid some of the consequences of anger but you may have other problems instead, including depression, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and more frequent illnesses. Whether you more often lose your temper or stuff it down, dealing with anger in the wrong ways can damage your health, your well-being, and your recovery from addiction. The following are tips for dealing with anger in a healthier way.
Know What Anger Is
First, it’s important to understand that anger, like all emotions, is not inherently bad and is useful in some situations. Fundamentally, anger is a response to a threat. In the simplest situation, someone attacks you physically, you get angry and fight back, and they leave you alone.
However, these days, anger is rarely the result of a direct physical threat. It’s the result of disagreements, obligations, criticism, unfair situations, and other kinds of frustration, most of which won’t respond to physical threats. As a result, unresolved anger becomes a kind of chronic stress. Resolving it is largely a matter of identifying the perceived threat and finding an appropriate solution.
Know Your Own Tendencies
As noted above, people tend to inappropriately respond to anger either by exploding or suppressing, neither of which is typically helpful. It’s important to be aware of which behavior is more typical for you. If you explode, you probably know it, but you may not be as aware of suppressed anger, especially if it’s a habit you formed in childhood. Depression, resentment, and chronic pain often involve an element of suppressed anger.
It’s also important to know what kinds of things make you angry--your triggers. Often, anger involves some combination of stress and insecurity. For example, if you’re under a lot of stress at work, you may be more likely to lose your temper with your spouse, especially in some area you already feel insecure about.
Learn to Pause
The first skill to master when it comes to managing anger is the pause. This means that when you are aware of becoming angry, you give yourself some time before responding. This isn’t suppression; it’s just collecting yourself so you don’t say or do anything to make the situation worse.
It often helps to have a go-to technique. Maybe you count down from 10 or take five slow, deep breaths. After the first wave of anger passes, you should be able to think a little more clearly and employ an appropriate strategy.
Learning to relax has two important benefits for managing anger. First, it lowers your baseline. We all have a certain set point that is partly physiological. Also, stress tends to accumulate. If you practice relaxing every day, you shake off some of your accumulated stress and you gradually lower your set point for anger. Typically, relaxation will involve some deliberate routine, such as progressive relaxation, where you focus on each body individually and let it relax.
Or you may use some kind of visualization or some kind of breathing exercise. The second benefit of practicing relaxation daily is that you are better able to relax when you feel yourself getting angry. It’s easy to get swept away with anger, so practice is key when you need to relax under pressure.
Mindfulness meditation is a great practice for managing anger because it combines the relaxation and awareness of your own tendencies discussed above. Mindfulness meditation is just spending a few minutes every day keeping your awareness in the present moment, nonjudgmentally observing any sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise. After practicing this for a few weeks, you’ll be more aware of the relationships between your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
You will also be able to use your mindfulness skills in the moment to manage your anger. For example, when you pause, you can watch the progression of anger without getting swept away by it. You can feel the physical sensations, such as your face getting hot, your throat getting tense, and so on. You can also notice what thoughts are associated with your anger, which brings us to the next point.
Watch Your Thoughts
As noted above, these days, we rarely experience anger as the result of a direct physical threat. Our anger is mostly a result of our thoughts and beliefs about a situation. Anger is typically caused by frustration, which is often associated with assumptions about how the world should be, “That guy should be more considerate,” “This process should be more efficient,” “That policy should be fairer,” and so on.
And maybe some of those things are true, but we have to take the world as we find it. Another common distortion is jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst possible outcome. That feels threatening, which can lead to anger, but in reality, the worst possible outcome rarely happens.
Improve Your Communication
Sometimes anger does actually signal that something needs to change. This is the kind of situation in which you want to express your anger but in the most constructive way possible. To do that, you typically need to pause and collect yourself before moving forward.
The next step is to communicate clearly. That means understanding what you want from a situation as well as being willing to listen to the other person. Communication is a huge topic but start by listening with an open mind and communicating your needs without accusing or condemning the other person.
Work on Solutions
Finally, not all anger is the result of direct interpersonal conflict. Forgetting your password can be just as enraging as being slapped in the face, but smashing your computer on the desk will only make you feel better for about three seconds. Instead, allow yourself to calm down and start working on a solution. Think of it as an opportunity to practice frustration tolerance, the core skill in managing anger. Pause as often as you need to but keep working steadily toward a solution.
Anger is a common problem and the nature of anger makes it a difficult problem to solve. It takes practice and it may take therapy as well. The good news is that anger appears to respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, the most commonly used form of therapy today. Medication will also be part of therapy for some people with anger issues.
At The Foundry, we know that emotional regulation—including anger—is one of the most important aspects of addiction recovery. We use a number of proven methods to help you live a richer, more fulfilling emotional life, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, trauma therapy, mindfulness meditation, and more. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
8 Tips for Cultivating Compassion in Addiction Recovery
Compassion is simply feeling someone else’s pain and sincerely wishing to relieve it. In a previous post, we looked at how compassion benefits addiction recovery. Compassion allows you to forgive yourself for your past mistakes and form stronger bonds with other people. Perhaps most importantly, greater compassion leads to greater happiness.
Concern for helping others rescues you from your own fear and rumination and gives you a sense of purpose. However, you may not know how to be more compassionate, or even if that’s possible. We all know people who seem like they were born to watch out for other people, whether they’re first responders or preschool teachers.
You may think, “That’s just not me.” However, we’re all more adaptable than we believe. With persistent effort, you can become more compassionate and enjoy the benefits that come with it. Here’s how.
Keep an Open Mind
For some people, the benefits of compassion are obvious but others may be more skeptical. They may see kindness and compassion as forms of weakness, believing self-reliance is the only true form of strength. The good news is that you don’t have to flip the compassion switch forever.
You can try it out and see how you like it. Like most things, it takes a bit of work to make compassion a habit but you can try out compassionate thoughts and behaviors without too much effort.
Most of the time, when we resist the idea of compassion, it’s because we feel like no one has done much for us, so why is it our responsibility to help others? However, no one makes it very far in life without help. We’re born helpless, so if you’re alive, someone had to keep you alive for at least a little while.
Other people have helped you along the way, whether you realize it or not. The first big step toward being more compassionate is understanding and feeling grateful for the help we’ve received, even if it was small.
You can easily cultivate gratitude in two ways. First, keep a gratitude journal. Every day, just write down three things that you were grateful for that day. Eventually, you will start noticing things as they happen and feeling more grateful.
Second, write a gratitude letter to someone describing what they did for you and what it meant to you. Then you can deliver the letter if you want. These practices are not only the foundation for compassion, but they have also been shown to make you feel happier and more optimistic.
Start With Compassion for Yourself
When developing compassion, it’s typically easiest to start with yourself. Even if you don’t like yourself very much, at least you genuinely desire your own happiness. Many people struggle with guilt and shame as they try to recover from addiction and developing self-compassion will definitely help with that.
When you think about the mistakes you’ve made, try to have compassion for your past self. Imagine you’re talking to a close friend and trying to support them. It’s also important to have compassion for your future self. Compassion for your future self can give you the motivation to do the hard things now that will benefit you in the future.
Empathy is about half of compassion. If you are going to feel compassion for someone, you have to understand what they’re going through. The best way to do that is to listen. Give others your full attention and listen without judgment. Reflect back what they’ve said and try to put yourself in their place. Ask, “What was that like?”
Try to Stay Present
Staying present is an often overlooked aspect of compassion. If you’re ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, you are necessarily stuck in your own head, and most likely worrying about your own problems. You’re not paying attention to the people around you. Compassion really only happens in the moment, when you become aware that someone else is having trouble.
You have to be present to listen too. One trick you can use to stay mentally present is to think about your feet. Your feet have a high density of nerve endings, yet we rarely pay attention to those sensations. Doing that will instantly bring your attention into the present.
Set Aside Judgments
We make quick judgments all the time and most of the time, we’re trying to answer the question, “Is this useful to me?” as quickly as possible. The problem is that applying these judgments to other people is basically the opposite of compassion.
Once you can stick a label on a person and put them in a box, you don’t have to think about them anymore. Try to be aware of when you're making judgments about people--including yourself--and pause before you do it. Instead of thinking, “they’re this or that kind of person,” just try to see them as they are.
Look for Commonalities
Whereas judgments oversimplify people for easy categorization, looking for common ground builds a bridge. You start to think about what it might be like to be that person. If you don’t know someone well or at all, you can start with some fairly universal assumptions, like that they want to be happy, they want to feel appreciated, they want to be free of pain, and so on, the same as you. Even if they seek these things in a very different way, you will have some points from which to build empathy.
Try Metta Meditation
Metta means something like loving-kindness and it comes from a Buddhist meditation practice. The idea is simple. It’s almost like lifting weights for compassion. You start with something relatively easy: feeling compassion for yourself. You direct a few positive thoughts towards yourself, something like, “May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be healthy,” and so on. When you feel a genuine sense of compassion for yourself, just allow yourself to rest with that feeling for a few minutes.
Then, move on to someone close to you, perhaps a relative or your best friend, and do the same thing. Then, move on to a stranger, and finally a challenging person. You don’t have to do all this at once. You can work up to it over the course of weeks or months if you have to. The key is to challenge yourself to feel genuine concern for people you aren’t really close to or that you may even dislike. This is incredibly hard for most people, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it right away.
Developing a greater sense of compassion is one of the best ways to strengthen your recovery because it makes you feel happier and more connected to others. Cultivating compassion is mainly a matter of intention and persistence. Remind yourself daily that you’re going to listen to others, try to understand what they’re experiencing, and try to be kind.
At The Foundry, we know that connection is one of the most important things in recovery. It makes you feel happier and gives you a sense of purpose and belonging. That’s why we promote a sense of community in our treatment program through group and family therapy, group activities, mindfulness meditation, and other methods. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
7 Easy Grounding Techniques to Help You Manage Anxiety
Anxiety is a common problem for people with substance use disorders. Research shows that nearly 18 percent of people with substance use disorders also have an anxiety disorder. And that doesn’t include PTSD, which other research suggests may affect up to half of people with substance use issues. Often, substance use begins as a way to cope with anxiety, and learning to cope with anxiety will be a top priority for anyone recovering from addiction.
Even if you don’t have a particular problem with anxiety, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by ruminating over past mistakes or getting too caught up in worries about the future. There’s a good reason “One day at a time” is so often repeated in AA meetings. Whether you are prone to anxiety or just feeling overwhelmed by the idea of staying sober forever, the following grounding techniques can bring you back into the present moment and help you calm down. They aren’t a replacement for therapy but they can help you out in a pinch.
The crux of any grounding technique is that it takes your attention away from the thoughts and sensations that are causing anxiety and focuses it on something immediate and positive, or at least neutral. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a systematic way of bringing your attention to sensory input. You start by naming five things you can see around you, then four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Take a moment and fully experience each item. This isn’t just a checklist; it’s also a mindfulness exercise, so try to make the most of it. If you don’t have time for the whole exercise, you can pick one of the senses and briefly bring your attention to that.
Deep breathing is an excellent way to calm down. First, it’s something that’s always happening in the present moment and you can bring your attention to the sensations of breathing. Second, you can actually slow your heart rate by slowing your breathing.
When you’re anxious, your sympathetic nervous system is overactive, which often creates a positive feedback loop, making you even more anxious. You can interrupt that by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
When you breathe deeply, and particularly when you exhale slowly, you stimulate your vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic system. Any regular deep breathing with a focus on a long exhale will calm you down but research suggests that about six breaths a minute is the ideal pace to promote a sense of wellbeing.
A body scan is like an expanded version of “things you can feel” from the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Close your eyes and put your attention at the top of your head, noticing any sensations there--an itch, tension, a slight breeze, warmth from the sun, and so on. Next, move down to your face and do the same thing.
Systematically move downward, feeling both internal and external sensations in every part of your body until you reach the bottoms of your feet. Again, this brings you into the present moment and it also serves as a mindfulness exercise.
You will probably feel physical sensations related to anxiety, such as tension in your face or neck, constriction in your chest, or a lump in your stomach. See if you can observe these sensations without judgment. Just be with them for a moment before moving on.
Think About Your Feet
If you don’t have time to do a whole-body scan, a short cut you can use is to just bring your attention to your feet. There are two main reasons this works. First, your feet have a density of neurons similar to your hands and face but we typically don’t think about them unless they hurt.
Therefore, they can be a source of new sensations--weight, heat, shoes, and so on. Second, they are at the far end of your body, so you will peripherally notice more body sensations by noticing your feet.
Count Down or Up
Another way to divert your attention from anxiety-inducing thoughts and sensations is to give yourself a mental task that demands a bit of focus. It can really be anything--remembering the US presidents in order, retracing your route home from school in your mind, reciting a favorite poem from memory, and so on.
One handy task that anyone can do is to count down or up by some awkward number. Seven typically works pretty well. So, for example, you might count down from 100 by sevens. That’s usually challenging enough that you have to focus on it but not so challenging that you’ll give up quickly.
Imagine a Safe Place
Another way to occupy your attention is to use visualization. Visualizing something clearly is both cognitively demanding and it can have a powerful effect on your state of mind. If you’re prone to anxiety, visualizing a safe, calming place can be a powerful way to ground yourself.
What you imagine depends on you. You might think of your childhood room, a warm beach, a cozy cabin with a fire, anywhere that makes you feel safe. If it’s a real place that you know well, you can mentally look around the place and involve your other senses to make the experience more real.
Go for a Walk
Finally, getting a bit of exercise is a great way to ground yourself and boost your mood. You don’t have to do a serious workout; usually, just walking for a while is enough. The great thing about exercise is that you don’t really have to try to change your thoughts or your focus. You can continue worrying as you walk, but eventually, you will just start to feel better and worry less. Whereas other grounding techniques work by changing your focus, exercise works mostly by changing your physiology and a bit by changing your focus too.
Grounding techniques are a great way to deal with anxiety in the moment. As noted, it’s not a replacement for therapy. Anxiety disorders are serious mental health issues and shouldn’t be dismissed as just worrying too much. If you try to recover from addiction without treating anxiety, you’re in for an uphill battle. However, finding one or two grounding techniques that work for you and practicing them regularly can go a long way.
At The Foundry, we know that addiction is often just one part of a larger issue. We use a variety of proven methods to help clients overcome common co-occurring mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, trauma, depression, and others. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
4 Ways to Be More Conscientious
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an addictive personality. Substance use disorders afflict the outgoing and the shy, the kind and the mean, the curious and the conservative. However, there is one personality pattern that research shows is more common among people with substance use disorders: high neuroticism and low conscientiousness. These are two of the big five personality traits most commonly used by psychologists, the other traits being extraversion, openness, and agreeableness.
Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions and it’s highly correlated with mental health challenges and substance use issues.
Conscientiousness involves things like being goal-oriented, organized, responsible, and law-abiding. Even people who are high in neuroticism are less prone to substance use issues if they are also high in conscientiousness.
As fundamental personality traits, these are both slow to change, but since conscientiousness is the trait most directly related to behavior, it’s the trait you have the most control over. The following tips can help you be more conscientious and thus strengthen your recovery from addiction.
Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
If you’re a creative person, a non-conformist who likes to find your own way, you no doubt hear things like “law-abiding, organized, achievement-oriented,” and so on and think, “No thanks.” You may imagine turning into some kind of conformist, validation-seeking automaton. That belief can be a major barrier to positive change.
Don’t worry, no matter how hard you try, that will never be you. In being more conscientious, we’re not talking about overhauling your personality; we’re talking about turning up one particular dial from about two to about four. The idea is to boost your conscientiousness just enough that you’re not so vulnerable to your own destructive impulses.
Get Clear on Your Priorities
One major characteristic of conscientious people is that they’re highly organized. They have a schedule and a to-do list and they stick to them. If you’re currently low on conscientiousness, you probably won’t have much luck trying to jump straight to a schedule broken down into 15 or 30-minute blocks. Instead, start by organizing your day according to your priorities.
Each day, or even the night before, identify the things you must accomplish and then prioritize them. So maybe you have a 12-step meeting, a therapy session, and work as your top three. There are probably some other things you could do, and perhaps some things you want to do and you may get to those or you may not.
Before you do anything else, schedule your priorities and work everything else in around them. That way, you won’t get distracted by “urgent” things that won’t really improve your quality of life.
Set Relevant Goals
Another common characteristic of the highly conscientious is that they are goal-oriented. Setting goals and working toward them consistently is often difficult for the conscientiously challenged. Goals feel constrictive. You have to work on them even when you don’t feel like it and besides that, you may set a goal today that you don’t care about tomorrow. Sometimes just setting a goal ignites a determination deep within you to do the exact opposite. So how do you deal with it?
One solution is to set process goals. Instead of setting a goal that’s SMART--specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound--identify the direction you want to go and work on developing behaviors that take you in that direction. For example, if you want to be a rockstar, make sure you practice your instrument at least 30 minutes every day. If you want to stay sober, identify the behaviors that will lead to that result, and make them part of your life.
It’s especially helpful if you can associate your long-term goals with your core values. For example, “I want to stay sober because I care about my family’s happiness.” Then, whenever you have a decision to make, you can ask yourself, “Does this take me closer or farther from my goals and values?” If it takes you closer, then go for it.
Create a Healthy Routine
Related to the points above, creating a healthy routine will significantly boost your conscientiousness. Routines have two major advantages: First, any routine, even a terrible one, will reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty is a major source of stress and anxiety in life and if you kind of know what to expect from day-to-day, you manage those feelings a little more easily.
Second, a healthy routine is an easy way to automate healthy behaviors. Instead of having to decide all the time if you’re going to have a healthy breakfast, if you’re going to exercise, if you’re going to attend your 12-step meeting and so on, you make them regular parts of your day so that you just sort of do them on autopilot. You don’t have to exert much willpower once those routines are set.
Creating a healthy routine is another challenge altogether. Start with your top priorities for the day, as noted above. If you’re recovering from addiction, these should be elements from your recovery plan. You may already have a head start on some of them if you’ve completed an inpatient treatment program. Otherwise, start with one or two anchor points.
For example, you might get up at the same time every day and you might go to a 12-step meeting at the same time every day. Then you can start building other things around these two. So maybe you get up and exercise right away, perhaps walking for a few minutes until you’ve formed a solid habit. Then start adding other elements directly following previously established anchors. The idea is that you want to go from one thing to the next, like stepping stones.
Since conscientiousness is a personality trait, it is slow to change. While a low-conscientiousness person will never magically turn into the most goal-oriented, focused, and responsible person around, they can gain more control over their lives. The keys are to keep your values in mind and make consistent efforts. You will also have a bit of a tailwind since conscientiousness tends to increase slightly with age.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction isn’t just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but rather about making the kinds of changes that allow you to take charge of your own life and live in a more connected, meaningful way. That’s why our holistic program focuses on growth in every area of life. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Cope with Shame?
Most people with a substance use disorder know about shame. It may be the central feature of their emotional lives. If you struggle with substance use, you likely feel shame on several levels. There may be shame resulting from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, whether as a child or as an adult. Research continually shows that abuse, trauma, and PTSD are incredibly common among people with substance use disorders. Many people carry shame from those situations, even though they weren’t to blame.
Substance use disorders can also lead to shame in themselves. Addiction can override your moral judgment to the point where you’re willing to manipulate or deceive your loved ones to get what you want. You may act impulsively and recklessly while drunk or high, causing harm to yourself and others.
You may feel shame because of the stigma of substance use and you may feel shame about having to ask for help. Shame is common and it’s also one of the most corrosive emotions. Like any wound kept hidden, it only gets worse with time. The following are some suggestions for coping with and healing shame.
The first step in dealing with shame is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. It’s not always obvious that what you’re feeling is shame. Sometimes you experience it as anger, irritability, defensiveness, procrastination, or depression. It may take some introspection to realize shame is behind some persistent challenging emotions. You can dig down into these emotions by asking why. Why do you get angry when a loved one suggests you talk to a therapist? Why do you get defensive when certain topics are raised?
Shame likes to hide. There’s a good reason people often say after telling an embarrassing story, “I wanted to crawl in a hole.” You want to protect yourself from those who would deride you. Unfortunately, when you feel shame, you are the one deriding yourself and so shame takes on different forms.
Observe Shame Nonjudgmentally
When you are able to identify shame, try observing it without judgment. This can be incredibly hard because no one likes how it feels. Your natural reflex is to push it away or think of something else. However, that only makes the feeling stronger because you continue to fear it. Instead, allow yourself to feel it. Where do you feel it in your body? Does it feel like fear? Disgust? What thoughts are associated with it? Make sure you’re not feeding the shame with self-criticism; just experience it as it is.
Is It Shame or Guilt?
It’s also important to distinguish shame from guilt. Guilt is a useful emotion. It’s our conscience letting us know we’ve let ourselves down in some way. Feeling guilt prods us into fixing our mistakes and improving our behavior. The important distinction is that guilt applies to our actions and shame applies to our inherent value.
When you make a mistake, perhaps you’ve made a rude comment to a friend, guilt says, “That was badly done; I’ll have to apologize and be more careful in the future,” but shame says, “I’m a horrible person and I’m always going around hurting people.”
The irony is that shame actually makes you less able to improve your behavior. It implies that you’re permanently, inherently bad, rather than affirming that you’re capable of growth. If there is something you feel ashamed of, something you perhaps did as a result of addiction, try transferring it to the guilt category.
For example, instead of thinking “I’m an awful person for stealing from my parents,” change it to “It was wrong to steal from my parents and I’m determined never to do that kind of thing again.”
Is It Something Else?
Shame has other functions as well. For example, an overt display of shame can signal remorse to the people around you. If you’re beating yourself up, they feel more inclined to let you off the hook. In this case, shame performs a social function, preserving your connection to the community after you’ve done something bad. Of course, after a certain point, this no longer helps.
Shame may also be a way of keeping yourself stuck. You may feel like you don’t deserve to be happy because you’re so rotten. Conveniently, this also spares you the effort of trying to make positive changes in your life. After all, you can’t fail if you don’t try. The thought of failure or really any kind of change may be so frightening that even living with shame seems preferable.
Develop Compassion for Yourself
To move past shame, start by developing some compassion for yourself. We are often much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. In fact, if we treated others the way we treat ourselves, we’d probably be ostracized or locked up.
When you have identified some source of shame, take a step back and try to regard yourself the way you would a friend. Imagine a friend telling you they were ashamed of whatever it was that you did, or whatever happened to you. Imagine reacting with compassion, knowing that although your friend isn’t perfect, they deserve to be happy. Try extending that same feeling to yourself.
Try Opening Up
Finally, try opening up about shame. This is what really allows you to heal. As noted above, shame wants to hide but that only makes it worse. If you don’t yet feel like you can open up to someone you trust and care about, consider opening up in therapy.
Your therapist has probably heard it all and anything you say is confidential by law. Often, just saying it out loud to someone helps, but your therapist can also help you work through your feelings. Group therapy is also a great place to open up because you will probably discover that some other members of the group have had similar experiences and you will no longer feel alone.
If you’re not quite ready to talk about your feelings of shame with anyone, try writing about them. Just acknowledging them and exploring them in some detail will probably make you feel better, and perhaps prepare you to discuss it with a therapist.
Shame is a destructive emotion because it convinces us that we’re bad, that we’re weak, that we’re unlovable, and that we don’t deserve anything good in life. The good news is that shame can’t live in the daylight. The more you are able to acknowledge and share feelings of shame in appropriate circumstances, the less it will control your life.
At The Foundry, we know that trauma and shame are often at the core of a substance use disorder. That’s why our program focuses on treating trauma with proven methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, EMDR, mindfulness meditation, trauma-informed yoga, and other methods. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Manage Anxiety in Addiction Recovery?
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the world and it often goes with addiction. The National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a survey of more than 43,000 people, found that 15 percent of people who experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year had at least one co-occurring substance use disorder--more than twice the prevalence of substance use disorders in the general population.
Conversely, nearly 18 percent of people with a substance use disorder in the past year also had an anxiety disorder. As with any mental health issue, treating anxiety concurrently with addiction is crucial for staying sober long-term, as is taking care of your mental health. The following tips can help you manage anxiety while recovering from a substance use disorder.
Anxiety is the mental health issue most likely to be dismissed as no big deal. People might just tell you to relax or calm down or you might even tell yourself that. However, an anxiety disorder isn’t just a matter of being nervous. It often has a physiological component and sometimes requires medication. Often, anxiety has roots in childhood environment or dysfunctional belief patterns and you need help fixing the problem. The following tips are meant to augment therapy, not replace it.
Don’t Avoid Anxiety
When you’re prone to anxiety, your natural tendency is to avoid situations where you might feel anxious. This is particularly true of people who experience panic attacks. Unfortunately, this strategy only shrinks your sphere of comfort to the point where you might be afraid to even leave the house. As hard as it may be, the thing to do is intentionally expose yourself to things that make you anxious in a graduated way.
It’s like doing a workout for your ability to handle anxiety. Your therapist can help you create a plan for doing this in a structured way but you can also look for opportunities to engage in activities that might make you anxious but not too anxious.
In the short term, deep breathing is one of the best ways to manage anxiety. There are two reasons it helps. First, focusing on your breathing brings your attention into the present moment, to the sensations you feel when you breathe. You’re not focused on the future or whatever thoughts are making you anxious. Second, taking slow, deep breaths is physiologically calming.
In particular, the long, slow exhale stimulates your vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic--or “rest and digest”--nervous system. Although any slow, controlled breathing will calm you down, research suggests that taking six breaths per minute, or one full breath every 10 seconds, helps synchronize respiratory and cardiac rhythms, optimizing calmness and wellbeing.
As noted above, one of the ways deep breathing helps calm you down is that paying attention to the sensations of the breath grounds you in the present moment. You can use this principle with pretty much any sensation though. For example, you can pay attention to just the sensations in your feet or just pay attention to ambient sounds. You can go through all the senses systematically. The more you engage with your immediate environment, the less you worry about the future.
Exercise is great for addiction recovery in at least a dozen ways. High among those is that it helps reduce stress and anxiety. There are a number of ways exercise helps accomplish this. It increases levels of endorphins in the brain, as well as the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain and creates structural changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, or HPA, axis, which is connected to areas of the brain involved with identifying threats and fear.
These structural changes make your brain less reactive to stress and anxiety. Research suggests that 20 or 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise each day is ideal for improving mental health, but really, any exercise should provide some benefit.
Get Enough Sleep
As with exercise, there are plenty of reasons to get enough sleep in addiction recovery and in life, generally. A major reason for anyone with anxiety issues is that too little sleep worsens anxiety. We’ve long known that anxiety leads to insomnia, but it appears the reverse is also true. Research suggests that sleep deprivation leads to more symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
One study suggests this is because sleep deprivation leads to maladaptive activity in the brain’s anticipatory responses, leading to more rumination and worry. Sleep deprivation also weakens the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which acts as a brake on anxiety. Therefore, it’s crucial to sleep at least eight hours a night. If you have problems with insomnia, talk to your doctor or therapist.
Cut Down on Caffeine
Current research suggests that, on the whole, moderate consumption of tea or coffee isn’t bad for you and it might even have some mild health benefits. However, if you have problems with anxiety, it might be a good idea to cut down on caffeine. The physiological effects of caffeine are identical to those of anxiety.
Even if a few cups of coffee don’t directly lead to an anxiety or panic attack, they raise your baseline of arousal, making you more vulnerable to stress. Furthermore, caffeine has a half-life of between four and six hours, so even if you cut off your coffee at noon, you might still have a lot of caffeine in your system at bedtime. This may keep you awake and cause you to sleep less deeply when you do fall asleep. As discussed above, insomnia and sleep deprivation significantly increase symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety issues can be challenging to deal with because they are rooted in our primitive survival instincts. They often don’t respond to reason, which can be terribly frustrating. Overcoming and managing anxiety starts with a good therapist. After that, it’s a matter of challenging yourself to get comfortable with anxiety and finding techniques to help you manage it.
At The Foundry, we know that addiction is about far more than physical dependence. Most people have co-occurring mental health issues that need attention if recovery is going to last. That’s why we use a variety of methods to foster mental health, including evidence-based treatment methods, outdoor activity, mindfulness meditation, and healthy lifestyle changes. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Make Friends When You’re Sober?
Many people starting out in recovery face a dilemma when it comes to friends: They want to distance themselves from their old associates who are drinking and using drugs but then they struggle with loneliness, which, in some ways, is almost as bad. Having a strong support network gives you a feeling of belonging and reduces stress.
It’s one of the most important factors in a strong recovery. However, few people actually have much practice making new friends as adults. The following tips can help you make the kind of friends that will help you stay sober.
Have the Right Attitude
First, you have to have the right attitude. Mainly that means being willing to take some risks in terms of going into unfamiliar situations and reaching out to others. If you’re naturally outgoing, this is not a big deal, but if you’re reading a post about making friends, you may need to prepare yourself to step outside your comfort zone. Keep in mind that if someone isn’t interested in being your friend, you shouldn’t take it personally.
We all have our reasons or lack thereof for who we’re friends with. Think of it this way: If you talk to enough people, you will eventually make some good friends. Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need your new friends to be sober; you just need them to respect and support your sobriety.
Find Good Situations
The other part of the new-friends equation is to put yourself in circumstances where you are more likely to make friends. The best circumstances are those where you are in frequent contact with the same people and you all share a common interest or value. Frequent contact allows you to build familiarity and trust, while sharing an interest gives you something to talk about and possibly collaborate on. The following are examples that typically provide both of those elements.
People often say they meet their best friends in treatment and that shouldn’t be surprising. You spend a lot of time with those people and you all share certain core experiences around addiction and trauma. Being open about these struggles is cathartic and it’s often a bonding experience. The only thing is that people often travel to attend treatment so you may have to make an effort to keep the friendship alive after you all leave and go back home, but it’s well worth the effort.
The next logical place to make sober friends is at a 12-Step meeting. These aren’t quite as intense as treatment since you typically won’t be living in the same space as your group members, but you do share similar experiences and a commitment to staying sober, just like in treatment. The more regularly you go to meetings, the more quickly you will get to know people, and the sooner you will make new friends.
People just starting out in recovery often go to a meeting every day, or even several meetings a day. The environment is typically welcoming and supportive, making it one of the easiest places to make new friends.
Try a Meetup
If you want to meet people who share your interests, try looking for things that interest you on meetup.com. This is a site that lists special interest groups in your area by subject. There are groups for art, music, film, sports, wellness, finance, languages, travel, dance, careers, and so on. These groups often meet regularly and they aren’t too big so it’s not hard to talk to people.
Join a League
There are many reasons to be physically active in addiction recovery. Regular exercise is one of the best things you do for your physical and mental health and it can also be a great way to make friends. Joining a recreational sports league is one of the most fun ways to exercise and it’s a great way to get to know people without a lot of awkward conversations and even more awkward silences.
If you’re not a team sports kind of person, there are other ways to be social with exercise. You can join a running or biking group. Exercise classes are also great, whether you’re into spin, yoga, or boxing.
Take Some Classes
Most people didn’t find it too hard to make friends in school since you see the same people every day for years and most of them are near your own age. The closest experience most of us have as adults is work. While, for some people, work might qualify as a shared interest, for most people it doesn’t.
Furthermore, most of your coworkers, even your “work friends” have their own lives and families to worry about and may not be interested in making new friends. However, you can take classes as an adult. And unlike when you’re a kid, you don’t have to take a class in anything that doesn’t interest you.
You can take an exercise class, as noted above, a cooking class, an art class, and so on. You see the same people for weeks or months, you share at least one interest, and you may get to work on a project together. It's a great recipe for making new friends.
Use Your Existing Network
Finally, make sure you’re using all the resources that are right in front of you. Your friends and relatives probably know people you would hit it off with but it may not occur to them unless you ask. Making friends through common acquaintances is good because those people have already been vetted, in a way, and you already know someone who can introduce you.
This is especially helpful if you are living in an unfamiliar area--say, for example, if you are staying in a sober home after attending treatment out of state. You can ask the people you live with and your friends and family back home if they happen to know anyone in the area. Most won’t, but you might get lucky.
Making friends in recovery takes some initiative and perseverance but it’s mainly a matter of talking to a lot of people and putting yourself in the right position. If you find situations where you see the same people a lot and you share interests, it should only be a matter of time before you make some good friends. The main thing is to be patient; friendships have to develop on their own schedule.
At The Foundry, we know that no one recovers from addiction alone. Connection is the key to a long recovery. We promote social connection and healthy relationship skills through group therapy, family therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and various activities. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Are You Afraid of Change?
Fear is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction--fear of withdrawal, fear of loneliness, fear of vulnerability, fear of failure, and more. Underlying many of these fears is a general fear of change. Getting sober is perhaps the biggest change you’ll ever make in your life and it requires other changes, including how you relate to others, what you do for fun, who you spend time with, and how you take care of yourself.
That can feel pretty daunting and fear can slow your progress in recovery. The following suggestions can help be less afraid of change, and perhaps even embrace it.
Why Change is Scary
First, it helps to understand why change scares us. It may seem irrational to fear change. For example, you may look at what drugs and alcohol have done to your life and think that any change has to be better, and, in fact, that’s what motivates many people to seek help. However, you may still resist change, even when you rationally know it will be better for you.
Why? Well, however bad your life is right now, at least you know you can survive it. You know what to expect and you know how to deal with the challenges that come with your current way of life. Even if it’s bad, at least it’s familiar. If you make a change, who knows what will happen?
You may face some situations that you don’t know how to deal with. Even if you know, rationally, that getting sober won’t threaten your life--and will likely save it--we instinctively fear the unknown. You don’t know quite how to imagine sober life and at the very least, that can undermine your resolve.
Do Your Research
One way to reduce your fear of change is to understand it better. The clearer your idea of your destination, the less threatening it will seem. For example, in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to book a hotel room or rent an apartment in another city, you pretty much had to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Now you can look at pictures, explore the neighborhood with Google street view, and get step-by-step directions to the front door. The whole process is much less scary.
Similarly, if you’re trying to make a big change in life, whether it’s getting sober, moving to another area, or changing careers, knowing what you’re getting into helps minimize your fears. If you’re trying to recover from addiction, that means reading memoirs about recovery, listening to others at 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions, and talking to people who have been where you want to go. This helps replace simplistic and distorted ideas of what that change means with more accurate and inspiring possibilities and it also alerts you to possible challenges along the way.
Approach Change With Curiosity
However much research you do, you won’t be able to predict the future. There will always be unexpected challenges and every individual has a different journey. These unknowables can be a significant source of anxiety.
One way to cope is to approach the change with curiosity, rather than trepidation. Fear and excitement are physiologically the same--your heart rate and breathing speed up, your senses are sharpened, and so on--and you can choose how to interpret those physiological signals. That means you can feel afraid and choose to be excited. Being excited about the unknown is another name for curiosity.
Think of recovery as a film, in which you can’t wait to see what happens. This applies to big and small changes alike. Is your therapist asking you to do something that stretches your comfort zone a bit? Think of it as an experiment and be curious about the result.
Confront Your Fear of Failure
As discussed above, we often prefer the familiar to the unknown, even if the familiar is pretty miserable. The reason is that in the primitive parts of our brains, we believe the unknown can be fatal. While death is not a likely outcome of getting sober, failure is certainly possible. Recovery takes a lot of time and effort.
You and your loved ones may have high hopes and the thought of letting everyone down can be frightening. Or you may be afraid that once you’re sober, you’ll no longer have an excuse for failure in other areas of your life, such as work or relationships. In short, you’re afraid that trying to get sober will somehow expose you as inadequate.
That’s a normal fear but it’s also a kind of illusion. Say, for example, that you do relapse. That’s certainly a setback, but it’s not a permanent failure. Plenty of people relapse several times and still eventually get sober. Everything worthwhile takes practice and perseverance. You will inevitably have setbacks and disappointments but they don’t have to be permanent failures.
Focus on the Process
Part of the fear of change is that you see a clear dividing line between the person you are now and the person you want to become. That idea of transformation can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying. The problem is that the person you are changing into only exists in the future, in your imagination.
If you could somehow snap your fingers and turn into that person, it would feel strange and alienating. All you can really do is focus on the present and the process of recovery. Recovery is really a matter of practicing new skills, learning new things about yourself, and making small changes in your habits, and eventually, you will move from being able to abstain from drugs and alcohol to preferring to live without them. There is no point at which you change into a different person but at some point, you’ll look back and realize life is different now.
It’s normal to fear change. Most of us are hardwired to prefer the familiar. However, fear of change can keep you stuck, and sometimes it can even threaten your life. The keys to overcoming change are to know what to expect, be curious about the process, be aware of your fear of failure, and focus on the process in the present moment.
At The Foundry, we know that making any big change in life is scary but we also know that treatment helps people live happier, more fulfilling lives. We use proven therapeutic techniques and provide a great support system to help you make one of the best changes in your life. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Four Thinking Mistakes that Can Stand in the Way of Addiction Recovery
One of the most important ideas in modern psychology is that our thoughts are largely responsible for our emotional reactions. This is a central concept in cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, and other cognitive therapies. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic and you become angry.
However, the other driver didn’t directly cause you to be angry. What made you angry were your own beliefs about the situation, perhaps something like, “That guy shouldn’t have done that,” or “That was a deliberate insult.” Most of the time, these things are just accidental, the result of momentary inattention. If you can think about them in that way, they don’t upset you very much.
A lot of cognitive therapy is focused on identifying and challenging these distorted beliefs. In another post, we looked at how inaccurate thinking can contribute indirectly to addiction by worsening anxiety. Here, we are going to look at some ways that inaccurate thinking can more directly keep you from seeking help for addiction and sticking to your recovery plan.
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
One of the worst offenders is all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking. In this way of thinking, something is either a total success or a total failure. The problem is that pretty much everything in life is a mixed bag and if you’re only happy with total victories, you are not going to be very happy and you’re not going to try many things.
There are several ways all-or-nothing thinking can hold back your recovery from addiction. The first is if you’re waiting for the perfect time to act--because there will never be a perfect time. There will always be some excuse--you’re busy with work, you’re not feeling well, you have to feed your cat, and so on. Since addiction is a progressive disease, getting help will always be harder in the future, so it’s better not to wait for the perfect time.
Second, there are a lot of treatment options, all requiring different levels of commitment in terms of time and money. Sometimes you just can’t get the level of treatment you feel you need but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get some kind of help. For example, you may feel like you need inpatient treatment to help you deal with cravings and avoid toxic influences, but it’s just not possible right now for whatever reason. It’s still worth your time to try something, whether it’s an outpatient program, seeing a therapist, or going to 12-step meetings. Look for ways to improve your situation, even if they’re not perfect solutions.
Third, it’s pretty common for people to slip in recovery. It’s also pretty common, when this happens, to think, “Well, I’ve already ruined my recovery, so I might as well go all the way.” In reality, a slip and a full relapse are not even close to the same. A slip is a setback but it’s also easy to fix. If you keep going, you put yourself at risk for an overdose and when you finally do decide to get sober again, you may have to go through withdrawal again. It’s better to limit the damage when you can.
Overgeneralization is another extremely common error. It can take two forms. It’s typically either, “I did badly in this one particular thing, and therefore I’m no good at anything,” or “I failed on my first try and therefore I’ll never succeed.” Both of these are objectively false and they make recovery harder. For the first one, overgeneralizing horizontally, as it were, you will probably find some aspects of recovery harder than others.
Maybe group therapy is a challenge or maybe you’re trying to make some healthy lifestyle changes and they just don’t seem to stick. That can be terribly frustrating but it also doesn’t mean you’re comprehensively screwing up your recovery. There may be other aspects that are going really well, perhaps individual therapy or improving communication with your family. Give yourself credit for those things as you continue to work on the more challenging aspects.
Similarly, you may have tried to get sober once or twice, slid back into drinking and using drugs, and decided, “I’m just never going to be able to stay sober.” You’re taking that very limited data to be decisive. In reality, plenty of people have to try several times to stay sober. People slip up, they have full relapses, but they keep at it and eventually have a long recovery. Persistence will eventually pay off.
Telescoping is when you focus on the bad aspects of a situation to the point where you can’t even see the good. For example, you might enter treatment feeling ambivalent about being there and immediately start looking for reasons to leave. You become laser-focused on every little thing that’s wrong with your treatment program or facility.
Maybe a counselor misspoke and called something by the wrong name, so you decide the staff doesn’t know what they’re doing--also an example of overgeneralization--or maybe your room isn’t quite as nice as you would like it to be so you complain about the facilities being awful, and so on. You may be so focused on these things that you really believe they prove the program is no good.
However, you may also be missing out on a lot of benefits by being too focused on the negative aspects of your experience. Maybe you’ve met some pretty great people or your therapist is really astute or you discovered that you really love hiking. When you feel like you’re too focused on the negatives, try broadening your scope. See if you identify some positive things too. It will not only improve your treatment experience, but it will make you happier overall.
4. Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error is not typically identified as a cognitive distortion in CBT but it is relevant for anyone in recovery. It’s the belief that your own actions are the result of specific circumstances but other people’s actions are a result of their basic character. Going back to the traffic example, when you cut someone off, it was because you just didn’t see them or you weren’t aware the lane ended, or something, and you’re usually a very courteous driver but when they cut you off, they’re a reckless jerk. In the context of recovery, a very similar thing is common.
You go to a 12-step meeting or you enter a treatment program and talk to other people a little bit and you suddenly feel like you don’t belong there. You’ve just been under a lot of stress at work or your friends have been partying a lot lately so you’ve been drinking or using drugs more than you probably should, but all the other people there are addicts.
This can be a big impediment to engaging with treatment because you feel like what applies to other people doesn’t apply to you. In AA, they call this “terminal uniqueness.” What’s important is not to yoke yourself with the addict label but rather to realize that everyone around you is also there because of specific circumstances.
Everyone has been feeling stressed, or coping with traumatic memories, or struggling with depression, and so on, and everyone there--including you--needs a bit of help with their substance use. Accepting that everyone there has a story, helps you overcome terminal uniqueness, allowing you to be more engaged in treatment and feel a genuine connection to the people around you.
There are many ways your mind can play tricks on you when it comes to addiction. The thinking mistakes discussed above can apply to pretty much anything but they are particularly relevant for people seeking and engaging with treatment. Being aware of them is the first step in overcoming them.
At The Foundry, we know that everyone has a different story and different needs from treatment. We believe that treatment for addiction should always be individualized but that everyone benefits by making the journey together. We also use evidence-based therapeutic methods including CBT and DBT to help clients untie the knots that are holding them back. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How to Build Resilience in Recovery
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and perhaps even become happier, smarter, stronger, and healthier than you were before. There is no shortage of adversity in addiction recovery. You may have your own demons to slay, you may have family and friends who actively try to undermine your efforts, and you may slip up or fully relapse several times.
The good news is that none of these setbacks have to be permanent. Like all of recovery, resilience comprises a variety of skills that you can improve with practice and persistence. The following are some tips for becoming more resilient in addiction recovery.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the first way to improve your resilience is to expect challenges. Too many people think they’re going to enter treatment or their loved one will enter treatment and everything will turn around right away. In reality, every phase of recovery presents new challenges. If you expect too much too soon, you’re likely to be discouraged.
Life will improve when you’re sober but it will take consistent effort. When you inevitably encounter challenges, if you are expecting them, you know that’s normal and you may even have a plan ready.
Have a Team
Social support is one of the most important parts of recovery in general. It helps you feel connected, it increases your feeling of accountability, and it makes you more resilient in the face of challenges. Your sober network can be a source of moral support, practical support, and good advice from people who have been in your place. Remember that no one succeeds alone. Even if there’s only one person you can confide in, whether it’s your best friend or your therapist, it lightens your load considerably.
Banish Black-and-White Thinking
Watching out for distorted thinking is one of the most important ways of regulating your emotions, which is why learning to identify and challenge cognitive errors plays a central role in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. One common cognitive distortion that can torpedo your resilience is black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. This is the belief that if something is not a total success then it’s a total failure.
Nearly everything you do will actually be somewhere in the middle. Watching out for black-and-white thinking is especially important after you’ve had a slip. A lot of people will slip up and have a drink or something and then think, “Well, I’ve already blown it, so I might as well go all the way.” Instead of trashing your whole recovery over a small mistake, keep in mind that there’s still a lot to gain by minimizing the damage and getting back on course.
Look for the Silver Lining
When something bad happens, it’s natural to fixate on the negative consequences. Most of us are naturally wired to spot threats. That’s great for keeping you alive on the savanna but it can also blind you to a lot of good possibilities.
Few situations are completely bad--see above--but when we fixate on the bad aspects, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Whenever something bad happens, even something small, challenge yourself to find something good about it, even if it seems slightly absurd.
Figure Out What You Can Control
Often, what’s most demoralizing about a challenging situation is that you feel like you have no control over what happens. It’s often true that you have little control--like when you get laid off or your house floods, for example--but it’s rarely true that you have no control at all. Finding something you can control--anything at all to improve your situation even a little bit--can be a way to both reduce stress and get yourself into a situation where there are more options.
Even when you can’t see the whole solution, doing what you can with what you have is the first step in finding your way out of trouble. It also affirms that you haven’t given up.
Affirm Your Values
Feeling connected to your values is often a key factor in persisting in the face of setbacks. This is called self-affirmation and research shows that it helps you better cope with negative feedback and make healthier decisions in general.
You can do this by taking a few minutes to write about your core values and why they matter. For example, a lot of people decide to get sober because they realize their family’s happiness is at stake. Regularly connecting to that value of family can help you persevere in the face of setbacks.
Take Care of Yourself
When challenges arise, they are always easier to deal with if you are healthy and rested. That’s why self-care is so important for resilience. Sleep is particularly important because sleep deprivation or chronic sleep deficit erodes your resilience on two fronts--the parts of your brain responsible for identifying threats become overactive and the parts of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, attention, and problem-solving become underactive.
In other words, when you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to see any given situation as threatening and less able to come up with solutions for actual problems. It’s also important to exercise regularly since that reduces your reactivity to stress while increasing blood flow to the areas of the brain responsible for planning, self-control, and emotional regulation.
Finally, when facing a tough situation, it’s crucial to stay present. Typically, people have two kinds of unhelpful reactions to a crisis--they either try to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening, or they catastrophize and imagine all the horrible consequences it will have for their lives. Neither is helpful. You can only act in the present, which means you need to pay attention to what’s going on.
Also, you can’t shoulder the responsibilities for whatever will happen in the future. Thinking about that will only overwhelm you, which is why they say in AA “One day at a time.” This is especially true with anything having to do with recovery since it’s a challenge you have to deal with every day. If you think too far ahead, you’ll only feel discouraged. Do today’s work today, then rest, then do tomorrow’s work tomorrow.
Some people just seem to be more resilient than others, but most of the time it’s because those people have faced adversity that you don’t know about. Bouncing back takes practice and the more you practice the better you get.
At The Foundry, we know that emotional resilience is at the core of a strong recovery from addiction. That’s why we’ve designed our holistic program around building and nurturing our clients’ resilience through evidence-based therapeutic techniques as well as positive lifestyle changes such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, and social connection. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Staying Socially Engaged When You Really Don’t Feel Like It
Feeling socially connected is one of the most important ways of making recovery from addiction last. Social support improves your mood, reduces stress, provides more resources for dealing with problems, and makes you feel more accountable. However, staying socially connected can often be a challenge for people in recovery. At least 20 percent of people with substance use disorders struggle with major depression, an anxiety disorder, or both. Those conditions typically make you feel inclined to stay home and isolate yourself.
Unfortunately, isolation only makes them worse, especially depression. The tendency to isolate can cause a downward spiral, turning a bad mood into a full episode of depression. You can often interrupt that spiral by making yourself do things that improve your mood, such as socializing or going to meetings. This is a well-established intervention called behavioral activation. However, socializing when you feel depressed or anxious is not easy and sometimes it’s impossible. The following tips can help.
Accepting invitations is a freebie. If people are reaching out to you and asking you to do things, you’re already in a pretty good position and it may be nice to take a moment to appreciate that there are people in your life who want to be around you. Unless there’s some specific reason for declining an invitation such as a scheduling conflict, go ahead and accept, even if you know for certain you won’t feel like going when the time comes.
If you accept the invitation, you will be more likely to actually go out and do something, whereas if you decline, you will almost certainly stay home alone. You can always cancel later, but if you accept now, you will at least have options.
Don’t Wait Until You Feel Like Socializing
Whether you have already made plans or not, don’t wait until you feel like socializing to actually do it. When you’re feeling down or actually depressed, you’re never going to feel like it. The whole point is that you do something to interrupt your current mental state. The trap we often fall into with socializing is that we expect it to be a pleasant thing that we actively want to do, so when we don’t feel like it, it makes sense just to stay home.
However, when you’re depressed, anxious, or moving in that direction, the whole matter is different. You don’t feel like socializing because you don’t feel like doing anything. Socializing is something you have to do for your mental health so you have to draw on different resources. It’s more like going to work--perhaps you rarely feel like going to work but you usually go anyway. It may help to remind yourself that your resistance to socializing is mostly inertia and that once you’re with your friends, you will usually feel glad you came.
Do What You Can
You may have some default idea of what socializing looks like--maybe dinner with a group of friends, maybe a family outing, or a party. When you think, “I should socialize,” you immediately think of that default and you feel like you couldn’t possibly manage it. However, you are being subtly undermined by all-or-nothing thinking. When you’re in a funk, any social contact at all is better than none. If all you can manage is texting a friend or relative, then do that. If you can call them and have a chat, even better.
This is especially important to remember as we’re all dealing with the pandemic and our social interactions are restricted anyway. Texting and FaceTiming might not be perfect but they still help. Often, frequent contact with different people throughout the day is better for your mood than minimal contact throughout the week and then a big gathering on the weekend. Too much alone time with no outside contact only gives you more time to ruminate.
Exert Some Influence Over Plans
When someone asks you to do something, it’s rarely a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. You can usually exert some control over the plan. This is important for two reasons. First, as discussed above, socializing isn’t all-or-nothing. Some socializing is better than none and you should only do what you feel like you can handle, which might mean asking your friends or relatives to modify plans.
For example, maybe your friend invites you out to a restaurant and you don’t feel like you can handle that, so you propose instead that your friend comes over and you order pizza. You get the social interaction and you let your friend know you actually do want to spend time with them but you avoid a supposedly fun thing that you’re just not up for.
Second, exerting influence over plans nurtures a sense of self-efficacy or the feeling that you have some control over your life. A common symptom of depression is helplessness--the feeling that nothing you do matters, that you’re just sort of dragged along by life. Exerting your will over your social plans reinforces that you do actually have some control over your life.
It may be worth making some small change to any plan, even if the plan is broadly acceptable, just to work your self-efficacy “muscle.” For example, bowling sounds fine but you’d rather go to a different place, or you’d rather go at eight instead of seven. Furthermore, having more control over plans makes you feel more engaged and less likely to skip out at the last minute.
Take a Break When You Need It
When you’re depressed or anxious, you may have very short battery life. If you’re already an introvert, then socializing when you’re in a bad mood can really take it out of you. It’s important to give yourself breaks. You can either step away from the group, or just have a way to leave early. As discussed earlier, shorter, more frequent interactions are typically more important than marathon social engagements. There’s no point in burning yourself out and dreading the next engagement even more.
Staying socially connected is one key to a strong addiction recovery but an episode of depression or anxiety can make you want to isolate yourself from everyone, including your sober network. To combat this, it’s important to do what you can, even if it’s small and even when you don’t feel like it. Think of it like going to work or brushing your teeth. Exert some influence over plans when possible and be willing to give yourself a break.
At The Foundry, we know that no one recovers from addiction alone. We work hard to make sure our clients feel supported and develop bonds with other people in recovery. We also involve families in treatment because we know that a supportive home environment is a huge asset. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Can You Make Yourself Less Neurotic?
Neuroticism used to be a fairly broad term used to describe certain kinds of psychological disturbances. These days, it’s mostly limited to one of the big five personality traits, which include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which you can easily remember with the acronym OCEAN. Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions and more intense emotional reactions to threatening or frustrating situations.
While research suggests scoring high-ish on the other personality traits tends to result in better outcomes, including better relationships, more positive emotions, and even higher income, higher neuroticism tends to result in greater risk of mental and physical health issues and addiction. This is especially true when high neuroticism is paired with low conscientiousness. Given that high neuroticism increases your risk of addiction and makes you less happy overall, you might wonder if there is anything you can do about it if you happen to have high neuroticism.
As a basic personality trait, neuroticism is hard to change but it can be changed a bit. You are not likely to go from being in the ninetieth percentile to the tenth percentile of neuroticism--a huge change--but with persistent effort, you can probably dial it down a bit. It also helps that neuroticism tends to decline slightly as you age. The following are some ways you can reduce your neuroticism and thereby promote your recovery from addiction.
Go to Therapy
The most direct way to reduce neuroticism is to enter therapy. Your therapist can help you address it in a comprehensive way, including thought patterns, relationships, lifestyle factors, and perhaps medication. There is typically a biological component to neuroticism, meaning that some people are just physiologically more sensitive to stress, so it’s important not to think of neuroticism as a weakness or personal failing. Often, it also has a lot to do with early childhood environment and learned behaviors, and addressing those issues typically requires professional help.
Change How You Talk to Yourself
Although our ideas about neuroticism have changed a lot since Freud’s day, at least one thing is still similar: Negative feelings are, to a large extent, caused by our beliefs and assumptions, many of which we may not even be aware of. Although people who score high on neuroticism are often aware of their self-defeating behaviors, they feel powerless to actually change them. This is why a therapist can be especially helpful. One way of combating neurotic tendencies is to identify your underlying assumptions, challenge them, and replace them with more accurate and helpful thoughts.
For example, if you’ve had an argument with your spouse, you might think something like, “I’m always ruining my relationships,” a thought which characterizes yourself as comprehensively and permanently inept at relating to other people. This is an example of overgeneralization.
Instead, focus on the matter at hand. Did you listen to your spouse? Can you see things from their perspective? Were you making unreasonable demands? How might you best resolve the issue in a way that will make you both happy? More broadly, you probably have other relationships that go pretty well or you might even get along with your spouse pretty well most of the time. All of these ways of thinking can help you dismantle the cognitive distortions that worsen your challenging emotions.
As noted above, neuroticism is the tendency to feel more negative emotions and to feel them more intensely. Exercise combats both of these tendencies. First, exercise promotes the release of several neurotransmitters that improve your mood, including serotonin and endorphins. It also increases levels of BDNF, a neurotransmitter that grows neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region involved with memory formation that also helps regulate emotions.
Second, exercise causes structural changes in the brain that actually make your brain less sensitive to stress. A structure called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is plugged into several areas of the brain that are responsible for identifying and responding to threats. Regular exercise appears to help turn down the volume a bit on the HPA axis. Most studies suggest that at least 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, or swimming, is all you need to get the benefits.
Eat a Healthy Diet
More and more experts are becoming aware of just how important diet is for mental health. There are now quite a few studies showing that diet plays an especially large role in depression. One large meta-analysis of the research found that participants who adopted healthier diets--typically consisting of more nutrient-rich whole foods--had significantly fewer symptoms of depression.
This study found no effect of diet on anxiety symptoms--which are at least as common as depressive symptoms among people with high neuroticism. However, other research suggests that magnesium--specifically magnesium deficiency--may play an important role in anxiety disorders, making people more sensitive to stress. You can boost your magnesium levels by eating more magnesium-rich foods, many of which you should be eating anyway. These include nuts, beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate. If you decide to take magnesium supplements, consult with your doctor first since excess magnesium can cause problems.
Finally, you can reduce neuroticism by practicing mindfulness. One study of graduate students found that participating in a seven-week mindfulness course reduced neuroticism over a six-year follow-up period. Participants who completed the mindfulness course reported decreased psychological stress, due at least in part to personality changes.
There are several ways mindfulness can help reduce neuroticism. Perhaps the most important is that it’s a way of practicing acceptance of challenging emotions. Instead of trying to avoid or suppress them, you learn to sit with them and see they’re only feelings or thoughts and they can’t hurt you. Mindfulness also helps support other healthy lifestyle changes such as reducing emotional eating and improves your relationships by helping you be more attentive to the people around you. There are mindfulness classes available for free in many areas and online and you can practice in just a few minutes a day.
Personality traits change slowly and you should be looking for progress over months or years, not days or weeks. For that reason, it helps to make some of these changes habitual and to enlist the support of positive people. However, with persistent effort, you can reduce the intensity and frequency of negative emotions and make recovery from addiction a little easier.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about reorienting your life. It’s not just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but about feeling more connected, purposeful, and comfortable in your own skin. That’s why we employ a variety of methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy to help you relate better to challenging emotions. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Know When Your Anxiety Is Really an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring disorders with addiction. Nearly 18% of people with substance use disorders experienced the symptoms of an anxiety disorder within the past year, and that figure doesn’t include post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which may affect as many as half of people with a substance use disorder.
Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illnesses in the US. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 30% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
However, nearly everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, and in many situations, it would be unusual if you didn’t feel anxious. What’s more, it’s hard to compare your own experience to anyone else’s to know whether you experience an excessive amount of anxiety. How can you tell if your anxiety is really an anxiety disorder?
You Feel Anxious for No Apparent Reason
The first thing to remember about anxiety is that it plays an important role in our survival. That’s why there are far more people who experience too much anxiety than people who experience hardly any. Anxiety is meant to warn you of danger and spur you into taking action. However, if you have an anxiety disorder, your brain or other parts of your physiology might decide to become anxious for no apparent reason. One minute, you’re sitting at home, minding your own business, and the next minute you’re overcome by worry or fear. If you find you’re anxious for no apparent reason, there may be some system in your brain or body that’s not properly regulating your state of mind.
Your Anxiety Continues After the Stressor
Sometimes you may have a good reason for anxiety--perhaps you have a job interview or you just narrowly avoided getting hit by a car. In cases like those, it’s normal to respond with some level of anxiety. However, after the danger has passed, your brain should send the “all clear” signal so you can wind down. However, if you get stuck in a loop, you may keep thinking about the inciting incident and your anxiety will stay pretty high. You try to stop but you just keep thinking about it. If this happens frequently, you may have an anxiety disorder.
You Feel Anxiety Out of Proportion to the Situation
As noted, there are plenty of times when some amount of anxiety is appropriate, but you always seem to feel much more anxious than the situation warrants. For example, someone has a birthday at the office and you get together with your coworkers for cake only to feel intense social anxiety. They’re all people you know, having an informal gathering with no stakes--why are you nervous? Unfortunately, this kind of reaction is not that uncommon and the anxiety can persist even if you know, rationally, that it’s excessive.
You Experience Panic
While anxiety, in appropriate amounts in appropriate situations, has a useful purpose, panic is never useful. Panic is runaway anxiety that keeps you from doing anything or even thinking clearly. Symptoms of a panic attack include a sense of impending doom, pounding or rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest or throat, shaking, dizziness, or feelings of unreality or depersonalization.
People having a panic attack often mistake it for a heart attack. Panic attacks often start with an inciting incident, something that might normally cause anxiety, but then it gets out of control. After you’ve had one panic attack, just fearing another panic attack can trigger a panic attack. If these symptoms are familiar, you may have a panic disorder.
You Feel Anxious Most of the Time
In addition to feeling anxious at inappropriate times, you may just have a low level of anxiety most of the time--when you get up in the morning, when you’re out with friends, when you lie down to sleep, and so on. Anxiety is just the background noise of your life. This may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. You may think of yourself as a worrier or your friends may say you worry too much. If you’re always fixated on possible problems, even if they are unlikely, it may indicate an anxiety disorder.
You Have Physical Symptoms
Anxiety isn’t just a state of mind; it affects your body too. When you anticipate a threat, your body undergoes many adaptations, including faster heart rate and breathing, withdrawing blood from the extremities, and ramping up your immune system to protect against possible injuries, stopping digestion and other processes unrelated to fight or flight, and others.
While these are sometimes helpful in the moment, they are meant to be very short-term. If you feel anxious all the time, you are more prone to physical symptoms such as digestive problems like nausea or diarrhea, headaches, muscle tension, and even long-term problems like obesity and heart disease. Digestive symptoms and headaches with no apparent medical cause are often a red flag for an anxiety disorder.
You Have Trouble Sleeping
Insomnia and disturbed sleep are among the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders. You lie down and all you can do is worry. Since your defenses are down while you’re asleep, worry can get a jump on you, even if it’s totally irrational. Therefore, you might find yourself waking up in the early hours of the morning unable to go back to sleep. This is also a common symptom of depression, which often overlaps with anxiety disorders.
You Avoid Certain Situations
Finally, avoidance is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. In a sense, it’s one of the defining symptoms, since it’s a practical way that anxiety limits your life. Maybe you avoid social situations or things you have a specific phobia of or things that remind you of a trauma. Unfortunately, avoidant behavior tends to grow and it can end up being fairly debilitating, whether it causes you to avoid social interactions, high-stakes situations, or even leaving the house.
Anxiety disorders are too often dismissed as not “real” mental health issues--just a case of being too tightly wound or overly nervous. However, anxiety disorders can seriously affect your life, limiting your scope, and even driving substance use.
At The Foundry, we know that mental health is one of the keys to a strong recovery, which is why we emphasize the diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring mental health issues as part of our holistic treatment program. We know that trauma is especially common and we use a variety of trauma-focused therapies to help our clients heal. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How to Write an Intervention Letter That Makes a Difference
When you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, sometimes you get to a point where you’ve done all you can to encourage them to get help and all that’s left is to stage an intervention before it’s too late. If you do decide to stage an intervention, it’s essential to do it with the help of an intervention specialist, someone who has training and experience in running interventions.
There’s a lot more to it than just getting everyone together in a room and asking the person to get help and the specialist can help with the planning and facilitation. Everyone participating in the intervention will be asked to read an intervention letter. There are several reasons it’s important to write a letter rather than just making it up as you go.
First, an intervention is a form of public speaking with pretty high stakes and you don’t want to get stage fright and forget what you intended to say. On the other end of the spectrum, you also don’t want to start going off on tangents and taking up everyone else’s time. You want your remarks to be focused and effective. Finally, an intervention is an emotionally charged situation. You want to say what you have to say without getting drawn into arguments that might sabotage the whole process. The following are some tips to help make your intervention letter as effective as possible.
Start From a Place of Love and Support
First, make it clear that the reason you’re participating in the intervention is that you love the person, you’re worried about them, and you want to help them. None of you would be there if that weren’t true, but your loved one might not see it that way. Their defenses will probably be up and you’ll want to do what you can to establish that you’re on the same side. It’s often a good idea to share a happy memory of the person or describe something about them or something they did for you that you’re genuinely grateful for.
Say That Addiction Is a Disease and Treatment Is Possible
The next thing is to make it clear that you see a clear difference between the way your loved one is really and how they act while in the grip of addiction. Make it clear that you understand addiction is a disease, that it’s not their fault, and that treatment is possible.
Describe Specific Times When Drugs and Alcohol Caused Problems
The main event of an intervention, the part we’re all familiar with, is when you describe the negative consequences drugs and alcohol have had on your loved one and the people they care about. This can easily turn into a laundry list but there are several important factors to keep in mind if you want your letter to make an impact. First, only describe events that you have firsthand knowledge of.
These should be things that affected you directly or that you personally witnessed. This helps to avoid credibility issues that may arise if you relied on secondhand accounts or rumors. Second, there is a room full of people waiting their turn to speak and they’ll probably cover those other incidents themselves.
Next, be sure to stick to facts. Avoid generalizations, value judgments, and attributing motives to your loved one. Again, these all open the door to arguments and rationalizations. The idea of an intervention is that the accumulation of hard facts gradually becomes overwhelming and undeniable. Avoid statements like, “You’re always getting drunk and yelling at me and the kids.”
Instead, say something like, “The police have been called on us three times this year and all of those times, you had been drinking.” You might want to start by brainstorming all the ways drugs and alcohol have hurt your loved one and then narrow it down to three to five of the most potent incidents to include in your letter.
Ask Them to Accept Help
After you have described exactly what addiction has done to your loved one, as well as their friends and family, reiterate that you believe addiction is a disease, one that experience shows they can’t deal with alone and ask them to accept help. Affirm that they can’t keep going on like this but that life can get better with treatment.
State the Consequences of Not Accepting Help
An ultimatum is only advisable in a small percentage of cases. Your intervention specialist will determine whether you should include consequences for your loved one refusing help. However, if you do include an ultimatum, you have to be prepared to follow through.
If you’re telling your child, “If you don’t get help, I’m not going to keep paying for college and I’m not going to support you financially,” then you have to follow through, or else it will undermine any future efforts you make to persuade them to accept help. They’ll know your threats are empty and they can do what they want.
Get Feedback and Make Revisions
Finally, don’t be satisfied with the first draft of your letter. To paraphrase Hemingway, the first draft of everything is, well, not good. After you’ve written your first draft, put it away for a day or two, if possible, then read it aloud to yourself. This will make any mistakes or awkward phrases jump out at you. This is especially important because the ultimate purpose of the letter is for you to read it out loud, so make it easy on yourself.
Next, show it to some people whose judgment you respect and see if they have any feedback. Don’t take criticism personally; keep in mind you’re all working together to try to help your loved one. Finally, make sure to get some feedback from your intervention specialist. Ideally, you will do a full rehearsal so you can all read your letters and get feedback, but at the very least, they should be able to read it over and give you suggestions. Keep in mind that this person has a lot of experience in interventions and has most likely been the subject of an intervention themself, so their feedback is especially valuable.
An intervention led by an experienced specialist has a good chance of getting your loved one into treatment. You can do your part by writing a compelling letter and being a team player. Always write from a place of love and support and when discussing the consequences of your loved one’s substance use, stick to undeniable facts.
It’s always hard to see a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder but life can get better. At The Foundry, we know that evidence-based treatment, healthy lifestyle changes, and family support are keys to a sustainable recovery from addiction. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Why Comparing Yourself to Others in Recovery is a Losing Game
For most people, whether they’re entering an inpatient treatment program or slipping into their first 12-Step meeting, beginning recovery from addiction is an uncertain time. You aren’t sure whether you are doing the right things or if you have any chance of success in the long-term. When we aren’t sure what to do, we instinctively look around to see what other people are doing.
While this might get you through your first few meetings without making too many faux pas, comparing what you’re doing to what others are doing is not a great approach to recovery. Here’s why.
Comparison Makes You Unhappy
First of all, comparing yourself to others is perhaps the fastest way to wreck your mood. There have been quite a few studies on the psychology of social comparisons and they all agree that it’s bad for your mental health. One study found that people who made more frequent social comparisons were more likely to experience guilt, envy, regret, and defensiveness.
They were also more likely to lie, blame others, and have unmet cravings. All of these are counterproductive for anyone trying to stay sober. Lying, guilt, envy, resentment, and cravings are all typical elements of addictive behavior and you want to move away from those as much as possible.
It’s important to keep in mind that comparisons don’t just make you feel bad when you come up short. One study of participants' tendencies to make comparisons on Facebook found that participants who made more comparisons experienced more depressive symptoms, even when they felt like they were better than the other person. Something about the comparison itself makes us unhappy.
Perhaps it promotes self-consciousness or self-criticism, even when the scale tips in our favor. This is an important point, given that the early weeks and months of recovery are already emotionally challenging and many people who struggle with substance use issues have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders as well.
Comparisons Are Always Misleading
If the primary purpose of comparing yourself to others is to orient yourself or measure your progress, then comparisons aren’t very useful anyway. First of all, your needs in treatment and recovery will be different from everyone else’s. You have different strengths, weaknesses, personal history, addiction history, values, and goals. You have different medical and psychological needs. Some people will have a lot of family support and others won’t. In the end, you’re never really comparing apples to apples.
Second, you only know what others want you to know. It’s entirely possible to seem like you have everything together but still be struggling on the inside. If you doubt it, just consider how long you were able to keep your substance use issues secret. Someone who seems to be doing great may or may not actually be doing great. You just have to be comfortable with the fact that you can never really know where you rank among your sober peers and that such a rank would be so qualified as to be useless anyway. You just have to accept some degree of ambiguity.
Everyone Has Different Needs and Goals in Recovery
Since everyone’s situation in recovery is different, everyone will have different needs and therefore different goals. Your recovery plan should reflect your individual goals and values. One person may be invested more in repairing family relationships while another may be more focused on dealing with a mental health issue.
Your goals and therefore your recovery plan will, therefore, look different from anyone else’s. You’re going to get off track if you start feeling the need to start competing in areas that aren’t central to your own recovery. It’s much better to keep your eyes on your own particular prize.
Comparisons Create a Competitive Environment
Finally, you don’t want to feel like you’re competing against your peers in recovery. There may be some limited space for friendly competition in recovery--for example, if you and a friend are challenging each other to stick to a healthy diet or exercise regimen--but overall, you want to encourage feelings of mutual support. Making constant comparisons creates a mindset of competition.
You feel like when someone else succeeds, then you lose. In reality, the opposite is true: When one person succeeds, you’re all a little better off. Instead of comparing yourself to your peers in recovery, try to be happy for them when they do well, and support them when they struggle.
How Can You Break the Habit?
Comparison can be a tough habit to break. The first step is to just accept that comparison won’t do you any good. You’re all sort of on separate journeys together. Second, be conscious of when you’re actually making comparisons. Notice what it feels like to need that kind of reassurance and notice how that feeling of grasping makes you feel worse.
It may be a good idea to limit your social media use since social media use tends to promote social comparison and defensiveness. In fact, comparison is what most studies have focused on as the reason social media use exacerbates feelings of depression and loneliness.
Finally, instead of comparing your progress to others’, figure out more relevant ways to track your own progress. This might be by setting goals and subgoals related to recovery, such as attending 90 meetings in 90 days or it might be tracking your progress according to goalposts you came up with along with your therapist for measuring your progress. What matters is that you set your own goals and stay engaged in the process.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery from a substance use disorder is always an individual journey. No two clients are the same and we work with you individually to create a recovery plan that will promote your long-term success. That’s why we use a variety of proven methods to help you overcome the diversity of challenges you’re likely to face along the way. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.
7 Mental Health Challenges that Drive Addiction
Most people who struggle with substance use issues also struggle with at least one other mental health challenge. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that at least half of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue. Typically, the mental health issue comes first and substance use is often a means of self-medicating.
However, drugs and alcohol only make symptoms worse in the long run. A strong recovery requires that you get integrated treatment for substance use and any mental health issues. The following are the most common mental health issues that occur with addiction.
Anxiety disorders include several specific conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Anxiety disorders affect more people than any other mental health issue. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 30 percent of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Anxiety is also a significant factor in developing a substance use disorder. According to the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions--a survey of more than 43,000 adults revealed nearly 18 percent of respondents with a substance use disorder also met the criteria for an anxiety disorder not related to withdrawal.
Perhaps not surprisingly, marijuana was the most commonly used substance among people with anxiety disorders. Perhaps more surprisingly, cocaine and amphetamine use was also common, while the association with alcohol was weaker. It’s important to note, though, that this survey didn’t include PTSD, which is a major risk factor in itself.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may be one of the single biggest risk factors for developing a substance use issue. PTSD is far less common than anxiety disorders generally, affecting less than eight percent of Americans, but its effect on addiction risk is huge.
Some studies estimate that as many as half of people with substance use disorders also have symptoms of PTSD. PTSD itself has a complicated relationship with other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. For this reason, addressing trauma is often a crucial element of addiction treatment.
Just over seven percent of Americans will have a depressive episode in a given year and the World Health Organization estimates that depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. Depression also significantly contributes to addiction risk. One study found that among people with major depression, 16.5 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug use disorder.
In other words, depression roughly doubles your risk of developing a substance use issue. This is especially true of men, who are less likely to seek therapy and more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Bipolar disorder is technically considered a depressive disorder, but it’s a much different challenge than unipolar depression and a much greater risk factor for addiction. The study cited above also found that among people with bipolar disorder, 56 percent developed a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.
Bipolar disorder also complicates addiction treatment since it often requires some trial and error with medications and people experiencing manic episodes sometimes believe they’re cured and no longer need treatment. Bipolar is also frequently misdiagnosed as unipolar major depression, which slows treatment and recovery.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a bigger risk factor than many people realize. It’s typically characterized by racing thoughts or jumping from one line of thought to another. In adolescence, this can lead to poor performance in school, social ostracism, and impulsive behavior--all risk factors for substance use.
One study found that more than 15 percent of adults with ADHD met the criteria for a substance use disorder, which is at least twice the rate in the general population. The good news is that that number appears to drop when ADHD is controlled with therapy and medication.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder, or PBD, is a condition characterized by volatile moods, unstable self-image, and turbulent relationships. While BPD only affects about 2.7 percent of adults, about 78 percent of people with BPD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. One reason that number is so high is that BPD also increases your risk of anxiety and affective disorders, including PTSD.
BPD also presents special challenges to addiction recovery, since people with BPD are more likely to drop out of treatment and remain sober for shorter periods. BPD requires special treatment methods and currently, dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is the best available treatment.
Schizophrenia affects just over one percent of Americans, but of those, around 50 percent have a co-occurring alcohol or drug use issue. The relationship between schizophrenia and substance use remains a bit more mysterious than that of other mental health challenges. For example, we aren’t quite sure why 70 percent of people with schizophrenia are nicotine-dependent, why they appear to use marijuana more heavily and at an earlier age, or why marijuana appears to precipitate symptoms in adolescents. As with bipolar and BPD, schizophrenia presents special challenges to addiction treatment since it often involves antipsychotic medication and difficulty sticking to a treatment regimen.
Mental health issues significantly increase your risk of developing substance use issues, and they also increase your risk of developing other mental health issues. For example, major depression and anxiety disorders often go together. For this reason, it’s often hard to pin down the relationships between substance use and mental health issues and it’s often hard to pin down exactly what mental health issue is causing your problems. However, this is crucial to figure out if you want to sustain recovery from addiction and feel better in general.
At The Foundry, we understand the huge role mental health plays in addiction recovery. That’s why we employ a variety of proven methods to help our clients manage their mental health challenges. These methods include DBT, CBT, EMDR, and others. To learn more about our addiction treatment program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Cope With Depression During Stressful Times?
Living with depression is never easy and that’s especially true during times of stress. At the moment, we’re all coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Although the quarantine is beginning to be lifted in some areas, the virus remains a threat and the economic impact has been huge. However, it doesn’t take a global pandemic to cause a personal crisis.
We all go through stressful times and whether it’s buying a house, getting a divorce, or being quarantined at home, stress can trigger a depressive episode, especially if you have a history of depression. If you have struggled with depression in the past, or are struggling with it now, here are some tips for keeping it together during stressful times.
Stick to Your Treatment Regimen
First of all, if you are already on a treatment regimen for depression, keep it up. Keep taking your medication, if that applies to you, keep doing your writing exercises, keep meditating, and keep exercising. If you’re seeing a therapist, keep seeing them, even if you have to see them remotely. If you haven’t been seeing your therapist lately, now is probably a pretty good time to resume. Reach out either through the phone or email and see if they can fit you in.
Set a Strict Limit on Media
This especially applies to news and social media. While it’s understandable that you want to stay informed, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of divisiveness and negativity that is the 24-hour news cycle. Set a strict daily limit on how much time you spend consuming news. Try to remember that in a week, 90 percent of it won’t matter anyway.
The same is true of social media. When you don’t have anything else to do, it may be especially tempting to endlessly scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and so on. A number of studies have found that excessive social media use is terrible for your mental health, mainly because it promotes comparisons and fragments your attention.
One study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day for three weeks reported significantly lower levels of depression and loneliness by the end of the three-week study.
Try to Follow a Routine
Sometimes, when you’re feeling depressed and overwhelmed, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Having something like a regular routine can help you get through the day in several ways. First, a regular routine reduces anxiety because you feel more in control and less uncertain about what’s ahead. Second, a routine breaks your day into manageable chunks.
The whole day might be too much to think about all at once but maybe you can think about just taking your shower, then just having breakfast, and so on. Your regular activities can serve as signposts throughout your day.
Get Some Exercise
Getting a bit of exercise is one of the most important things you can do if you feel depressed or if you want to avoid feeling depressed. Exercise helps improve your mood and it improves your stress tolerance. Many studies have found that exercise improves mental health outcomes overall. Of course, when you’re depressed, summoning the energy to do anything, much less exercise, is a big ask. Whatever you can do, even if it’s just a five-minute walk, will make you feel a little better.
There are now quite a few studies showing that diet has a significant effect on depression and depression risk. A number of studies have shown that dietary interventions can even improve depressive symptoms. The most beneficial diets typically include mostly whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and fish. They are also low in processed meats, refined flour, sugar, and fried foods. It may be that such a diet helps reduce inflammation, which recent research suggests may be a significant factor in some forms of depression.
Look for Ways to Help Other
Part of the trouble with depression--especially during the current pandemic--is that it too often leads to isolation. You end up sitting alone feeling awful and even feeling awful about feeling awful. You may feel like you have very little control over the situation or anything else in your life. One way to fight both of these feelings is to look for ways to help other people.
For example, in the current crisis, just staying home helps, but you may also be able to do other things, like check on neighbors and relatives, donate to food banks, or sew masks. This helps take your mind off your own problems and allows you to contribute in some way, which boosts your sense of self-efficacy.
Try to Stay Present
As noted above, operating on a short time horizon can help you get through your day. The more you can stay in the present moment, the better you will feel in general. It’s too easy to get swept up in ruminations about past mistakes or worries about the future. The more you can stay present, the less you will fall into either of these traps. This is easier said than done.
It may help to practice mindfulness meditation, which is essentially just training yourself to be present for 20 or 30 minutes a day. In a pinch, you can also use grounding techniques, such as closing your eyes and paying attention to all the sounds around you or feeling sensations such as your breath or your weight in your chair. These things help you connect to the present moment and worry less about the past or future.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, this one is obvious, but if you feel depressed, trying to cope with it using drugs or alcohol is a huge red flag. Depression significantly increases your risk of developing a substance use disorder. One study found that among people with mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder, 32 percent also had substance use disorders--nearly four times the risk than in the general population.
Men are especially prone to self-medicating depression with drugs and alcohol. Even if you don’t have a substance use issue, drugs and alcohol are likely to worsen depression. If you quit drinking, for example, you’re likely to feel better pretty quickly. If you can’t quit drinking, reach out for help, whether it’s to a therapist, a 12-Step group, or an addiction treatment program. If you have substance use issues and depression, you will need a program that can treat both.
At The Foundry, we know that substance use disorders are usually accompanied by other mental health challenges, such as trauma, anxiety, and depression. We use a variety of proven methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients heal and sustain their recovery long term. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Does Binge-Watching Affect Your Mental Health?
We’re living in the age of bingeable TV. Not only are there a lot of great shows available to stream in their entirety, Netflix and other platforms automatically play the next episode before you even have time to go to the bathroom. Therefore, we have a lot of little incentives encouraging us to sit on the couch watching one show for hours at a time. While we all have days--especially when we’re sick--when sitting on the couch and binging a TV show is all we can manage, we have to wonder: Is binge-watching good for you?
This question is especially pressing for anyone recovering from a substance use disorder, a mental health issue, or both. In fact, most people who struggle with a substance use disorder will also have a co-occurring mental health issue and a strong recovery entails looking after your mental health. While there are specific ways you should be doing this, such as seeing a therapist and possibly taking medication, lifestyle factors--including how much time you spend binge-watching TV--also play a major role. Let’s look at some ways binge-watching might affect your mental health.
Binge-Watching May Increase Anxiety, Depression, and Loneliness
Since binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon, ballooning over the past five years or so, there hasn’t been a lot of research into how it affects mental health. However, what research there is should give you pause. One study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found a high correlation between binge-watching, depression, and loneliness.
Other studies have found negative effects including increased fatigue, mood disturbances, and insomnia. Many of these studies show correlation, rather than causation and it’s easy to imagine that someone who is already depressed or anxious might spend more time binge-watching TV. However, there are also a number of reasons to believe that binge-watching may negatively affect your mental health.
Binge-watching Can Disturb Your Sleep
At least one study has found that people who binge-watch more have more insomnia and poorer quality sleep. While this may also be a matter of correlation to some extent, “pre-sleep arousal” also appears to play a significant role. Pre-sleep arousal includes both biological and psychological factors. Biologically, a number of studies have found that the bright light from screens, especially in the blue spectrum, mimics daylight.
If you are exposed to this kind of light before bed, it may disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to sleep. Psychologically, a show may get you wound up, perhaps for hours, when you should be winding down for sleep. We enjoy the drama, tension, suspense, and action of good TV shows, but these also increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline. When you finally go to bed, you may feel like you’ve just been through a stressful or even mildly traumatic experience, which is not conducive to sleep.
This sleep disruption can take a toll on your mental health. A number of studies have found that a chronic sleep deficit can quickly impair mental faculties such as attention, working memory, and emotional regulation. In the long run, insomnia has been linked to a higher risk of major depression and anxiety disorders.
Binge Watching Makes You Less Physically Active
Perhaps the biggest single problem with binge-watching is that it has a high opportunity cost. That is, every hour you spend watching TV is an hour you’re not spending doing something else--not even moving. This affects both your mental and physical health. Too much sitting--and snacking--increases your risk of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent research has found that obesity significantly increases your risk of depression and vice versa.
Perhaps more significantly, if you have a history of depression or anxiety, getting regular exercise is a critical part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Many studies have found that exercise improves mood by increasing levels of endorphins, serotonin, and BDNF, a neurotransmitter that grows neurons in certain parts of the brain. Exercise also causes structural changes in the brain that make you less vulnerable to stress and anxiety. If you have struggled with depression or anxiety, spending hours sitting on the couch is the last thing you should be doing.
We Tend to Binge-Watch Alone
Or alone together. Watching TV is an activity that mainly entails getting absorbed into the world of the show. No company is necessary or even desirable. If you are binge-watching with someone, it’s unlikely you are simultaneously having a stimulating discussion or otherwise connecting in any meaningful way. You’re both just watching the show.
Binge-watching may just be a symptom of loneliness, but it may also make you less likely to accept an invitation, reach out to friends, or even just leave the house, all of which perpetuates loneliness. However, it’s worth noting that many people cite social motivations for binge-watching. In other words, they want to be able to talk about a show with friends or colleagues. So in this limited way, binge-watching may have a prosocial silver lining.
You May Feel Let Down When a Show Is Over
Finally, you may feel better while binge-watching a show, but it will inevitably end, at which point, you may feel a significant letdown. At some level, we respond to TV characters as if they are real friends and acquaintances and we miss them when they’re gone. We get invested in the meaning created by the storylines, the exciting events of the show, and the interesting worlds in which it all happens. When it’s all over, you’re left facing dull reality and it’s not great for your mood.
The explosion of quality TV shows in recent years has been amazing, but like most things in life, moderation is key. Binging is bad for you, whether it’s alcohol, cake, or TV, even if it’s good TV. What’s more, binging has become a phenomenon largely through behavioral manipulation by media giants. It’s in your own interest to decide how to use your time and to use it in ways that maximize your health and happiness.
At The Foundry, we know that abstinence from drugs and alcohol is only one aspect of a strong recovery. Long-term success depends on making healthy lifestyle changes and generally taking control of your own life, rather than falling prey to destructive habits. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Five Common Misconceptions About Trauma
Trauma is one of the most common drivers of addictive behavior. Although identifying trauma can be complicated--as we’ll see--research suggests it plays a major role in developing substance use disorders. For example, one study found that 66% of women with an opioid use disorder also reported sexual abuse and various studies have found that between 20% and 50% of people seeking help for a substance use disorder also have symptoms of PTSD.
That’s why identifying and treating trauma is crucial for a strong recovery from a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about trauma that contribute to the stigma and prevent people from getting the help they need. The following are some common misconceptions about trauma.
1. “Trauma Is Life-Threatening”
We tend to think of trauma as something that might kill us--combat, a serious car accident, an armed robbery, and so on. However, trauma is fairly subjective. Consider two potentially traumatic events: a serious car accident and a divorce. The car accident is typically more life-threatening but a divorce can deprive you of your family, your sense of belonging, a lot of your money and security, and even your sense of self-worth. All of this might have more profound long-term consequences for your life and sense of well-being. Therefore, it’s not necessarily true that just because you haven’t been shot at, beaten, or otherwise physically threatened, that you haven’t experienced trauma.
2. “People Who Experience Trauma Usually Get PTSD”
Awareness of PTSD has gradually spread following the Vietnam War. The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 30% of Vietnam War veterans developed PTSD at some point in their lives--a really astronomical number, considering the number is estimated to be less than 20% even for Iraq War veterans. However, conditions for Vietnam veterans were especially bad.
Draftees were disproportionately drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds, sometimes choosing military service to avoid prison time, they were often ordered to harm civilians or were required to harm civilians in self-defense, and they received little support upon their return home. All of these factors have been shown to increase the risk of developing PTSD.
Among the general public, the odds that trauma will develop into PTSD are much lower. Although about 60% of men and 50% of women will experience trauma at some point in their lives, fewer than eight percent of Americans will ever develop PTSD. The severity of the trauma, a history of abuse or mental health issues, and lack of social support all increase your risk of developing PTSD following a traumatic event.
3. “Trauma Only Affects the Weak”
Given that trauma develops into PTSD only rarely, one might draw the conclusion that trauma only affects the weak. While some people are more vulnerable to trauma than others, “weakness” is not the right word for that vulnerability. As noted above, the severity of the trauma, history of mental health issues, and social support are all important factors, none of which you have much control over. A severe enough trauma will affect pretty much anyone and you have no control over a history of mental health issues.
Research suggests that high trait neuroticism might also increase your risk of developing PTSD, as well as other mental health issues. You might even say it takes more strength for someone with high neuroticism to weather adversity and seek help than it does for someone who just isn’t too bothered by anything. Besides, the history books are full of people who did heroic things and later suffered from PTSD. Audie Murphy, for example, won literally every US military award for heroism during WWII but struggled with PTSD and alcohol use for the rest of his life.
Furthermore, the fact that social support is a strong mitigating factor shows that we all need help sometimes, whether it’s from a therapist or from supportive friends, family, and colleagues. Your environment makes a big difference and what separates a “strong” and a “weak” person might be nothing more than the social support they enjoy.
4. “Trauma Is Inherently Bad”
We tend to think of trauma as a bad thing. No one wants to be threatened, raped, beaten, shot at, divorced, or nearly killed in an accident. We avoid these things whenever possible. The immediate effects of these kinds of incidents are almost always bad--pain, shame, anxiety, depression, and so on. However, in the long term, it is possible to bounce back from trauma better than before.
While post-traumatic stress disorder gets most of the attention, there is also such a thing as post-traumatic growth. Just surviving a traumatic experience can be a source of strength because you feel like if you can survive that, you can survive anything. For example, many Civil Rights leaders survived assassination attempts, which only strengthened their determination.
It’s easy to imagine giving up in the face of credible death threats, but in these cases, the result was the opposite. That kind of growth is available to anyone who has experienced trauma. If you are able to learn from it, to gain a sense of purpose, to strengthen your connection to the people who are most important to you, and so on, trauma can be put to good use.
5. “You Will Suffer from Trauma for the Rest of Your Life”
The usual model of trauma is that we imagine being damaged physically or psychologically and carrying that damage the rest of our lives. It’s true that some kinds of trauma will change your life permanently, that some events leave scars. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to live less of a life. Even people who experienced childhood trauma or severe trauma can overcome it and even grow when they get the right help. There has been a lot of progress treating trauma in recent decades, which means trauma isn’t typically something that you have to suffer with for the rest of your life.
At The Foundry, we understand that trauma plays a major role in substance use disorders. That’s why we use many different approaches to help our clients heal from trauma as part of our comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. Our methods include cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, Alpha-Stim, family therapy, and others. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Ten Signs Your Depression May Be Returning
Depression is one of the most commonly co-occurring issues with a substance use disorder and treating depression effectively is essential to long-term sobriety. One study found that among people with a mood disorder such as major depression or bipolar, a staggering 32% also had a substance use disorder. A relapse of depression may also lead to a relapse of drinking or drug use, so it’s important to try to prevent recurring episodes if possible.
Unfortunately, there’s a high probability that depression will recur. About half of people who have had one episode and about 80% of people who have had two episodes of depression will have another. The good news is that if you spot the signs early, you can reduce the severity of another episode or possibly avoid it entirely. Here are some tips.
- Seasonal Changes
First, it helps to know your patterns and some possible causes of depressive episodes. Seasonal changes are one such cause. Moving from fall into winter triggers an episode for many people, most likely because the shorter days disrupt the circadian rhythm, which has been linked to depression. This is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD and is typically treated with lightbox therapy to recalibrate your internal rhythm.
Summer SAD can also trigger a depressive episode but the symptoms are typically slightly different. Whereas winter SAD usually causes increased appetite, excess sleep, and low energy, summer SAD more often causes decreased appetite, disturbed sleep, and agitation. Summer SAD may also trigger manic symptoms in people with bipolar disorder.
The anniversary effect is when some holiday or anniversary triggers a mood change. It’s especially common in connection with the death of someone close. For example, you may suddenly feel depressed as the person’s birthday approaches or when you have to celebrate a holiday without them. However, the same might happen for something related to any traumatic event, such as a breakup, an accident, or an assault. If you are aware of the anniversary effect and any upcoming anniversaries, you can prepare yourself and feel less ambushed by it.
It’s also important to be aware of any other triggers that might be specific to you. Stress is always a possible trigger of depression. It could be work stress, the death of a loved one, or a divorce, or it could even be something more positive, such as buying a new house or having a baby. While it’s always good to manage stress, you may want to seek out additional therapy or social support whenever you start to feel overwhelmed.
- Early Symptoms
It’s always good to know your patterns so you prepare for problems but if you’ve had a couple episodes of depression already, they may just recur more or less randomly. This often occurs at roughly 18-month intervals but that’s never exact. The following symptoms may indicate another episode is approaching. Obviously, any symptom of depression, though less severe, may be a warning sign of relapse.
Common symptoms include depressed mood, thoughts of suicide or death, feeling worthless or helpless, sleeping badly, appetite and weight changes, lethargy, lack of motivation, slow movements, poor concentration, and physical pains. However, the following signs are either lesser known or they are usually the first symptoms to appear.
- Low Mood
For most people, a bad mood is just a bad mood, but if you have a history of depression, a bad mood might spiral down into a depressive episode. If you do have a bad mood, it will usually pass but if it doesn’t, don’t stress about it. Instead, find a reliable way of interrupting the mood--a technique called behavioral activation. This has been shown to be an effective way to treat depression and it’s even more effective when you’re not yet in the grip of a full episode. Watch some funny videos, go out with friends, take a walk, or listen to some music--anything to lift your spirits, especially if you don’t feel like it.
When you’re in a full episode of depression, nothing is enjoyable. This is called anhedonia. Things you normally like just lose their appeal. In its milder form, anhedonia is more like boredom or restlessness. You do something you normally enjoy and you still feel flat so you try something else but that doesn’t work either. Sometimes this is a sign that you need to rethink your priorities or try something new but sometimes it’s an early sign of depression.
Isolation is a classic sign of depression. You don’t feel like going out or seeing anyone. Maybe you even skip 12-step meetings. You decline invitations, cancel plans, or just don’t show up. You don’t return texts or calls. The more you isolate yourself, the worse you feel, so it’s important to push against this tendency as soon as you notice it. Accept invitations and actually show up. Reach out to friends and family, even if it’s just a periodic text or call. Stay connected in any way you can manage.
Irritability is one of the most commonly ignored symptoms of depression. Most people with depression experience irritability but they often don’t connect the two. However, it may be one of the earliest symptoms. If everyone suddenly seems to be on your nerves or mundane tasks are suddenly incredibly frustrating, it may be an early sign of depression.
- Sleep Disturbances
People typically associate depression with sleeping too much or not being able to get out of bed. If you’re doing that, it’s certainly cause for concern. However, sleep disturbances are just as common and people less often connect them to depression. If you find yourself waking up at three or four in the morning and being unable to go back to sleep, it may be an early warning sign of a relapse of depression.
- Concentration Problems
Poor concentration can be terribly frustrating. You keep spacing off or if you do stay focused, it can feel really hard to make sense of whatever you’re doing. Sometimes this may just be situational. Perhaps it’s the end of a long day or you didn’t get enough sleep last night. However, if it seems to happen a lot, it could be a symptom of depression. It’s not just the body that slows down with depression, it’s your cognitive abilities too. If you’re having trouble with focus, working memory, or formulating a coherent plan, it may be an early symptom of depression.
Many of the items on this list are not enough on their own to indicate a relapse of depression but two or three together should be cause for concern. If you think you might be heading for a relapse of depression, make sure you’re still following your treatment plan, get in touch with your therapist, and try to stay socially connected. It’s much easier to avoid another episode than to climb out of the pit once you’ve fallen in.
At The Foundry, we know that addiction isn’t just a matter of drugs and alcohol--it’s about the whole system, including family, lifestyle, and mental health. We use proven methods to treat co-occurring conditions and teach our clients the emotional resilience skills they need for a long recovery. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Seven Ways to Avoid a Relapse of Depression
If you’ve had an episode of depression in the past, your chances of having another episode are about 50%. And if you’ve had two episodes of depression, your chances of another episode rise to about 80%. Depression is inherently miserable and no one wants to weather another episode. If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, there is even more at stake, since depression is a major driver of addictive behavior. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce your chances of another episode of depression or reduce the severity of an approaching episode if you are able to catch it early.
1. Know Your Patterns
First, it’s important to know your patterns and triggers. Typically, the first episode of depression is triggered by something--a traumatic event, major stress, grief, and so on--and that can give you a clue to what might cause a relapse. Stressful events like having a baby, moving, a breakup or divorce, losing a job, getting a promotion, and so on are all things to watch out for.
Many people are also affected by seasonal changes, especially as winter approaches and the days get shorter. This is known as seasonal affective disorder and it can happen in the summer too. Finally, anniversaries are often a problem. It could be the anniversary of the death of a loved one or the first holiday after a divorce. Knowing your triggers and taking extra precautions can help prevent a relapse of depression.
2. Keep Track of What Works
Second, keep track of what works. If you had help from a therapist to get through your earlier episode, you have a headstart in this regard. Depression is different for everyone and it appears to have a variety of possible causes, which means it also has a variety of solutions. It’s a good idea to keep a record of what works for you someplace you can easily reference it.
For example, some people do really well on one kind of medication but not another. You may discover that there are two or three kinds of cognitive distortions that cause most of your problems. It can be hard to keep track of all these things so make a list and consult it often.
3. Stick to Your Treatment Plan
If you worked with a therapist during previous depressive episodes, you probably worked out a recovery plan, even if it wasn’t strictly codified. It might involve taking an SSRI, keeping up with therapy, making some healthy lifestyle changes, and so on. As you start to feel better, it’s tempting to start cutting corners.
You might be able to coast for a while but it will eventually catch up to you, especially if you suddenly have to deal with a lot of stress. Sticking to your treatment plan--or going back to it as soon as possible--is the single best way of preventing a relapse of depression.
4. Stay Connected
One common early symptom that depression is coming back is that you don’t want to be around anyone. People ask you if you want to go out but you’d just rather stay home. You feel like you can’t be bothered. Unfortunately, isolation is one of the things that will make you spiral down the fastest. The worse you feel, the more you want to be alone.
Staying connected is one of the best ways to improve your mood and feel better about yourself. It’s especially important when you feel tempted to isolate yourself. It’s crucial to resist that temptation, even if you’re only texting with friends and family.
5. Talk to Your Therapist
These days, psychotherapy isn’t typically like psychoanalysis, where you go every day for years. A course of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, might only last a few months. It tends to be more targeted to specific solutions and when those goals are met, there’s no reason to continue meeting. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to resume therapy if you feel like you might be heading for another episode of depression.
The earlier you see your therapist, the better. Often, just feeling somehow “off” can be a sign that depression is returning. Maybe you feel irritable or that mundane tasks are extremely frustrating. It’s better to talk things over when you’re not sure exactly what’s wrong rather than wait until you’re in the middle of a crippling episode of depression.
6. Boost Your Mood
When you’re already in the middle of an episode of depression, advice like “Cheer up,” “get out of the house,” “do something fun” sounds hopelessly oblivious but if the feelings of depression have just started creeping in, a little boost in mood can go a long way. There are many ways to change your mental state. You can listen to music, go for a walk, go out with friends, watch something funny, do something creative, or try something new.
If you can, travel is often a great way to change your state. Even a short trip to a new place can interrupt a downward spiral. The key is to figure out what works for you and add it to the list, as discussed above. Having a few go-to tactics for improving your mood can make the difference between being in a bad mood for a day or two and being depressed for months.
7. Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is extremely important for avoiding depression, avoiding a relapse of substance use, and for staying happy and healthy in general. The three main pillars of self-care are a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise. These all help reduce your sensitivity to stress, help you regulate your emotions, boost your mood, and reduce inflammation, which is a factor in more than half of depression cases.
In addition to these, it’s also important to take time each day to relax and do something fun, even just for a few minutes. Spending time with friends and family, as discussed above, is also an important aspect of self-care.
Depression is a major risk factor for substance use and it is also very likely to return after you’ve had one episode. Fortunately, it’s not guaranteed to return. If you know your patterns and triggers, are aware of early warning signs, and take action early, you can avoid future episodes or at least reduce their severity.
At The Foundry, we know that substance use is often just a symptom of other problems. Mental illness, substance use, dysfunctional family dynamics, and maladaptive behaviors all feed on each other and keep you trapped in the cycle of addiction. That’s why we emphasize mental healthcare such as CBT and DBT as well as healthy family dynamics and healthy lifestyle changes as part of our holistic treatment program. For more information, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Keep Grief from Sinking Your Recovery from Addiction?
We typically think of grief as the result of losing someone close to us--a relative, a friend, or even a pet. However, grief is really a reaction to any loss and can be part of many of life’s challenges--a breakup or divorce, losing a job or business, losing a house, or even giving up drugs and alcohol. Grief can be intense and pose a major challenge to addiction recovery.
We typically have little or no control over the situations that cause us grief and life doesn’t care whether or not your recovery is strong enough to withstand a major loss. As difficult as grief can be, it doesn’t have to undermine your recovery. The following tips can help you stay sober while you process your grief.
Accept Your Feelings
First of all, it’s crucial not to suppress or avoid grief. When confronted with a loss, grief is a normal reaction, and trying to suppress, avoid, or numb it will only cause you problems in the long run. Research shows that accepting challenging emotions, particularly in stressful situations, leads to fewer mental health challenges, such as major depression. Of course, allowing yourself to feel painful emotions is inherently challenging.
Mindfulness can help but it works best if you’ve already been practicing mindfulness meditation consistently. If not, you might still benefit from just allowing yourself to feel grief, understanding that it’s normal, noticing how it feels in your body, and noticing how it comes and goes and changes over time.
Connect with Others
One of the worst parts of grief, especially after losing someone close to you, is that you feel alone. Perhaps you’ve lost a confidant or someone you depended on in some way. You can’t imagine anyone else filling that gap and you can’t imagine that anyone else really understands what you’re going through. However, that feeling is an illusion. Others probably feel the loss keenly as well and the people around you want to help you, so let them. It’s especially important to resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Isolation increases your risk of both depression and relapse. Stay in touch with friends and family.
Talk to a Therapist
People don’t always need therapy to cope with grief, but if you’re recovering from addiction while trying to cope with grief, it’s best to have professional help. You may be confronted with a flood of overwhelming and conflicting emotions and you may feel tempted to escape with drugs or alcohol. A therapist can help you sort all this out, lend a sympathetic ear, and help you make a plan for staying sober as you deal with your grief. And if you have a history of depression, grief is just the kind of thing that might trigger another episode so it’s important to do everything you can to look after your mental health.
Keep Going to Meetings
A major loss can severely disrupt your life and as a result, you may feel like it’s fine to skip meetings for a while. That’s typically a bad idea. This is the time when you need that structure and support the most. There are almost certainly some people in your group who have had to deal with grief in recovery and they can provide support and advice.
As discussed above, it’s also important to stay connected and avoid isolating yourself and going to meetings--perhaps even going to extra meetings--is a great way to ensure extra support and keep from feeling isolated. Also remember that even if you have to travel for a funeral, there are probably meetings wherever you’re going.
Beware of the Anniversary Effect
As time goes on, you will gradually feel better. You might start to feel almost normal again after a few months but then it’s time for that person’s birthday or it’s the first holiday without them and suddenly you come apart again. This is the anniversary effect and it often blindsides people. It typically happens around birthdays, holidays, and, of course, anniversaries--including marriage anniversaries and the anniversary of the person’s death.
Sometimes seasonal cues can trigger a return of grief. The best thing to do is to be aware of it and perhaps even deliberately mark the occasion with other friends and family members so that it becomes an occasion for remembering the best things about the person.
Be There for Others
Keep in mind that when you’re grieving, you’re probably not the only one. If a loved one has died, there are probably other people who are hurting too. While that doesn’t invalidate your own grief in any way, being aware of that fact and being there for others can be a way of connecting and sharing the load. Having compassion for others’ grief can make you feel a bit better, and if not, it can at least give you a sense of purpose that can carry you through and help you stay sober.
Take Care of Yourself
As noted, grief is often disruptive but you should still make an effort to take care of yourself as much as you can. Try to get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. Get some exercise if possible; that will boost your mood and help you cope with stress. The more you are able to stick to your regular routine, the less chaotic your life will feel.
Expressing your feelings about loss can be hard. You may be overwhelmed with conflicting feelings and find yourself at a loss for words when trying to talk to friends or even your therapist. You may have more luck with more creative pursuits--painting, drawing, poetry, music, or whatever you like to do. These modes of expression don’t require you to be very specific or accurate and can allow you to grapple with feelings there aren’t really words for.
Grief can be a serious challenge for addiction recovery because it can be traumatic and destabilizing, just the sort of emotions people typically rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with. Acceptance, social connection, and self-care are the major keys to staying on track when faced with grief.
At The Foundry, we know that life can throw some major challenges your way whether you’re ready for them or not. That’s why we emphasize skills for emotional resilience, as well as involving family in the process. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
7 Ways to Get Rid of Brain Fog for a Stronger Recovery
People often complain about brain fog in their first year of recovery. This is the feeling that you can’t focus on anything, even simple tasks, you can’t remember things you should be able to remember, you don’t feel motivated, you can’t form a plan and follow it through, or maybe you feel sort of emotionally numb. Your brain has a lot of adjusting to do during this early period and it’s normal to feel a bit off. People who have recently quit stimulants may have an especially hard time with brain fog since stimulants unnaturally enhance the faculties mentioned above. Brain fog can be a major challenge for recovery because it makes you have doubts like, “Will I feel this way forever?” and “How am I supposed to function like this?” Brain fog usually goes away on its own as your brain slowly adapts to functioning without drugs and alcohol. The following tips may also help.
1.) Go to the Doctor
If it’s been a while since you detoxed--several months, at least--and you feel like your cognitive symptoms haven’t abated, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. Malnutrition is a common problem for people with substance use disorders. Medical detox and treatment programs typically try to address this issue, but if you didn’t go that route or if you’ve fallen back into old lifestyle habits, you may have some nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in omega-3s, magnesium, B vitamins, and other nutrients may be causing your symptoms and your doctor can figure this out with a simple blood test. These are also usually easy to correct.
It’s also a good idea to rule out possible medical causes. Sleep apnea, thyroid problems, autoimmune disorders, and traumatic brain injuries are all possible causes of brain fog that you’ll want to rule out. You may also be on medications that are messing with your cognition and you’ll certainly want to discuss any change in medication with your doctor.
2.) Talk to Your Therapist
If there are no medical causes of your brain fog, talk to your therapist, if you haven’t already. Brain fog may have a psychological cause. Depression is the most likely. People often don’t realize that impaired concentration, slow thoughts, and poor memory are all common symptoms of depression. Lack of motivation and energy and emotional numbness are more well-known symptoms. Your symptoms may also be related to stress and anxiety. Psychotherapy, possibly with the assistance of medication, can help get these under control and that should improve your symptoms. However, some medications like beta-blockers have cognitive side effects, so you may want to avoid those.
3.) Dial-In Your Sleep
As for the things you have the most control over, sleep is the most common culprit when it comes to cognitive issues. Even a relatively modest sleep deficit can significantly affect your cognition, impairing your concentration, working memory, recall, planning, and self-control. Most studies suggest that we need at least seven hours of sleep a night to function optimally and for many people, even seven hours will be too little. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and the optimum amount will vary by individual and by any extra recovery needs, such as recovering from physical exertion or illness.
If you’re getting less than seven hours a night, there’s a good chance that’s causing at least some of your cognitive problems. While too little sleep is by far the more common issue, it’s also important to be aware that too much sleep can also cause cognitive impairment. So if you’re sleeping more than nine hours a night on average, you might want to shorten it a bit. It’s also important to sleep regular hours. That will make it easier to fall asleep and to wake up and you will feel less tired with the same amount of sleep.
4.) Experiment With Your Diet
As noted above, nutritional deficits can affect your cognition, so eating a variety of whole foods, especially nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, will help fill some of those gaps. It may also help to eliminate certain foods. Inflammatory foods have been found to be especially bad for mood and cognition since they essentially trigger the same immune response you experience when you’re sick. Try reducing your intake of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined wheat, fried food, and processed meats. Alcohol is also highly inflammatory and impairs cognition, but if you’re in recovery, you should be avoiding alcohol already.
5.) Get More Exercise
Exercise is just as good for your brain as it is for your body. It increases blood flow to every part of the brain, it makes you less sensitive to stress, it improves your mood, and it helps grow new brain cells. Most research indicates that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise has the most cognitive and mental health benefits and one large study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that team sports are the single best exercise you can do for mental health. If your head is foggy, a game of basketball, a jog, bike ride, or walk may be just the thing you need.
Most of the items on this list are about removing the impediments to healthy cognition, but it may also help to challenge your brain more as well. Some of the cognitive impairment you feel after quitting drugs and alcohol comes from lack of use. It’s very easy to concentrate on things related to drugs and alcohol but everything else takes a back seat. You can start building up your focus and other cognitive skills by using them more frequently. Meditation is a great way to do this deliberately, but there are other ways to do this as well. Playing an instrument, for example, uses the whole brain and requires a lot of focus and coordination. High-skilled sports and possibly even some video games may also help.
7.) Be Patient
Finally, it’s important to be patient with yourself. It can be hard to go through your days in a fog, struggling to complete even the simplest tasks, but it will get better. Your brain has to heal from possibly a long time of drug and alcohol use and that just takes time. It’s also important to remember that whenever you feel challenged or frustrated trying to focus, your brain is actually adapting. Alternate periods of work and rest. After a time of trying to focus and remember, give yourself a real break, where you don’t do anything at all and be sure to get enough sleep. This gives your brain more opportunity to make the changes you require of it.
Recovery from addiction is a process and sometimes it feels way too slow. At The Foundry, we know that one of the biggest challenges of recovery is persisting day after day when progress isn’t always obvious. We’re here to support you and your family through treatment and beyond, to give you the best chance of success. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.
7 Meditation Tips to Supercharge Addiction Recovery
Meditation can be an excellent part of an addiction recovery plan. In recent decades, there has been a lot of research showing practical benefits of meditation including stress reduction, increased productivity, better sleep, better relationships, and a greater sense of well-being. These can all serve you well in recovery. Because of the popularity of meditation in recent years, there has been a flood of information about it. Unfortunately, much of it is well-intentioned but misleading and if you follow it, you might easily miss out on many of the benefits of meditation or conclude that meditation just isn’t for you. The following tips can help make your meditation practice a more effective part of your recovery plan.
1.) Know Your Needs
First, meditation has become part of the current zeitgeist. It’s in the media all the time and you often hear people talking about their meditation practices. It’s almost expected that if you’re living a healthy, balanced life, then, of course, you’re meditating. However, it’s important to have some idea of what you actually want from the practice. Do you want to reduce stress? Do you want to have more compassion for yourself and others? Do you want to improve your concentration? Do you want to become enlightened? There are no wrong answers, but your individual needs will guide your approach to meditation.
2.) Find a Style that Works for You
Next, it’s important to understand that meditation isn’t just one thing. There are many different styles, traditions, and techniques. Currently, mindfulness meditation is the most popular and well studied and it will be a good place for many people to start. However, it’s not the only game in town. You may want to try a different style of meditation based on what you want from your practice. For example, if you want to reduce stress, mindfulness or a relaxation-response style of meditation may be the best for you. If you want to cultivate compassion then loving-kindness meditation (metta meditation) is the way to go. If you want to improve your concentration then a meditation that builds focus on an object, such as the breath, may be the most helpful.
3.) Find a Teacher
As noted, there is a flood of information on meditation out there and much of it is second-hand, perhaps a copy of a copy of a copy. The fastest way to get into a meditation practice and figure out if it’s right for you is to find a teacher. Depending on where you live and your particular situation, this may be easy or it may be hard. If your options are limited, the best strategy might be to work with the best teacher you can find. Even if it’s not exactly the style you want to do, they can show you the basics and help you figure out where to go next. If there is no teacher available in your area, look into online options. You can take a mindfulness-based stress reduction course online, which lasts eight weeks and has been shown to be pretty effective. There are also many good teachers on YouTube who do guided meditations for beginners. Look for videos by qualified teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg.
4.) Be Consistent
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they decide to try meditation is that they only do it when they feel like they need it. Perhaps they feel stressed or unable to relax, so they decide to light some incense and sit on the floor for a while and be peaceful. While that’s not the worst thing you can do, it’s about like exercising once in a while or practicing the piano once in a while. You really only get the benefits from regular practice. Meditation is a way of training your mind and you won’t see lasting changes unless your practice is consistent. It’s much better to practice 10 minutes every day than to practice for an hour at random intervals.
5.) Stick With One Approach for a While
Once you start learning about all the different approaches to meditation, you may be tempted to try them all. However, as discussed above, consistency is important. Spend at least a month with one practice and see what happens. If you don’t feel like it’s a good fit for you or your priorities change, try something else.
6.) Don’t Try So Hard
Another common mistake people make is that they try too hard. A common misconception about meditation is that the goal is to clear your mind, which isn’t very practical. Some meditation styles advocate single-pointed concentration. However, most people try to achieve this through intense mental effort, which often backfires. Typically, it’s more effective to relax and approach your thoughts in the role of an observer rather than a bouncer. If you get caught up in trying too hard and constantly judging your meditation, it’s going to be counterproductive.
7.) Focus On the Process
There’s a paradox when it comes to meditation: There’s something you want from meditation or else you wouldn’t bother doing it, but the more you focus on the result you want, the less effective the meditation is. The reason is that you can’t simultaneously focus on the present, accepting your thoughts and emotions, and think about how great life will be in the future when your thoughts and emotions aren’t so irritating. The way out of this paradox is to focus on the process. Make meditation a regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth. When you do the practice, just do it and see what happens. Whether your experience that day is good or bad, it still counts.
Meditation isn’t a silver bullet but it is a practice that can enhance your recovery in many ways. For example, mindfulness meditation practice helps people be more aware of their emotions, less reactive to stress, and deal better with cravings. It’s a sort of safety valve for your mind. It relieves some of the tension so you can think a little more clearly and make better decisions. Having an experienced teacher is the best way to learn meditation. Consistency, patience, and being gentle with yourself are also crucial for getting the most out of your practice.
At Foundry, we incorporate mindfulness meditation and yoga into our treatment program because we know treatment is only effective if we treat the whole person--mind, body, and spirit. Meditation is one aspect of our overall approach to wellness. Long-term success in recovery means creating a life that feels purposeful and connected, with no need for drugs or alcohol. To learn more about our addiction treatment program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
8 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone With Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems worldwide. It is also a common driver of addictive behavior. One study found that among people with a mood disorder such as major depression or bipolar disorder, about 32% also had a substance use disorder--that’s about four times the rate of substance use disorders in the general public. Common symptoms of depression include depressed mood, inability to enjoy anything, irritability, disturbed sleep or sleeping too much, weight changes, inability to concentrate, fatigue, lack of motivation, slow movements, aches and pains, substance use, reckless behavior, and thoughts of suicide or death. If someone you care about has depression, you probably want to help but it can be hard to know how. The following are some things you should avoid saying to someone with depression.
1.)“Snap Out of It”
If you’ve never experienced depression yourself, it can be hard to understand why someone can’t get out of bed, can’t focus, never seems to enjoy anything, never seems to be motivated, and so on. You may feel like they’re just not trying or they need someone to motivate them or wake them up. However, that’s not how it works. Telling someone to “snap out of it” or “cheer up,” even with the best intentions typically just makes things worse. Depression is a complicated problem and more and more research is showing that many forms of depression have physiological as well as psychological components. Telling someone to snap out of it may be like telling them to snap out of the flu.
2.) “Why Should You Be Depressed?”
We usually assume that if someone is depressed, they must be depressed about something. Often, this is true. Major life stressors such as a divorce, a job loss, or the death of a loved one can sometimes precipitate an episode of depression. Even a seemingly positive event like having a baby can cause depression. However, you don’t necessarily need a reason to be depressed, especially if you have had one or more episodes of depression in the past. It can occur spontaneously. Also, we all have different brains and different bodies and we all react to stressors differently. Even people who appear to have very good lives can be deeply depressed.
3.) “It Could Be Worse”
Similar to the point discussed above, “it could be worse” assumes you have to have a good reason to be depressed. You may be trying to put things in perspective, perhaps pointing out that there are people in your own neighborhood who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, so you should feel pretty good about your life. Typically, this kind of strategy backfires. Someone with depression is just likely to feel bad about feeling bad. Also, a typical feature of depression is that you can’t imagine life getting better but it’s very easy to imagine life getting worse.
4.) “It’s All in Your Head”
People who haven’t experienced depression often imagine it as a problem of perspective--a short-sighted gloominess that would go away if you only looked at life differently. While it’s true that your thinking often contributes to depression, such as when you get stuck in cycles of rumination, worry, and cognitive distortions, there are two problems with telling someone depression is all in their head. First, it’s not all in your head. As noted above, recent research has found that much of depression may actually be in your body, particularly in the form of inflammation. Second, to the extent that depression is in your head, it’s nearly impossible to think your way out of it. The bleakness of your outlook doesn’t seem like depression; it seems like reality and it’s hard to argue yourself out of something you believe is true.
5.) “Don’t Be So Selfish”
From the outside, someone with depression can seem self-centered or even solipsistic--they don’t want to work, they don’t want to help out, they don’t even want to get out of bed because their life seems so uniquely horrible. However, there’s no sense at all in which depression is an indulgence. As discussed above, depression feels more like a trap and you can’t think or motivate yourself out of it. Calling someone with depression selfish only adds to their burden of self-loathing. Again, imagine calling someone with the flu selfish, and that’s similar to calling someone with depression selfish.
6.) “You Should Try Exercising”
While it’s true that exercise is excellent for your mental health and should be part of any treatment plan, it typically isn’t sufficient by itself. It’s not bad advice, exactly, it just falls woefully short. When you’re depressed, everyone has some advice for you and most of those people have never been depressed themselves. Advice either falls flat or it makes you feel like there’s one more thing you’re not doing. At the very least, it underscores how little someone else understands what you’re going through.
7.) “Have a Drink”
Some people assume that depression is just a matter of feeling stressed and having a few drinks will help them relax and cheer up. While a few drinks may temporarily make you feel better, in the long run, alcohol will make you feel worse. As discussed above, depression--and especially bipolar depression--significantly increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder. You get to rely on these temporary boosts--or moments of relief--and before you know it, you can’t get along without drugs and alcohol.
8.) “You Should See a Therapist”
As with the advice to exercise, telling someone to get therapy isn’t bad advice in itself but it tends to fall flat. There’s a good chance that someone with depression spends half the day thinking, “I should see a therapist,” but, again, it’s just one more thing they should be doing but aren’t. They probably don’t need you to remind them.
What may be helpful instead is to offer to help. Even in a mid-sized city, there are possibly hundreds of therapists. The thought of finding a good one, making an appointment, and actually showing up may feel overwhelming to someone with depression. Instead of suggesting they see someone, offer to help them with the process of finding a therapist and making an appointment. Try to remember that depression attacks the very faculties--motivation, optimism, focus--that you need to make a treatment plan and follow through. Seeing a therapist may seem like a simple thing to you but it’s not to them.
Depression is one of the most common co-occurring mental health issues along with substance use disorders. Depression typically comes first and substance use is more often a symptom and a way to try to manage the symptoms of depression. Any plan to treat addiction that doesn’t also address depression is not likely to succeed for long. If you have a loved one with depression, it’s important to see things from your loved one’s point of view. Plenty of well-meaning advice will either make no difference at all or make them feel worse. It’s far more helpful to be there for them, to listen, to try to understand, and to help them get treatment.
At Foundry, we know that there is usually a lot more to addiction than substance use. We use a variety of evidence-based methods to diagnose and treat any co-occurring mental health issues, including depression. Our methods include cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Alpha-Stim, and others. To learn more about our comprehensive approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Make Relaxation a Regular Part of Recovery?
We often think of relaxation as a luxury, something we do every once in a while if we can manage to get a few days off of work or get someone to watch the kids. However, daily relaxation is a necessity. It’s a vital part of good self-care, especially for anyone recovering from a substance use disorder and their families as well. Most people recovering from addiction say that stress is their biggest cause of cravings, and in fact, many addictions begin as a way of coping with stress and other challenging emotions. Chronic stress can also worsen health risks, such as heart disease, obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, and more frequent illnesses. These are all risks that are also increased by heavy drug and alcohol use.
In short, taking time each day to relax isn’t just a luxury, but a way of protecting your physical and mental health, and a vital element of your recovery plan. However, it’s not always easy to relax, especially early in recovery when you may be feeling unusually tense, anxious, and irritable. The following tips can help you make relaxation part of your everyday life.
Set Aside Time
If you want to make relaxation a habit, you need to actually dedicate some time in your day to it. If you just figure you’ll squeeze it in when you have some free time, you’ll usually end up skipping it. Figure out a time that will work most days. Just before bed works pretty well for most people and relaxing can be a great way to improve your sleep as well. Right after work might be another good time and having a little buffer between your work and home life might improve your relationships. Find a time that works for you and try to stick to it every day.
As for relaxation itself, this is often harder than you would expect. You might sit down in your comfy chair with some nice music and still feel tense and agitated. One strategy that will probably help is progressive relaxation. Start at the top of your head, notice any tension there, and let it go. If it won’t seem to go away, try tensing the muscles for five seconds or so and then relax. When that area feels warm and relaxed, move on to the next area, perhaps your face or the back of your neck--both places that hold a lot of tension. It may also help to use visualization. For example, you may imagine the tense areas as a block of ice melting.
The body and mind are connected in complex ways and it’s very hard to relax your body if your mind is tense, agitated, or racing. Relaxing your body should help to calm down your mind, but it can work the other way as well. Meditation can be an excellent way to relax your mind. There are many different methods of meditation and many of these are great for helping you mentally relax. Mindfulness meditation is currently the most popular form of meditation and it specifically emphasizes not getting wrapped up in thoughts. The Relaxation Response is a simple meditation method that combines progressive relaxation and mantra meditation. Research published in Public Library of Science ONE found that this technique--and likely others as well--actually cause genetic changes in the way your body responds to stress, including genes related to inflammation and oxidation, two kinds of stress that can lead to heart disease and cancer, respectively.
Meditation can relax your mind and help you respond better to stress but it does take a little practice. In the meantime, deep breathing is a quick way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and get your body and mind to relax. Deep breathing, and in particular, a long exhale, has been shown in many studies to activate the vagus nerve, which stimulates your rest-and-digest system. The ideal rate for relaxation appears to be about six breaths per minute. A regular rhythm like a three-second inhale, six-second exhale, and a brief pause before repeating should help you relax both mentally and physically. Furthermore, taking a few slow deep breaths is something you can do pretty much any time throughout your day when you need a short break.
Many studies show that exercise is good for your mental and physical health, and good for addiction recovery. One reason is that regular exercise makes your brain less reactive to stress, which makes it easier to relax. If stress relief is your main goal, it’s best to keep your exercise fairly moderate because intense exercise, whether it’s long endurance-training sessions, or spending hours in the weight room can increase cortisol and require more sleep to recover. To relax, you would do better to engage in more moderate forms of exercise like walking or tai chi. Yoga can be a bit more intense but it also incorporates relaxation, stretching, deep breathing, and meditation, which can make it ideal for relaxing. The only caveat is that exercising within two hours of bedtime can make it harder to sleep.
Hot Bath or Shower
For relaxing your muscles and getting a little space from other people, it’s hard to beat a hot shower or bath. Music can make it more relaxing, and many scents, such as lavender are relaxing as well. Guys typically prefer showers but it’s hard to beat the relaxing power of a hot bath. As with exercise though, a hot bath too close to bedtime can raise your core temperature and impair the quality of your sleep. Therefore, if you’re taking a shower or bath near bedtime, go for warm, not hot.
Be Careful About Media Consumption
Finally, if you’re trying to relax, beware of unnecessary exposure to things that will make you tense. Exciting, suspenseful, or violent movies and TV shows get your adrenaline going and make it harder to relax. News and social media are terrible if you’re trying to wind down because much of that content is specifically calculated to make you angry. If you’re trying to unwind by looking at Facebook, you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you’re going to watch something to unwind, go for something funny or positive. Laughter is great for relaxing.
Relaxation plays an important role in addiction recovery. It helps keep you mentally and physically healthy. It’s crucial to make relaxation a regular part of your day. In fact, the more moments of relaxation you can work into your day the better. If you look at the best pro athletes, for example, they are typically the ones who look the most relaxed the instant they step off the field, off the court, or out of the ring. They know it’s time to let go of whatever mistakes they made and rest before they have to get back in the game. Stress is cumulative, so the more of those kinds of microbreaks you can incorporate into your day, the less burdened you will feel.
At Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about living a better life. It’s about being more skillful in the way you cope with stress, manage your emotions, and relate to other people. That’s why life skills, emotional regulation skills, self-care, meditation, yoga, and other practices are integral to our holistic addiction treatment program. For more information, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
9 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Therapy
Therapy is a central feature of any addiction treatment program. The majority of people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, major depression, personality disorders, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and others. Even those without a co-occurring disorder can benefit from discussing their thoughts around substance use and stress as well as learning new behavioral and coping strategies. Getting emotionally healthy is indispensable for a strong recovery. The following tips can help you make the most of your therapy sessions.
1.) Find the Right Therapist
If you are entering an addiction treatment program, there are probably only a few therapists but they should all have experience treating co-occurring addiction and whatever your particular challenge is. If you are choosing your own therapist out in the world, you have to be a bit more selective. Find someone near you--ideally within half an hour travel time--to make it easier to attend appointments consistently. Find someone with experience treating the issues you struggle with. Most therapists have some experience with depression and anxiety but fewer specialize in addiction. When you have narrowed down the field to maybe three candidates, see if you can talk over the phone or have a sort of trial session with each of them to see who you connect with most easily.
2.) Understand That Therapy Is a Collaboration
When you’ve found a good therapist, keep in mind that therapy is a sort of collaboration. Your therapist is like a professional consultant. They need a lot of cooperation from you. It’s not the case that you can walk in, tell them what’s wrong, and expect them to fix you. In fact, it’s a bad sign if your therapist does too much of your work for you--telling you exactly what to do, dictating your goals for therapy, and so on.
3.) Have Some Idea of What You Want to Accomplish
When you go to therapy, it’s a good idea to start out with some idea of what you want to accomplish. What’s bothering you that you decided to seek help? For most people, substance use is only a symptom of other problems but reducing or eliminating your substance use is a good objective to start with. You can work with your therapist to come up with other, more measurable objectives. You want to have some idea of whether you’re making progress in therapy and progress will look different for everyone.
4.) Don’t Censor Yourself
In normal conversation, we hold things back. Sometimes we don’t want to be too honest about our feelings or reveal too much about our past. Sometimes we just don’t want to say something that’s not relevant to the conversation. However, in therapy, it’s typically better just to say whatever is on your mind, even if you think it might be embarrassing or irrelevant. Honesty is essential, and it’s hard for your therapist to figure out what’s going on with you if you’re always being polite and curating your own thoughts and emotions. Furthermore, those odd, seemingly irrelevant thoughts that pop into your head may be more relevant than you think. Don’t worry about your therapist judging you; they’ve heard things you probably couldn’t imagine. And unless you make a credible threat against yourself or others, they are legally prohibited from sharing anything you say in a session.
5.) Ask Questions
Related to the point above, it’s good to ask questions. Indulge your curiosity. Ask questions about therapy, ask questions about psychology, ask questions about your therapist's experience with certain problems, ask questions about whether other people have the same problems as you, and so on. If there’s something your therapist isn’t allowed to reveal--such as information about other clients--they will make that determination. There’s no harm in asking if you’re curious.
6.) Talk About Therapy
It’s also good to talk about the process of therapy in your sessions. There may be times when you feel like you’re not making progress, you’re not really connecting with your therapist, or perhaps your priorities have shifted. It’s good to talk about these issues as soon as possible. They are often easy to fix. It takes a while to create a good therapeutic relationship, both in terms of sharing information and building trust, so if you’re in a situation where therapy was going well for a while but now it’s not, it’s certainly worth a conversation before quitting therapy or changing therapists.
7.) Do Your Homework
Your therapist will often ask you to do something between sessions. It may be a practical assignment like asking you to do at least one thing that makes you slightly anxious. Or it could be a written assignment, such as keeping track of times you feel angry during the week and what caused it. It’s important to take these assignments seriously since they are the bridge between your sessions and your life. If your therapist doesn’t give you homework, it’s still a good idea to keep a therapy journal. Write down briefly what you talked about, how you feel about it, and any thoughts or questions you have for next time.
8.) Keep an Open Mind
We all assume we know ourselves better than anyone else. That’s true in some ways, but we all have biases, blind spots, and patterns we’re not aware of. Much of therapy is about becoming more aware of your own behavior. This task is much harder when you cling to preconceived ideas about who you are, how other people see you, and how a person should act. Be open to at least considering suggestions that initially seem off base. Never forget that your best thinking is what got you into this mess to begin with.
9.) Set Boundaries
Finally, it’s usually a good idea to set boundaries around therapy. Some people in your life may be a little too interested in what you discuss in your sessions. They may be afraid they’ll get blamed for some of your problems or they may just be eager to give their own advice. Neither is really helpful. Be careful who you discuss your therapy sessions with. What goes on there is for you alone.
Therapy is central to addiction recovery because so much of addictive behavior is driven by challenging emotions that arise because of mental health issues. Although 12-Step meetings like AA and NA have helped many people, they aren’t designed to treat mental health issues, and so their benefit will be limited for many people. When participating in therapy, the most important thing to remember is that engagement is key. Your therapist may be best thought of as a sort of guide. They can help you get where you want to go, but you have to tell them where you want to go and you have to do the walking.
At Foundry, we know that mental and physical health form the solid foundation of recovery from addiction. We use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, family therapy, group therapy, and other methods to treat co-occurring mental health issues. We also emphasize healthy lifestyle changes as a way to support mental health and addiction recovery. To learn more about our comprehensive approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.