Training Your Brain to Help You Stay Sober.
by Joey Holub
While addiction and recovery take a physical toll on your body, there is a mental aspect at play as well. A high percentage of addicts suffer from a co-existing mental health condition and often the substance abuse began as a method of coping with the symptoms involved. In order to battle relapse and obtain a successful recovery, it is imperative that any person going through addiction recovery must improve their ability to cope with distressing circumstances without the addictive substance.
Each individual should first work to identify their personal triggers and seek help and education on how to handle each one in a healthy manner. This may involve anger management, stress management, emotional regulation, or even spiritual practices. Substance abuse quite literally changes the way the brain functions and responds to triggers.
A change in focus will be essential in assisting an individual in their mental recovery:
Focus on Positive Thinking
Negative thoughts are normal for all of us, but if any of us, especially those in addiction recovery, allow these thoughts to linger, it will be detrimental to progress. Negativity is a trap that will perpetuate negative emotions and lead to a desire to cope with drugs or alcohol. When a negative thought enters and then stays, one should work to focus on positive thoughts instead.
Focus on the Realistic
Black and white thinking is a common roadblock to recovery as it creates an “all or nothing” thought process. This can easily lead to feelings of hopelessness, failure, and despair when someone experiences a setback in any area in life. Focus on creating realistic expectations, acknowledge a setback, and then implement a plan to get back on track.
Focus on the Present
As mentioned here, it is so easy to allow the events of the past to cloud the future. This leads to anxiety, as it is causes a fear of the future. Focus on living in the present, recognize progress, and do not allow the past to paralyze hope for the future.
Focus on Happiness
One tool that can be especially helpful is to train your brain to focus on pursuing those things that will bring you happiness. Develop hobbies and interests and make changes in life that will lead to your ultimate happiness.
Focus on Gratitude
It is natural to mourn and grieve losses or difficulties, but a healthy brain will then move on. Focus on looking for opportunities for growth in trying situations during recovery and express gratitude for support systems and moments of progress. Be optimistic and don’t lose your grasp on hope.
Focus on Finding Meaning and Purpose
Whether this means putting more effort into a career, into familial relationships, or exploring spirituality or religion, it may be helpful to focus the mind on finding meaning and purpose in life.
Focus on Exercise
While exercise is great for the body, it is just as healthy for the brain. Exercise releases endorphins to the brain, which relax both the brain and the body. It also helps to remove stress, improve mood, and builds self esteem, all necessary for a successful recovery.
Focus on Meditation
Some professionals believe addictions from as a way of escaping psychological pain. Meditation can help a person to face pain and work through it rather than suppress it or run from it.
Focus on Developing Self Esteem
What we think of ourselves is a powerful indicator to our brains of how we should treat our bodies. Focus on self-knowledge rather than self-criticism. This will help to improve one’s self esteem and help to promote a healthier mind.
Focus on Staying Busy
Boredom is a common trigger for relapse, as it presents a time when the mind can wander. Negative thoughts can then enter the brain and cause trouble. By looking for healthy, constructive ways to use your time, you can train your brain to avoid boredom and the accompanying vulnerability. Use this time to pursue gainful employment, hobbies, service to others, and improving yourself.
The brain is a powerful tool, but since it has been changed and damaged by addiction it will take a little work to get it to work in your favor again. With the application of these suggestions, you will soon be able to use your brain to avoid a relapse and continue on to find success in recovery.