If you’re someone who dislikes or even dreads the long winter months, December through March can be especially challenging to your recovery.
Cold temperatures and gray skies spark a longing for anything and everything we find comforting; for those recovering from substance use disorder, this longing could trigger cravings for substance.
Seasons are cyclical. Spring and summer are a time of blossoming and growth and activity. Fall is a time of harvest, and winter is a time for the soil to rest and rejuvenate. In our culture that values almost ceaseless activity, it can be hard to allow ourselves to follow our natural rhythms of activity and rest. And while our lives don’t permit us to hibernate all winter, we can still look to the season as a time to slow down, to rest, to focus inward instead of outward.
To that end, here are a few suggestions to help you stay healthy during winter—and maybe even learn to appreciate the gifts of the season.
- Rest and restore. It’s okay to not do as much in the winter as you do in the warmer months. Separate what must be done each day from what isn’t as important, and use the extra time to do something that helps you relax.
- Go outside. There’s no such thing as bad weather—just bad clothing. Dress warmly and take a walk, go sledding, or learn how to snowboard. It’s easy to be depressed about the weather when you’re sitting inside looking out at it. But once you’re outside, you’ll be surprised at the beauty you can find even on the grayest and coldest of days.
If you absolutely hate the thought of going outside, spend some time looking at pictures of nature. Research shows that even pictures can reduce stress and aid relaxation.
If you’re still not convinced you can be an outdoor person during winter, get a dog. If you have the resources to properly take care him or her, a dog can be a wonderful companion. Dog owners who walk their dogs regularly have healthier circulatory systems and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Dogs can make you feel less lonely and decrease stress levels.
- Treat yourself. Regular massages have numerous physical and emotional benefits. Depending on your insurance, massages might be partially covered if recommended by a doctor or chiropractor. Massage schools often offer free or discounted massages as well.
- Don’t isolate. Even if you can’t or don’t want to go outside, connect with friends and family over the phone, FaceTime, or the computer. If you know you’ll be tempted to avoid people, schedule conversations into your calendar, and ask your friend or family member to contact you if you “forget” to keep the appointment.
- Take more time to work with a sponsor or therapist. Winter is a time to reflect on what you’ve learned the past year and to deepen your understanding and practice of those lessons. Working with someone else will help you have the perspective and motivation to stay the course.
Finally, if you find that you are experiencing serious symptoms of depression, like sadness, loss of energy, loss of appetite (or cravings for carbohydrates), or frequent oversleeping, consult a doctor to see if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is treatable, and a doctor can help you decide which treatment will work for you.
If you have completed substance abuse treatment at a facility like Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, remember that you can always call the center if you’re feeling concerned or would like to talk to someone about your continued recovery.