Getting the Most Out of Your Recovery With Yoga

Yoga is a practice that uses physical poses to connect the mind, body and breath. The benefits of yoga include stress relief, pain management, and a general improvement in overall well-being. It also helps you gain self-awareness and explore your spirituality. 

Yoga is a powerful tool for holistic healing and recovery from addiction. Substance abuse treatment programs use yoga to help prevent relapse, ease withdrawal symptoms, and provide a healthy way to cope with stress and other negative emotions. It can be an integral part of your daily routine at a treatment center and for the rest of your recovery journey.

How Can Yoga Help You Cope With Stress and Anxiety?

Almost half of the people with a substance use disorder also suffer from an underlying mental health condition. Feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression can cause people to turn to drug abuse - drugs and alcohol may produce temporary calming effects or provide an escape from reality.

Part of the addiction recovery process is learning to reduce anxiety and stress and deal with these feelings in healthier ways. Feelings of anxiety stem from the central nervous system - it is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Yoga can help regulate your nervous systems, making you feel calmer and more relaxed, which in turn reduces the urge to seek a substance.

Yoga can affect your nervous system by impacting GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain. GABA is a chemical that inhibits brain activity and calms your central nervous system. Research has found that yoga increases GABA levels, improving mood and reducing anxiety.

Yoga may also affect the ‘vagus nerve’, a powerful nerve that delivers messages from the brain to the digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems. The vagus nerve causes a calming response in your nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. Yoga involves breathing exercises and other practices that can activate this nerve, helping you manage stress and experience feelings of oneness.

How Does Yoga Help to Manage Pain?

Many people start using prescription drugs like opioids to relieve chronic physical pain and later become addicted. People in recovery may search for another way to ease their pain and yoga can help. 

Lower back pain is one of the most common forms of chronic pain and affects millions of people in the United States. Research has shown Iyengar yoga can be used to decrease the intensity of lower back pain of participants and increase their health-related quality of life - that is, improve the aspects of their well-being that their health impacts. In addition, it can help prevent someone from returning to drugs to relieve pain and the feelings of depression that often accompany it.

How Can You Use Yoga Alongside the 12-Step Program?

The 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a set of guiding principles for overcoming addiction and maintaining sobriety. They focus on self-acceptance, spiritual well-being, and the development of meaningful bonds between one another. Yoga can support addiction recovery and offer a holistic healing experience that is cognitive, spiritual, and somatic - so it works very well alongside the 12-step program.

Practicing yoga is a way to explore these principles from a body-mind approach. It is an opportunity for introspection where you can learn to accept yourself as a whole. Yoga and meditation also further the development of your spirituality. They can help fulfill the sense of longing for connection or deeper experience that many recovering addicts (people in recovery) recognize as an underlying cause of their addiction.

Enlightened Solutions is a licensed co-occurring treatment center that focuses on healing the whole person rather than merely treating the addiction. Our treatment program is rooted in the 12-step philosophy and offers each client an individualized recovery plan.

At Enlightened Solutions, we offer a range of treatment modalities to provide a holistic healing experience. Our treatment plans include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family constellation therapy, art and music therapy, yoga and meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic work, and equine-assisted therapy. You will find us near the southern shore of New Jersey, where we provide optimal healing and relaxation.

If you seek relief from addiction, or if someone close to you does, please call us at (833) 801-5483 to learn more about our treatment options.


power of touch

The Importance of Touch for Physical and Mental Health

COVID-19 has brought considerable changes to our daily lives. We might now be working from home. If children attend school in person, they wear masks, and their desks are probably shielded with plexiglass partitions. Fast-food workers might place our to-go bags on trays before handing us our food, so there is very little chance of the customer and employee accidentally touching.

We miss a lot from our pre-COVID life, like getting together with friends and seeing extended family. We miss going to the movies and concerts. Most of all, we miss human contact. We miss shaking hands, and we miss hugs. We have become “touch-deprived.”

According to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., “we were already a touch-deprived society before [the pandemic].” Dr. Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, references research that has been done in airports, studying behavior in lines. Previously, there was touching. People held hands. Now, we are all on our cell phones.

Problems Caused by Touch Deprivation

Touch deprivation, also called skin hunger, can cause mental and physical health issues. According to an article published on Nordic Cuddle’s website, a cuddle therapy provider located in the United Kingdom, people in Western cultures tended to be less “touch-friendly” even before the COVID-19 pandemic due to technology, mobile devices, and fears of allegations of harassment.

Lack of positive touch is associated with mental and physical health concerns, including the following:

  • Aggressive behavior, both verbal and physical
  • Body image disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • High levels of stress
  • Loneliness (signs could include prolonged hot showers and baths, wrapping up in blankets, and clinging to pillows and pets)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alexithymia (a condition that prevents people from expressing and interpreting their emotions)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fear of attachment

Benefits of Touch

The importance of touch was discussed in a recent article in Time magazine, “The Corona Virus Outbreak Keeps Humans from Touching: Here’s Why That’s So Stressful,” published April 10, 2020. According to the article, people need platonic touch daily. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says that positive touch, like hugging your life partner or linking arms with a friend, reduces stress. Other health benefits include a strengthened immune system, improved digestion, deeper sleep, and an enhanced ability to empathize with others.

Examples of positive touch include a hug, a handshake, a high-five, or a pat on the back. In fact, touch is so essential to human development that part of the treatment for premature babies includes skin-to-skin contact between babies and their parents, called “Kangaroo care.”

According to Grace L. Heer, a certified cuddlist who works in Southern California, positive touch increases levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in the brain. These increased hormone levels decrease anxiety and stress levels and can lower the heart rate and reduce blood pressure. 

(Professional cuddling is a holistic therapy that provides clients with safe touch. Sessions could include hand-holding, hugs, spooning, conversation, or shared silence.)

How to Find Positive Touch During the Pandemic

Fortunately, there are ways to increase the amount of touch we receive, even during the pandemic. Sales of weighted blankets have increased during COVID-19, and people have started cuddling with stuffed animals and pets. Pet adoptions have increased during the pandemic as well. According to an article in the Washington Post, animal shelters, nonprofit rescues, private breeders, and pet stores all say that there is more demand for puppies and dogs than they can meet.

In a New York Times article, Dr. Field says that one way to get touch in your life in a very safe manner during the pandemic is a treatment she describes as “moving the skin.” Pressure receptors are located beneath the skin. Instead of merely stroking your skin, move your skin firmly enough to cause temporary indentations. She also recommends giving yourself a scalp massage, doing abdominal crunches, wearing compression clothing, or even rolling around on a carpeted floor or yoga mat. In addition, she says that yoga can function as a form of self-massage (“What All That Touch Deprivation Is Doing to Us,” New York Times, Oct. 6, 2020).

Due to the pandemic, Heer has been offering virtual cuddle sessions, leading participants in self-soothing techniques that boost oxytocin without physical contact. For example, she leads participants in performing mirror exercises. Participants complete the same movements at the same time, mirroring each other over Zoom. Doing the same movement at the same time, she explains, creates an emotional connection. Oxytocin levels in the brain are increased as they would be with physical contact because of how the neurons fire in the brain.

Touch is vital to our physical and mental well-being. At Enlightened Solutions, we offer many holistic treatment modalities that utilize touch, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and reiki. These therapeutic techniques are valuable in treating substance use disorders as well as mental health issues. Enlightened Solutions is a licensed co-occurring treatment center, meaning that we can treat substance use disorders and the mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction. Our treatment program is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. It includes one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and many alternative therapies, including art and music therapy, family constellation therapy, yoga and meditation, and equine-assisted therapy. We are located near the southern New Jersey shore, and we offer each client a customized treatment program. Our focus is on healing the whole person rather than merely treating the addiction. If you seek relief from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please call us at (833) 801-5483.


Recovery and the Hierarchy of Needs

Recovery and the Hierarchy of Needs

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
-Abraham Maslow, Humanistic Psychologist and Creator of the Hierarchy of Needs

American psychologist Abraham Maslow created what he called the Hierarchy of Needs to describe the motivational steps required for growth and human achievement. Maslow placed these needs in a hierarchy on a pyramid, meaning that some of our needs build the base of the pyramid and each need fulfillment brings us closer to “self-actualization.” “Self-actualization” refers to the apex of what we are capable of achieving and becoming.

While addicted to alcohol or substances, we may have forgotten about our life’s purpose and neglected to fulfill our own needs. We may need to begin our recovery at the base of the pyramid or at another step along the way toward our self-fulfillment.

According to Maslow, we need to fulfill our needs in the most basic areas before advancing toward fulfilling needs that are considered to be of a higher order. The hierarchy of needs is as follows, beginning at the most basic of needs to the highest need of self-actualization:

1. Physiological Needs: Food, Shelter, Clothing--the Basics

The first set of needs on Maslow’s pyramid is the basic, physiological needs all people require for survival. Most of us in recovery have these needs fulfilled, however, we may need help maintaining these basic needs. We may also neglect the importance or value of these needs and how they can be vital to recovery. For example, eating food that is nutritious and healthy will fulfill our needs better than eating junk food. Once we have our basic needs met we move on to safety and security needs.

2. Safety and Security: Routines and Predictability

Many of us in recovery may be at this level. We may have been surviving, but our lives have become chaotic and unpredictable. We may have lost our means for financial support or support from our families to supply necessities, which helped us to feel safe and secure.

Safety and security needs help us feel stable in our lives. Without stability, we may be surviving at only the most basic of levels. Once we have our safety and security needs met, we move on to seeking love and belongingness needs.

3. Love and Belongingness: Support Networks

We are social creatures and thrive when we feel a sense of love and belonging. When others accept us, we feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves. In recovery, we may need to build support networks for ourselves to lean on when things are tough.

Recovery is challenging, but we are not alone in this journey! Peer support and group sessions can help us fulfill our needs of belonging and give us a sense of community. Once we feel that we are loved and belong, we begin to work on our esteem needs.

4. Esteem Needs: Dignity and Reputation

Our support networks can help us feel stronger and we can begin to feel better about ourselves. Then, we can work on esteem needs. Esteem needs relate to how we feel about ourselves and how much we feel others value us. In recovery, we may need to learn how to love ourselves.

We may feel that we let others down with our addictions and seek to rebuild our reputations. Having dignity and self-respect will help us achieve our goals for our self-fulfillment. Being respected by others may help us feel better about ourselves if we feel that we have hurt others in the past with our addictions.

Once we build our self-esteem and self-confidence and build up our reputation, we can look towards the apex of the pyramid: self-actualization.

5. Self-Actualization: Our Best Self

The top of Maslow’s pyramid is the highest need of all. Self-actualization is our need to become the best that we can be. When we have all our other needs fulfilled, we can be our best selves. While we may have a vision of what the best version of ourselves is, without the other needs being fulfilled, we may find accomplishing our highest goals to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In recovery, we remember that we are on a journey and the destination is our best self. However, we cannot climb a mountain without drinking any water! We will have a difficult time facing challenges without emotional support and encouragement from others.

When we begin our journey in recovery, we must look forward while recognizing that climbing the pyramid of self-improvement takes time. Step-by-step, fulfilling our needs along the way, we can make it to the top!

While engaging in addictive behaviors, we may have neglected some of our most basic needs while surviving day by day. We may not have been looking forward and have only been fulfilling our basic needs without addressing all of our needs to achieve all that we are capable of. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can guide you in your recovery by understanding what you may need to work on to begin working towards becoming your best self. What are you capable of? What is the best that you can be? Self-discovery can be difficult, but even if you are lost, you are not alone! Many others are also seeking care and treatment for their addictive behaviors that have been holding them back from living their best lives. Enlightened Solutions has been helping others like you achieve their goals with an emphasis on finding your fulfillment. Call us at (833) 801-5483 today to begin your journey toward self-actualization!


Respectfully Saying

Respectfully Saying "No": Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries with others can be difficult; however, setting healthy boundaries can improve our overall wellness and mindset. Learning to respectfully say “no” to the requests or demands of others can help us build resolve and find focus in our own lives. We may have learned to say “yes” and put the needs of others ahead of our interests.

One important aspect of recovery is building the resiliency and the strength to view our own needs as being just as important as the needs of others. During recovery from addictive behaviors, we may need to limit our time with those who may trigger our behaviors or who bring out the worst in us.

We may also develop new goals and appear to change to those around us. Setting healthy boundaries will help us maintain our focus and remain on our path to recovery.

Saying “No” Feels Selfish: Putting Ourselves Ahead

We may struggle with setting boundaries. We may feel like saying “no” to the requests or demands of others is selfish. Many of us in recovery may not feel comfortable putting our needs ahead of others. We may not have the confidence to state what we want or we may have been told that we must care for others first. While we may feel conflicted about saying “no,” learning to set healthy boundaries is not selfish!

Failing to set healthy boundaries can lead to us committing to things we do not want to do. We may find ourselves lost in fulfilling the needs of others as if we are dragged along in life rather than seeking our interests. Learning to take care of ourselves is not selfish and saying “no” to things that go against our best interests is one of the healthiest things we can do for our mental wellness.

When we set healthy boundaries with others, we reinforce the idea that we also matter. Sometimes, we may be tempted by others to engage in behaviors we know may lead us astray in our recovery. Others may be asking us to go out for a few drinks, making us feel like we are being rude when we decline. When we start recovery and we begin to grow, the people in our lives may not be able to cope with our change.

They may not understand our change or they may say that we are a completely different person. Even when we change for the better, others may not understand. They may also feel like they have lost a friend or a drinking companion. However, if we do not learn to care for ourselves and advocate for our interests, we may be swayed from our growth and improvement. After all, if we do not stand up for ourselves, who will?

Standing up for Yourself: Boundaries and Self-Advocacy

Setting boundaries is one of the first steps toward self-advocacy. When we give in to the requests and the demands of others that go against our health and well-being, we are essentially saying to ourselves that we do not matter. We are relenting and telling ourselves that we are unimportant and that our goals are not as significant as the needs of others.

We need to learn to stand up for ourselves! We are important and our goals do matter! Beginning recovery from addictive behaviors is one of the first steps towards self-care. We seek out self-improvement and know that our lives are important. We start to establish healthy routines and set goals for ourselves. We start to lead our lives rather than going with the flow at the whim of the demands of others.

Recovery begins with recognizing that we need help and that we wanted something better. We are moving forward from old habits and taking charge of our lives. Saying “no” to others can be a critical step to moving forward. When we know what we want out of life, we will find saying “no” to others much easier. Once we establish some goals for ourselves, we will begin to recognize what goes against our self-interests.

Remember that caring for our own needs is not selfish! The best way to help others is by caring for ourselves first. Setting healthy boundaries can seem difficult at first. However, once we begin to see how much we can grow by recognizing that our needs also matter, we will begin to soar in recovery! We will be able to free up our time to focus on things that are important to us by respectfully saying no to every demand that goes against our growth and well-being.

What are your goals in recovery? What do you want to accomplish? What is important to you? These are questions that will help to guide you along your recovery journey. When you begin to grow and change, others around you may have a difficult time letting go. They may have preconceived notions of who you are and struggle with the new you. They may try to pressure you to engage in former addictive behaviors that led you toward your recovery journey. Learning to say “no” to others can help us establish healthy boundaries and can remind us that we matter! Your recovery goals are important and if you do not stand up for yourself, who will? You are not alone in your experiences and your recovery. Sometimes, we may need to seek others for guidance and positive feedback. Enlightened Solutions is here to help you with your recovery journey. Call us at (833) 801-5483 today!


Creating Goals: Managing Expectations for Successful Recovery

Creating Goals: Managing Expectations for Successful Recovery

When entering a recovery program, you may be asked, “What are your goals for recovery?” You may have some idea for recovery goals based on avoiding the pain that brought you into a care program or other form of treatment. You might be thinking about loved ones that your addictions have hurt or the pain you may have brought into your own life.

While you can benefit from thinking of the mistakes you would like to avoid repeating, recovery goals are things that you want to do to move toward. Goals are positive accomplishments that you would like to achieve or bring into your life. When you set about on your recovery journey, think about where you want to be. Use the negative experiences in your life to remind yourself of what you would like to avoid while looking ahead to what you want.

Goals Are the Road Map

Creating goals will help you move from where you are to where you would like to be. Otherwise, you may be feeling lost or confused while thinking that recovery is just about avoiding specific behaviors. Recovery is much more than learning how to manage and evade addictive behaviors.

Recovery is about building a fulfilling and rewarding life. Recovery is about building a new life for yourself and finding new destinations. In recovery, you may get stuck feeling like you know what you do not want more than you know what you do want.

You may feel that everything will work out as long as you avoid triggers and maintain sobriety. Life is about so much more! Finding a focus will help keep you from feeling trapped by substances or alcohol. Recovery is a journey, a means to a destination.

Where are you going in your recovery? Once you know where you are going, the journey becomes easier. Goals are the steps along the way toward your destination. They are the specific targets that you reach to move forward on your journey toward something greater.

Creating goals for recovery can be a fun process! You can use your imagination and create the person you want to become. You can begin by taking some time to think about what is important to you. What things get you out of your bed each morning? What are the fun things that you enjoy? What makes you feel fulfilled?

Challenging Negativity and Pushing Forward

If you have never created any goals or thought about this before, you may feel challenged thinking about these things. You may also be feeling down and experiencing negative emotions, like hopelessness and helplessness. When you feel down like this, the bright side is, you can only move upward.

If you cannot feel any worse, then the only option is to feel better! Any small step forward is a step toward success! Each positive step is a victory when you are in a down and out mental place! Build positive momentum and push forward by managing your expectations. When beginning the goal-making process, small steps forward will lead to big rewards along the journey!

Manage Your Expectations: Building Positivity

Bringing a positive mindset to recovery can help you along the entire journey. Start with small, everyday goals. While you may have a bigger accomplishment in mind, like, “I want to be a better parent” or “I want to get a Master’s degree,” keep these things in mind as you start small.

In the beginning stages of recovery, you may be neglecting some of your own self-care needs. You may be struggling with having a routine or finding any rewarding hobbies. You will be a better parent when you know how to care for yourself. You will be more successful in college if you can follow a routine.

Choose a goal like making your bed every morning or exercising for fifteen minutes per day. Be proud of yourself for the everyday victories and, as you remain consistent, you will build a positive mindset to move forward to tackling bigger challenges! Remember to think of the small things that you can do to start your recovery.

Be proud of yourself for any victory or achievement, even the daily accomplishments, like cooking dinner or taking a walk. When you are at rock bottom, the only place for you to go is up! Start small and think of where you want to go and less about what you want to avoid. Recovery is a journey that can be fun and rewarding! Set small goals to guide you along the way as you create the life that you want!

When you are at rock bottom, you may have a difficult time seeing the light. You may be struggling with negative emotions and feelings of hopelessness. You may even feel like you do not deserve to be happy if you have hurt others in the past due to your addictions. Holding onto the past can keep you glued in a state of “rock bottom.” You deserve to seek a fulfilling life beyond simply avoiding addictive behaviors. You deserve to be happy and to move forward. Building momentum takes some time; start with the small victories. Manage your expectations and have fun along the way! Enlightened Solutions offers our clients new ways of approaching recovery and emphasizes the importance of building a fulfilling life beyond our care program. Call us today at (833) 801-5483 to begin your recovery journey!


Meditation Isn’t Just One Thing

Meditation Isn’t Just One Thing

In the past 10 years or so, meditation has gone mainstream in a big way. Half the articles you see online about health and wellness are accompanied by a picture of someone sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed, looking very centered. This is due partially to the increasing popularity of yoga. Scientific research showing the benefits of meditation for both mental and physical health also validates it.

Meditation has increasingly been incorporated into treatment for addiction and other mental health challenges by forward-thinking therapists and treatment programs. However, there are also a lot of popular misconceptions about meditation. One is that meditation is one specific thing and there’s only one right way to do it.

In reality, there are many different meditation techniques and each one has different effects. Furthermore, many approaches to meditation combine different elements and different contemplative traditions emphasize different methods. If you’re incorporating meditation into your recovery plan, the important thing is to be aware of your own needs and how meditation can serve those most effectively.

Just relying on one method is a bit like going to the gym and just doing one exercise. For some people, that’s fine, especially if it’s a complex exercise, but it all depends on what you want out of it. The following are some common types of meditation and how they might help you when recovering from addiction.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is probably the most popular kind of meditation in the US today. It has been widely studied and incorporated into therapeutic methods, such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It’s fairly easy to start learning and it has a lot of potential benefits in the context of addiction recovery.

While mindfulness itself really comprises several different techniques, the core of the practice is to bring your attention to the present moment and whatever you’re experiencing. This typically involves either focusing on your breath, scanning your body for physical sensations, or paying attention to something in your environment—typically sounds or some object in front of you—such as a flower or candle.

As noted, there are several ways mindfulness can aid your addiction recovery. Perhaps the biggest is that by keeping your mind in the present moment, you are not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness also lets you practice observing your thoughts and emotions nonjudgmentally, which diminishes their power to make you miserable.

For example, learning to simply observe feelings of shame rather than trying to push them away or bury them gives those feelings less control over you. With some practice, you may be able to treat drug and alcohol cravings in a similar way and “surf” them rather than feeling controlled by them.

Focused Attention

Focused attention is probably what most people think of when they think of meditation. This is the closest idea to the notion that meditation is “clearing your mind.” In reality, it’s almost impossible to “clear your mind” but you can learn to focus totally on your object of meditation—typically the breath—that you have the ability to exclude all other thoughts.

Few people develop their skills to this point, especially among casual practitioners. However, practicing this kind of meditation can help improve your concentration. There are two ways this can support your recovery. The first is if you have co-occurring ADHD, which is fairly common. Learning to better focus your attention can help reduce distractions and jumping thoughts and help you stick to important tasks.

Second, a lot of people find that when they first begin recovery, their concentration is terrible. There may be a number of reasons for this. If you’re quitting stimulants, for example, you may feel like you’re underwater and unable to focus.

Or, if your brain is mainly primed to look for drugs and alcohol, other things may just not seem that interesting and it’s harder to focus on them. By practicing focused attention meditation daily—such as feeling the breath as it passes in and out through your nose—you can gradually train your brain to focus.

Open Awareness

Open awareness is just what it sounds like: you accept whatever happens in the present, whether it’s an itch on your scalp or the sound of a truck outside your window. You let these sensations come and you let them go without judging them or following the train of thought they stimulate.

This sounds pretty easy, but it’s actually a more advanced mindfulness practice because it’s easy to start daydreaming and forget about the meditation entirely. If you can manage it, open awareness can be very good for helping reduce chronic pain and for becoming less sensitive to counterproductive thoughts.

Mantra

Mantra meditations involve reciting—either mentally or out loud—specific words or phrases. In a way, the mantra becomes the object of meditation and excludes other thoughts. However, there are two important ways mantra meditation is different.

First, when you are reciting a mantra—which, in some traditions is called a prayer—the parts of your brain that produce speech are busy, so it interferes with your mental chatter. If you struggle with critical thoughts or rumination, mantra meditation may be a way to turn down the volume of those.

Second, when you recite a mantra, even mentally, it tends to slow down your breathing patterns. One study found that participants who recited a mantra or the Ave Maria in Latin tended to stabilize their breathing at around six breaths per minute: an ideal rhythm for creating a sense of calmness and wellbeing.

Loving-kindness

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is one that tends to fall through the cracks but it can be very powerful. The idea is simple: you practice cultivating feelings of compassion for yourself and others. This has many benefits, including reducing stress, improving sleep, improving mood, and improving your relationships. You start by thinking of someone close to you, someone you feel genuinely grateful is in your life.

It could be a best friend or a relative. You direct positive feelings toward that person, perhaps with a thought like, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe,” and so on. You can notice whatever feelings this evokes and sit with those feelings for a few minutes. Then gradually try to apply those same feelings to people you feel less connected to, such as a work friend, someone you’ve seen but never spoken to.

Finally, you try to apply those feelings to someone who you find hard to like. There are a number of reasons this practice is excellent for addiction recovery, but perhaps two stand out among the others. First, you should be directing compassion toward yourself at some point in the process, and self-compassion is something many people with substance use disorders desperately need.

Second, having a strong support network is one of the most important aspects of recovery, and feeling genuine compassion for the people around you is one of the best ways to create that sense of connection. Keep in mind that any kind of meditation technique is just using your brain in a certain way and the more you use your brain in that way, the better you will get at that specific task.

This can help you overcome whatever weaknesses you happen to be dealing with. If you can’t focus, try a focused-attention technique. If you’re feeling isolated, try loving-kindness. The most important thing is for you to pay attention to your own needs and goals and figure out what works best for you.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovering from a substance use disorder is bigger than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s about living a more joyful, more fulfilling life. That’s why our program treats the whole person, using a variety of methods, including meditation and yoga. To learn more, call us today at (833) 801-5483.


4 Science-Backed Reasons Yoga Is Good for Addiction Recovery

4 Science-Backed Reasons Yoga Is Good for Addiction Recovery

Yoga—once a sort of fringe practice—has gone mainstream. Not only that, but it has attracted scientific attention and it’s increasingly being incorporated into treatment for mental health and substance use issues. According to the National Institutes of Health, yoga does, in fact, provide many tangible benefits to practitioners.

These benefits include reducing chronic stress, improving mental health, relieving symptoms of depression, improving sleep, reducing chronic neck and lower-back pain, and promoting healthier eating habits. There is nothing mystical about these benefits, as they are comparable to other forms of exercise. However, yoga does have a number of features that make it especially good for supporting mental wellness and addiction recovery overall.

Breathing

Breath is a key element of yoga practice. Every form of exercise involves breathing, but breathing is a very intentional component of yoga practice. Breathing is used in several different ways in yoga. Typically, you are supposed to maintain slow, even breaths on the inhale and exhale.

This is often much harder than it sounds. If you are in a position that is slightly difficult to hold, you can practice remaining calm despite physical distress. Breathing is also often matched to movement. This simultaneously makes the movement more challenging and your breathing more deliberate.

Yoga also includes specific breathing exercises called pranayama. There are a variety of different pranayama exercises intended to achieve different effects. A basic pranayama pattern is to breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for eight seconds.

Research shows that this pattern of breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and reduces heart rate. This may be one way that yoga helps reduce chronic stress. Other patterns have been shown to improve heart rate variability—a measure of how well your heart responds to changing demands—and pulmonary-cardio synchronization, which creates a greater sense of wellbeing.

Core Engagement

If you’re even vaguely familiar with yoga, you might know how it helps develop a strong core: the muscles around your abdomen and lower back that keep you upright. This is important for several reasons. As noted above, research shows that yoga can help with chronic pain in the lower back and neck.

Chronic pain is often a complicating factor in addiction recovery, especially from opioids, so non-chemical ways of managing pain are often helpful in recovery. Yoga appears to reduce chronic back pain in two ways: by improving flexibility in tight hamstrings and hip flexors, and by strengthening the core muscles that stabilize the back.

Core engagement may also benefit your mental health. Researchers have discovered that the areas of our brain related to emotions and the areas related to movement are a lot more connected than we thought. The connections to the core muscles are especially numerous, perhaps because the core comprises a lot of different muscles close to the spinal cord.

The practical result is that engaging your core, as you do in yoga, improves your mood on a basic physiological level. As an extra bonus, you continue to get a boost even when you’re not exercising. When you have a stronger core, you also have better posture, which is also implicated in this neural feedback loop.

It makes sense when you consider how you might slouch when you’re tired or in a bad mood. On the other hand, having a better posture sends more positive signals from your motor cortex.

Social Connection

Any kind of exercise will improve your mental health and your recovery but at least one large study suggests you get the most out of your exercise when it’s social. A study of more than a million adults found that people who exercised regularly had fewer bad mental health days each month and that the best exercise for mental health seemed to be team sports.

The social aspect is thought to reduce stress and increase engagement. However, it’s likely that you don’t actually have to play on a team to enjoy the social benefits of exercise. The best way to learn yoga is by taking classes from experienced teachers. If you regularly attend the same yoga class with the same people, you are likely to make friends and have a greater sense of connection.

Body Awareness

Yoga is also excellent for improving your body awareness. Yoga requires balance, flexibility, strength, and coordination. Yoga also relies on proprioception, which is the ability to feel how your body is oriented in space. As discussed above, yoga also teaches you to be more aware and deliberate about your breathing and forces you to engage your core.

This improved body awareness can help in recovery in a number of different ways. The first is just practical. Several substances, including opioids and benzodiazepines, can impair your coordination and balance with long-term use and make you more prone to accidents and falls.

For a younger person, falls or accidents are not typically a big deal but as you age, a fall or accident can be serious. Yoga helps you remember where your feet are and how to stay above them. The body awareness you get from yoga also helps in more subtle ways.

We often don’t realize how closely our physical and mental states are connected. You may be aware, for example, that your heart rate increases and your jaw gets tense when you’re anxious. However, you may not be aware of the full extent to which your emotions affect your body and vice versa.

Yoga helps you become more aware of this connection on your mat and throughout the day. It’s one more tool you can use to manage challenging emotions.

When you’re recovering from addiction, the right exercise is whatever works for you. There are some features of yoga that make it especially well suited for addiction recovery but you’ll never know if it’s for you until you try it for yourself.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovery from addiction is about healing the mind, body, and spirit. We use a variety of holistic methods including yoga and meditation to promote wellness, connection, and purpose. We believe recovery from addiction should be a process of increasing joy. To learn more, call us today at (833) 801-5483.


Choosing the Exercise That’s Right for You

Choosing the Exercise That’s Right for You

Researchers keep discovering new benefits that come with exercising. Perhaps it’s obvious that regular exercise is good for your physical health, but it may surprise you how good it is for your mental health as well. Regular exercise improves your mood by boosting levels of endorphins and serotonin: the “feel-good neurotransmitter.” Exercise improves your sleep, which leads to many other positive outcomes.

Also, exercise changes the way your brain responds to stress, which helps reduce chronic stress and anxiety. It even boosts BDNF, a neurotransmitter that grows neurons in your hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in creating long-term memories.

For these reasons and others, exercise is now part of most addiction treatment programs and should be part of every long-term recovery plan. However, this can be a huge challenge for many people. If you’ve never been especially active, you might not even know where to start. The following are some important things to consider when choosing what kind of exercise to do as part of your addiction recovery plan.

Everyone Is Different

First, it’s crucial to keep in mind that everyone is different. There’s no single right answer when it comes to choosing the best exercise for you. Everyone has different capabilities, levels of fitness, levels of distress tolerance, and levels of energy. Additionally, everyone has different interests and goals. When making choices about how to be active, stay focused on your own goals and needs, and keep evaluating whether what you’re doing aligns with those.

The Default

If you really have no idea where to start, start with walking. You can start by walking two minutes a day if necessary, to establish a healthy habit. It doesn’t matter so much if your exercise isn’t especially challenging at first. The easier the exercise is, the easier it is to form a habit.

Many studies have shown that walking delivers a lot of benefits, including improved mood and cognition, lower stress, reduced inflammation, healthier body weight, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A good initial target is walking 20 minutes a day, but it’s fine if you can’t manage that immediately.

Most research on exercise and mental health has focused on aerobic exercises such as walking, running, biking, and swimming. Completing these types of exercises at moderate intensity for 20 minutes appears to be the minimum effective dose.

Running

Another common default exercise is running. A lot of people feel like if they want to get in shape, they need to get out there and run. Typically, walking is fine or even preferable if you’re not especially active. If you do decide you would rather run, give it a shot but take it slow. Most people try to do too much too early.

There’s a lot of repetitive impact stress on your body and it takes a while for your body to adapt. You might feel like you have more than enough energy to run a mile or more, but your ankles, knees, or back might disagree, especially if you run several days in a row. It’s better to do too little than too much when you first start running. You can always increase your mileage later.

Your Goals

It’s important to know what you want from exercise. Most people just want to do something to keep themselves mentally and physically healthy. If that’s what you want, you should be able to accomplish that pretty easily in a number of different ways. Other people will have more ambitious goals. Perhaps you want to lose weight, build strength, or even compete.

Athletics can provide a sense of self-efficacy, self-esteem, and community. Whatever your goals are, it’s important to keep them in mind. Individuals in the fitness industry can attempt to tell you that you should be doing certain activities when in reality, those things have nothing to do with your own priorities. Know what you want from exercise and stick with it.

Intensity

A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that exercise only counts if you end up dripping sweat and out of breath. While some people are really into that, it’s not for everyone. Attempting intense workouts can keep you from establishing a solid exercise habit. The good news is that most kinds of exercise are easily scalable to your desired level of intensity. You can walk, you can run, or you can run fast, for example.

However, it’s also important to know what you’re getting into. For example, if you’ve never done yoga before, you probably don’t want to jump into an hour-and-a-half-long ashtanga class. The same goes for kickboxing or Crossfit, or anything where you have to keep up. The “go hard or go home” approach to exercise will most likely lead to exhaustion and burnout.

Skill

Another thing to consider is the skill required for a certain activity. There are a number of considerations here. First, high-skill activities tend to require a coach or at least a competent exercise friend to show you the basics. We live in an age where a lot of this information is easily accessible on YouTube and other places but these can never fully replace the guidance of a good coach. Since that may or may not be something you have access to, it’s important to consider.

The upside of high skill activities is that they tend to be more engaging. For example, jogging for an hour and practicing tennis strokes for an hour may require roughly the same amount of energy, but jogging for an hour can be intensely boring, whereas getting your serve or backhand to land in the court requires a lot more attention and experimentation. Wanting to improve your skills draws you into the activity and makes it more fun.

Socializing

It’s important to figure out whether you would prefer to exercise alone or with a group. One large research study found that team sports are the single best exercise to do for mental health, due largely to the combination of physical activity and socializing. However, as noted above, everyone is different and you need to figure out what works for you.

Some people prefer their workouts to be alone time so they can think and unwind, while others enjoy the interaction. Keep in mind that team sports aren’t the only social form of exercise. There are also biking and running groups as well as exercise classes. Again, since there’s no right answer, you have the opportunity to explore what works best for you.

Convenience

Finally, convenience is important. You may think you don’t mind driving an hour for fencing lessons, but it may get old after a while. If your goal is to make exercise a regular part of your life in order to manage your mental health and reduce your disease risk, you may want to minimize the barriers to actually doing it.

You can go to the gym near your house or your work, instead of the nicer gym across town. You can walk or run in your neighborhood. At least in the beginning, choose some kind of exercise that you can do with little inconvenience. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your recovery from addiction but getting started is sometimes intimidating.

Keep in mind that everyone has to start somewhere. Choose something that interests you, but you don’t need to commit to the first thing you try. Also, keep in mind that the best exercise is always the exercise that you’ll actually do, whether that’s running marathons or walking around your neighborhood.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that addiction from recovery is really about living a healthier, more fulfilling life. That’s why our program is designed to improve all aspects of life, including being more active. To learn more about our holistic approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (833) 801-5483.


What To Do When You Feel Another Episode of Depression Coming

What To Do When You Feel Another Episode of Depression Coming

Depression is one of the most common mental health challenges worldwide and it’s a major risk factor for addiction. For example, 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.

Those are both much higher than the incidence of substance use disorders in the general population. Furthermore, if you have had one episode of major depression, you are likely to have another. About half of people who have had one episode will have another and about 80 percent of people who have had two episodes will have a third one.

The good news is that you can often lessen the severity of a depressive episode or avoid it entirely if you are aware of the symptoms early and respond appropriately. Early symptoms can be any of the common symptoms of depression but are especially likely to include irritability, fatigue, rumination, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, and isolation. If you notice any of these symptoms, take the following action:

Make Sure You’re Sticking to Your Treatment Plan

If you have received treatment for depression in the past, you likely followed some course of treatment that helped you through it. This might have included therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, changes in thinking patterns, and possibly medication.

Typically, as you start to feel better, you are more inclined to let these things slide. So if you feel symptoms of depression coming back, review whatever helped you overcome your last episode and make sure you’re still doing those things, or resume doing them if you’ve stopped.

Make sure you’re eating healthy and getting regular exercise. You can also consider resuming therapy if you have met with a therapist before.

Take Care of Yourself

In addition to eating healthy and exercising, there are additional ways to take care of yourself that will help you in your healing from depression. Find ways to turn down the dial on your chronic stress, perhaps by managing your schedule better, saying no to new responsibilities, or delegating existing responsibilities.

Make sure you’re taking a little time each day to relax and have fun in whatever ways work for you. Spend time with people you care about. All of these things will help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for depression.

Talk It Over

When you feel like your mood has taken a wrong turn and your thoughts start getting pretty dark, don’t bottle it up. Talk to someone. Ideally, you should talk to a therapist because it’s possible that you’ve slid back into some unhealthy thinking patterns and your therapist can help you correct the course. However, it can help to talk to someone you trust or someone who supports you and will listen without judgment.

It’s especially important to be able to discuss your feelings with your spouse or partner since it’s easy to take irritability and a persistently foul mood personally. An important thing to remember is that communication is key. It helps prevent alienation and just talking about what you’re going through will probably help you feel better.

Connect with Others

It’s also important to stay connected socially in general. Often, one of the earliest signs that a relapse of depression is approaching is that you want to be alone. You cancel plans, decline invitations, or just don’t show up to things. However, this is one of the behaviors that can make you spiral down more quickly.

Spending time with people you care about reduces stress and improves your mood and the less you feel like it, the more important this kind of connection is. Be sure to accept invitations and actually show up. Reach out to people, even if it’s just a text or email. Keep in mind that no matter how much you are dreading getting together with friends, you will probably enjoy it once you drag yourself out of the house.

Change Your Mood

If you’re in the depths of a depressive episode, the idea that you can just cheer up by listening to music or watching some funny videos is absurd. However, if you’re just starting to feel early symptoms of depression, these kinds of activities are powerful because they can help keep you from spiraling down.

Funny or uplifting music, videos, movies, TV shows, and books are all great ways to change your mood quickly. Exercise, even a short walk, is an especially powerful way to improve your mood in a matter of minutes. Talking to certain friends might help, as might something like cooking your favorite meal or going to your favorite restaurant.

Even just a change of scenery might get you out of a funk. Try going to a place with natural beauty, as nature has been proven to improve your mood. Even a few minutes sitting in a nearby park can lift your spirits.

Accept Your Feelings

If you have already experienced an episode of major depression, you know how bad it can get. When you feel another episode approaching, you might feel overcome with dread or even panic. You might think, “Oh no, not this again! I barely made it through the last episode and I don’t have time for this right now.”

Unfortunately, that kind of thinking makes you feel even worse. You’re adding to your misery because you feel bad about feeling bad. A much better approach is accepting your feelings. We all have bad days or even bad weeks. Instead of panicking, you can say to yourself, “I feel pretty bad today.

That’s fine; it’s normal to feel bad sometimes.” Then just sit with the feeling. It will likely pass. There is even research suggesting that the more people are able to accept challenging emotions in times of stress, the less likely those emotions are to turn into depression.

If you are attuned to your emotions and if you are aware of your patterns and triggers, it’s possible to avoid or at least reduce the severity of another episode of depression. The keys are to take care of yourself; talk it over, especially with a therapist; connect with others, particularly those you trust; manage your mood, especially early on; and avoid compounding your symptoms with worry or anger about your symptoms.

If you suddenly find yourself in emotional distress, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or use their chat feature. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that substance use is often just the tip of the iceberg. Most people who struggle with addiction have other issues as well, including major depression. Managing your mental health is a key component to a strong recovery from addiction, which is why our treatment program includes evidence-based treatments for co-occurring mental health issues, as well as lifestyle changes to promote holistic healing. To learn more, call us today at (833) 801-5483.


5 Ways the Weather Can Affect Your Mental Health

5 Ways the Weather Can Affect Your Mental Health

If you’re recovering from addiction, it pays to keep track of the things that affect your mood and overall mental health. Most people with a substance use issue also have a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and others. In addition to therapy and possibly medication, healthy lifestyle changes are key to managing these issues.

It helps to understand the factors that affect your mental health, including people you spend time with, what you eat, how much you exercise, and even the weather. While we can’t control the weather, being aware of how the weather affects your mood can help make you less vulnerable to its possible effects and allows you to make adjustments. The following are some of the ways weather can affect your mental health.

Winter SAD

One of the biggest ways weather is likely to affect your mental health is winter seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. People with a history of depression or bipolar disorder are particularly vulnerable to winter SAD. While many people experience winter blues, SAD is an actual episode of depression. Symptoms typically include depressed mood, sleeping too much, fatigue, lethargy, and increased appetite, especially for sugar and carbs. As you might expect, winter SAD is more likely to affect people in northern latitudes, where days get shorter and temperatures get colder.

We don’t know exactly what causes winter SAD, but we have some pretty good ideas. The primary factor may be that your circadian rhythm gets disrupted, since it’s common to wake up in the dark, spend the whole day inside, then go home in the dark during winter months. We need the light to wake us up and initiate the hormonal changes that keep us on a regular wake/sleep cycle. Research suggests that disruptions in circadian rhythm may significantly contribute to depression. For this reason, light therapy is typically the treatment of choice for winter SAD.

Summer SAD

While winter SAD is the most common, many people also experience summer SAD. Some people experience this as a depressive episode but whereas winter SAD depressive symptoms typically include excessive sleeping and increased appetite, summer SAD depressive symptoms are more likely to include disturbed sleep, poor appetite, and possibly weight loss.

People with bipolar disorder will sometimes experience manic or hypomanic episodes triggered by hot weather. These typically include having lots of energy, little need for sleep, racing thoughts, and starting new, ambitious projects. More severe symptoms might include delusions of grandeur, paranoia, or psychotic symptoms.

Bad Weather Can Make a Bad Mood Worse

It’s important to distinguish between a bad mood and an actual depressive episode. The former may last hours, or perhaps days, while the latter must last at least two weeks and include other symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration, and disturbed sleep. Still, a bad mood is a cause for concern when you’re recovering from addiction or depression.

One study found that if you’re in a good mood, the weather won’t have much effect on your mood, but if you’re in a bad mood, the weather can make it worse. The actual results of the study were a bit of a mixed bag because people tend to respond to weather differently. Participants did tend to report that an increase in temperature gave them more energy. Worse mood also seemed to correlate with less sun and more wind.

These effects were relatively small but still significant. What’s more, some people appear to be more sensitive to weather variations than others. The important thing is to notice how weather affects you and recognize when an oppressively hot day or rainy weather might be partly responsible for your lousy mood.

Severe Weather Is Complicated

While normal daily changes in weather have a mild effect on mood and mental health, the effects of extreme weather are more complicated. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, droughts, and heatwaves can massively increase your stress and anxiety, both as you wait to see if you are actually going to be affected by an impending disaster, or afterward when you’re trying to deal with the fallout.

These situations can trigger anxiety, panic, and depression, and they may cause PTSD, even years after the fact. A current area of active research is the effects of climate change on mental health. Early research suggests that worry over climate change may contribute to a number of mental health challenges, including anxiety, guilt, and grief.

Paradoxically, severe weather can also have some positive effects. People tend to pull together in a crisis. Donations to non-profits tend to increase and people tend to help out their friends and neighbors. Sometimes people who typically struggle with anxiety or depression are suddenly able to act with calm and focus in the face of dire need. What’s more, the challenging emotions and the more positive emotions are not mutually exclusive. You can act with purpose during a crisis and still experience symptoms of PTSD after the storm has passed.

Tempers Flare in the Heat

Finally, there’s research to suggest that hot weather may make us more anxious, irritable, and even violent. For example, one study found that people with panic disorder tended to have the most problems during the August heat and that they were more sensitive to weather changes in general. It is also well documented that rates of violent crime tend to increase in hot weather.

There may be several factors involved here. The hot weather may make it challenging for the body to dissipate heat, creating a greater feeling of stress. Hot weather may also increase breathing and heart rate, mimicking anxiety. Furthermore, we tend not to sleep as well in hot weather and that sleep deficit can lead to both increased anxiety and decreased self-control.

As for the crime, it’s also possible that there’s a greater opportunity to commit violent crimes when the days are longer and people are out. However, other studies suggest an increase in irritability and aggressiveness on hot days, so it’s likely that the heat is at least partly responsible.

Some of us are more sensitive to the weather than others and if you’re prone to depression or anxiety, it’s more likely you will notice the effects of weather on your mood. The important thing is to be aware of these effects and find effective ways to cope. As the old saying goes, you can’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that a lot goes into having a strong recovery from addiction. It’s not just abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but rather about learning to understand yourself, sustain healthy relationships, and manage your emotions. These are all priorities in our treatment program. To learn more, call us at 833-801-5483.