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Why Is a Regular Routine Good for Addiction Recovery?

If you go through an inpatient addiction treatment program, you’ll find that almost everything happens on a schedule. You get up at a regular time, eat meals at regular times, go to therapy at regular times, and go to bed at a regular time. Obviously, it helps to have a schedule when you’re trying to organize the activities of many people but it’s also important that this routine is fairly regular. Establishing and following a regular routine in recovery has many benefits, including the following.


A Routine Makes Healthy Decisions Automatic


Perhaps the most important reason to have a regular routine is that it helps to automate healthy behaviors. You don’t have to decide whether to get up at a reasonable hour or sleep all day; you don’t have to decide when you’re going to eat or if you’re going to exercise. Once you’ve established a regular routine, you don’t have to put much effort into making these decisions. So, for example, if you go to a 12-Step meeting at the same time every day, you don’t have to equivocate and think, “Do I want to go today? Should I maybe try a different meeting? Can I skip one?” You’re in the habit of going to a meeting at that time so you just go. The same is true of any recovery activity. The less thought and effort you have to put into healthy behaviors, the more likely you are to continue doing them.


A Routine Reduces Anxiety


Anxiety is a common issue among people with substance use disorders and uncertainty is one of the biggest drivers of anxiety. If you have no idea what each day will bring or if you know you will face an unfamiliar situation, you will often feel more anxious than if you know you will have to deal with something bad. 


Having a regular routine reduces anxiety in two ways. First, it’s a way of controlling the things you can control. You have a certain amount of free time each day and making deliberate decisions about how to spend it increases your feelings of self-efficacy. If you use that time wisely, such as going to meetings, going to therapy, getting some exercise, and so on, that will further reduce anxiety.


Second, having a regular routine means you will generally know what you can expect from each day. Of course, we don’t have total control over what will happen but most days you will have a general idea. And just having a reasonable expectation that you know what the day will be like can reduce your anxiety about it.


A Routine Keeps You Busy, but Not Too Busy


When you’re recovering from addiction, especially early on, you want to strike a good balance. You want to stay busy enough that you don’t feel bored, restless, or lonely but you don’t want to be so busy that you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Having a routine gives you a baseline of activity to prevent long stretches of idleness and it also helps you meet your responsibilities in a more or less organized way.


A Routine Boosts Conscientiousness


Conscientiousness is perhaps the single most important personality trait related to substance use issues. A number of studies have found that people with substance use issues typically score high on neuroticism and low on conscientiousness. Although high neuroticism is associated with mental health challenges such as major depression, anxiety disorders, and others, it appears that people who are high in neuroticism and also high in conscientiousness are relatively protected against substance use issues. 


One way to boost conscientiousness is to have a regular routine. We all live on a spectrum somewhere between rigid order and total chaos. If you have struggled with substance use issues, you are more likely toward the chaotic end. Imposing a bit of order on your life in the form of a regular routine can help you make progress on your recovery goals, keep your commitments, and generally feel like you have life more under control. 


How to Establish a Routine


If you’re not generally an organized person, you may not even know how to begin establishing a regular routine. One way is to enter an inpatient addiction treatment program. Most of your time will be structured and you will have to devote very little effort to create a routine. After 30 or 90 days of this, you may not be locked into the treatment routine but it shouldn’t be very hard to continue with some of the main things like when you get up, when you eat, when you go to meetings, and so on.


If you have to create a routine from scratch, the key is to start by creating anchor points. So, for example, your first anchor point might be going to a 12-Step meeting at a regular time each day. If you need a reason to get out of bed, see if you can find an earlier meeting. Another good place to start is with a regular wake-up time. This helps ensure you start your day in about the same place, rather than rushing to catch up on some days. Starting with a regular wake-up time will probably make you go to bed a bit earlier without even trying because you’ll be tired.


Once you’ve established some anchor points of things you do every day, or most days, you can begin to add new things. So, for example, if you decide you want to exercise regularly, start by connecting it to one of your anchor points, perhaps getting out of bed. Another point about adding things to your routine is that you should start small. So instead of jumping out of bed and running 10 miles, you might start by getting up and walking for five minutes or even just getting out of bed and putting on your exercise clothes, even if you don’t do any exercise at all. Then, once that connection is established, build the new behavior gradually. It’s also best to only add one new thing at a time and give yourself time to get used to it.


A routine is an important part of addiction recovery. It makes healthy decisions easier, it reduces anxiety, it structures your day, and it makes you more conscientious. You can build a routine gradually, starting with anchor points, or you can enter an inpatient treatment program, which will help you establish a daily routine more quickly. 


At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovery from addiction isn’t just a matter of abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but rather about creating a happier, more fulfilling life. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.

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