Wellness is a term we hear a lot these days, and most people correctly interpret it as an overall sense of wellbeing and health. For people in recovery, however, there is a deeper meaning to the term wellness, and it encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual health that builds the foundation upon which recovery grows and thrives.
What is Wellness?
According to The National Wellness Institute, wellness is an “active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence”. While there are many dimensions to overall wellness, for people in recovery wellness begins with abstaining from mind-altering substances.
Many people view recovery as living a life that is absent of drugs and/or alcohol, when in fact putting down substances is but a vital first step on a longer, lifelong journey of life choices that prioritize our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
When we break free from active substance use, we make a conscious choice to prioritize wellness and be fully present in our lives and emotions.
Physical wellness is the platform upon which we build a sustainable recovery. Our bodies take a physical toll in active substance use, and it takes time to allow our bodies to heal in recovery. It starts with basic physical needs, like proper nutrition, healthy sleep hygiene, and physical fitness. In early recovery, it’s important to prioritize these building blocks of wellness in order to create a strong foundation upon which we improve our emotional and spiritual health as well.
Exercise allows the body to become stronger and healthier, but for people in early recovery, there is more to exercise than that. Substance use alters and depletes the neurotransmitters in our brain which create serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, releasing naturally occurring feelings of wellbeing. When we exercise, our brains release these chemicals, which elevates mood, restores energy, and produces feelings like self-esteem, happiness, and joy. These emotions bolster our recovery and combat feelings of shame, remorse, anger, and sadness that can hinder a sustainable recovery.
In active substance use, basic nutritional needs are often ignored, and this takes an enormous physical toll on our bodies. For many people in early recovery, the concept of eating a nutritious, balanced diet is foreign or forgotten, and beginning a routine of eating healthy foods on a regular basis needs to be established. It’s important to nourish our bodies with the essential vitamins and minerals that are depleted during active substance use, and nurture habits that incorporate healthy choices like consuming vegetables, protein, whole grains, and proper hydration. Establishing these habits is essential in early recovery, to ensure proper nutrition that fuels the body, restores health, produces energy, and enhances recovery.
Sleep habits are often disrupted during active substance use and establishing proper sleep hygiene in early recovery can take time. Disrupted or insufficient sleep leaves us irritable, depleted, lethargic, and even hopeless. These feelings hinder recovery and are an obstacle to achieving physical wellness, even with proper exercise and nutrition. Establishing a regular sleep routine is essential in early recovery, as part of overall wellness in which recovery thrives.
In active substance use we sleep at irregular times, and in recovery, we can establish a regular bedtime, and wake up rested and refreshed. Establishing a regular time to wake up in the morning is also important, as is ensuring we get the proper number of hours of sleep each night to make our mental and physical health stronger.
Emotional wellness plays a pivotal role in everyday life as well as in recovery. Emotions become highly dysregulated and masked in active substance use and building skills to identify and manage the myriad of emotions experienced in early recovery is essential.
Emotional wellness isn’t solely about being happy or experiencing joy. It’s building awareness of all feelings, moods, thoughts, and behaviors, and identifying ways in which they help or hinder recovery. Establishing a practice of self-awareness, and the skills needed to manage the full scope of all our emotions is vital in recovery. Emotional wellness helps us understand and accept however we feel, without the urge to escape through substances or other maladaptive behaviors.
Emotional wellness allows us to make different choices about how we handle relationships, boundaries, guilt, shame, and remorse – all of which can be problematic in early recovery. By establishing a practice of self-awareness (mindfulness), compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness of self and others, we build a sustainable and successful recovery.
Spirituality means different things to different people, and in recovery, we have the freedom to discover a higher sense of purpose that goes beyond self. There is no ‘right’ way to pursue spirituality; anything that allows us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves and leaves us feeling enriched and connected is spiritual.
When we are overwhelmed, anxious, challenged, or even excited, a spiritual foundation keeps us ‘right-sized’ and gives us perspective on our role in the greater good of all things. This gives us a sense of comfort, wellbeing, and community that fuel our recovery. Active substance use often involves a fixation on self and our own needs, and a spiritual practice allows us to expand our thinking beyond ourselves.
A mindfulness practice is an important tool with which we practice and promote spirituality, self-awareness, and living in the present moment. This combats anxiety (living in the future), depression (living in the past), and allows us to navigate stressful situations with presence of mind and a healthier perspective and understanding.
Wellness Week With Herren
March 2-7th Join Herren Project, Herren Talks and Herren Wellness for Wellness Week 2020! Together, we can help ourselves and others to truly live well. Schools, communities, businesses, individuals, and families are all encouraged to participate. Oftentimes, when we’re met with stress, we resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms – like drugs or alcohol. Wellness Week is all about practicing healthy ways of handling life’s challenges. Each day of the week, we encourage you to practice an element of wellness and bring the message of wellbeing to your school, workplace, family or community. Show your spirit by wearing purple & join us for events, encouraged actions, online webinars, and social media contests. Let’s celebrate the beauty of wellness, recovery and the power of being you and living well. wellnessweekwithherren.com.