Beating the winter blues in addiction recovery

It’s winter. Bears hibernate. If you want to maintain your recovery from addiction you shouldn’t. Tips and tools here.

minute read

Winter blues: It’s not just in your head

It snowed here in Michigan yesterday.

Cold weather, the holidays and 15 hours nights are quickly moving in to my neck of the woods.

Winter and I have a love – hate relationship. While I enjoy the beauty of Northern Michigan covered in snow, seeing family around the holidays and eating excessive amounts of chili and cornbread, I’ve got to be careful to maintain balance in my life.

CAREFUL: Being indoors can get you down

With the short, overcast days, fewer opportunities to be outdoors, and stress that can come with holiday festivities, it’s easy to get into a winter slump. A slump can quickly turn into the winter blues. The blues can get pretty bad if I’m not careful.

It’s easy to justify being indoors for extended periods of time. Sleeping late and staying under the covers can become a habit. Going to bed early, avoiding social opportunities and neglecting my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being can become commonplace.

Some call it cabin fever. For many of us it’s much more than that. The winter blues become more like a nasty infection that will only get worse if not treated.

The clinical diagnosis

There is actually a clinical diagnoses for the winter blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is basically seasonal depression which manifests in some people when the days get short, cold, and dark. Feeling irritable, sluggish, overly tired, and unmotivated are all clues that we can look for.

Those that struggle with addiction and even those already in recovery can be more at risk than your average person. But take hope! Seasonal Affective Disorder treatments in addiction recovery are out there. And if you want to maintain your sanity this winter, try these seven activities to fight off the blues.

7 activities to help you beat the winter blues

1. Get outside.

Do it now. I don’t care if it’s cold, if it’s snowing or if you don’t feel like getting off the couch. Go outside anyways. Something as simple as going for a twenty minute walk or shoveling your driveway while listening to your favorite tunes can do wonders. Even if it’s gloomy outside, you still get a shot of vitamin D, your oxygen levels increase, your heart pumps more blood and the cobwebs clear from your mind. Don’t let the cold be an excuse. Get up and go.

2. Get up earlier.

Maximize the daylight hours by getting your rear out of bed. While I love sleeping late once and awhile, when this becomes a habit I’m not using all the available daylight to my benefit. Here in Northern Michigan the sun rises around 7:30 and it’s dark by 5. If the sun is up, you should be too.

3. Exercise.

No, going for a ten minute walk or shoveling your driveway doesn’t count. Sorry. I’m talking about breaking a hard sweat. Ideally you should do this every single day. Realistically, if you get some form of vigorous exercise 3-5 times a week you will notice a major improvement in your mood, energy levels, and overall serenity.

Vigorous exercise produces a chemical in the brain called dopamine – the same chemical that’s released by using drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or anything else that is done obsessively. When exercise becomes part of our daily routine, the overall levels of dopamine in our brains increases.

We actually create dopamine reserves that can help us fight off the blues (including the holiday blues). It’s much like canning fruits and vegetables and putting them in the cellar. They’re there when you need them. Bears hibernate. You should not.

4. Stay engaged with family and friends.

No, Facebook does not count. Sorry again. I’m talking about leaving the house and getting together with the people that matter to you.

I don’t care if you go to a Broadway play or just meet for coffee. Get out and engage with other people. Do things. See things. Explore your area. Plan a trip. Go do something you’ve never done to keep life interesting.

Remember, no excuses. Just get moving. Or following some of these suggestions in this addiction recovery guide for the holidays. A great way to stay stuck in the blues is to stay home and do nothing. Don’t do that.

5. Make a gratitude list and add to it daily.

Simple but highly effective. When I got sober this was one of the first things my sponsor told me to do. It works for anyone, addicted, recovering, or not. Write down what you’re grateful for and refer to it daily.

6. Make a schedule and stick to it.

Don’t wake up and not have a plan. That couch looks pretty comfortable, even more so when it’s 20 degrees outside and snowing. Schedule your 12-step meetings, exercise, appointments, social activities and down time so you’re always staying one step ahead of the blues.

7. Supercharge your spiritual life.

Winter is a good time to read. Make this part of your routine as well. Buy a spiritual or self-development book and commit to reading 30 minutes a day. Keeping your mind sharp and feeding it with good, healthy information is a weapon against the blues.

Remember that action is the greatest weapon against depression. Get up, get moving, and don’t get stuck in the blues. Take your body and your mind will follow.

About the author
Paul J. Wolanin is a professional addictions therapist living and working in Northern Michigan. He is author of Chopping Wood and Carrying Water: One Day at a Time , a 30-day recovery devotional available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. He also runs a website where he offers tools and tips to keep your recovery on track. Sign up for his newsletter by visiting him at Paul Wolanin's Author Site.
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