We’ve all heard about the benefits of a morning routine.
You might have heard about the benefits of an evening routine as well. It seems to be common knowledge that having some kind of routine during the day is a setup for success, especially in early recovery.
The truth is, we all have some kind of routine, whether it’s one that leads to our own health or harm. Before recovery, daily routines usually lead to self-destructive behaviors, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to establish something new and different in sobriety. That old routine, says Lynette Mitchell, interim director of nursing at Laguna Treatment Hospital in Aliso Viejo, CA, an American Addiction Centers facility, can trip us up.
“A new routine in recovery is so important because so much of relapse can be triggered by (old) routine,” Mitchell explains.
Driving by the same liquor store every day or continuing to hang out in spaces where people are actively drinking can cause those of us in recovery problems down the line.
In recovery, routine helps with much-needed structure as well, said Derek Price, CEO of Desert Hope Treatment Center in Las Vegas, NV, an American Addiction Centers facility.
“When individuals shift away from a lifestyle of substance use, they will often need something to fill the gap,” he explains. “A daily routine can limit idle hours, provide structure for the day, and create a sense of accomplishment as tasks are completed.”
So how do you go about setting up a healthy routine that supports your recovery? We’ve got 8 easy steps to follow based on expert advice.
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1. Don’t change it all at once.
We often think that big, sweeping change is needed to make a difference, but the truth is that this approach can cause overwhelm.
“Think about New Year’s resolutions,” Mitchell says. “People commit themselves to these huge lifestyle changes and most of the time, it’s all back to normal within two weeks.”
Instead of looking at your current situation and changing everything at once, focus on small changes like changing the route you take home if you do, indeed, drive past a liquor store.
2. Figure out what you neglected.
Many neglect simple necessities when drinking. One way to create a healthy routine is to take stock of what you might have been missing before recovery.
Maybe you stopped brushing your teeth in the mornings because it made you nauseous. Maybe you stayed out way later than you needed to. Maybe hydration took a backseat to alcohol or it’s been a while since you moisturized your skin. All of these things are simple and set the stage for a healthy routine.
3. Focus on what’s easy.
Seriously. Don’t worry about coming up with the perfect morning routine right from the start. It’s not important that you have every hour of your week planned out.
What is important is that you start to add in healthy habits, and that you’re consistent. The easiest way to do this is to focus on what’s easy. Look around and figure out what would be easy to implement. Do you need to set your alarm just 15 minutes earlier so you can do some deep breathing?
“A simple task such as making your bed every day is a great way to start,” says Price.
The goal isn’t a complete overhaul on day one. The goal is sustainability so that you build a routine that supports your recovery.
4. Add in exercise.
One of the single most important ways to build a healthy routine daily is to add in exercise. No, you don’t have to hit the gym for an hour five days a week or commit to a 90-minute yoga class every afternoon. You can start with something as simple as a walk around the block.
“Exercise can also be a powerful coping mechanism for navigating stressful situations that can put sobriety at risk,” says Price. “Even a walk around the block can make a difference because exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, and acts as a natural mood enhancer.”
Start with that walk around the block and see what happens. You might find that, after a while, you want to add in more exercise.
5. Take a look at what you’re eating.
The truth is that many of us in recovery neglected our nutritional needs before we found sobriety. Part of a healthy routine is taking a look at what you put into your body.
“Bodies operate at optimum when we’re fueling it properly,” explains Mitchell. “Those of us with addiction wreak havoc on our bodies, and proper nutrition is crucial to the body’s healing.”
When you sit down and review what you are eating in a day (a food log is a great place to start), you might be overwhelmed with what you find. That’s okay. Remember that these changes should be small so that you can build consistency. Ask yourself what’s one thing you could do differently on a daily basis to fuel your body well.
“It doesn’t have to be intense,” Mitchell says. “Just add in an extra serving of fruits or veggies to start. Maybe skip the drive-through and eat something at home one day.”
Small steps add up.
6. Step back into the past.
Typically, we don’t dwell too much on the past in recovery, but it’s important to take a step back from time to time. Various reasons for doing so include taking stock of how far you’ve come and looking at patterns of behavior.
When it comes to forging a healthy routine, looking back can also inform what that routine looks like for you.
“I often tell people to think about things you enjoyed doing before addiction took over their life,” said Mitchell.
Did you enjoy writing or reading? What about painting or improv or board games? We all had things we really loved to do before we found ourselves tangled up in addiction. The perfect time to rediscover these things is while building a new routine to support your recovery. You might find that you don’t enjoy whatever it was you used to, and that’s okay. You can experiment with many options and see what sticks.
7. Start and end the day well.
Set yourself a consistent time to wake up and go to sleep. Whether workday or weekend, the more consistent you are with when you wake up and when you go to bed, the better.
This, said Mitchell, allows you to start your day in control.
“You get to start and end on a strong note,” she said.
Giving yourself some time each morning and each night—away from the daily responsibilities and tasks—also helps your brain unwind. Maybe you have the luxury of an uninterrupted 30 minutes in the morning where you can practice some deep breathing or read or meditate. Maybe in the evening you can light a candle, turn on an episode of your favorite show, or take a bath.
As with all of the other tips, this one doesn’t have to be extravagant or perfect, either. And what you decide needs to fit your life. If you start your day super early for work or have kids, you might just have an extra five minutes in the morning to breathe deeply while still laying in bed. That’s perfect if it works for you.
8. Be open to change.
Treat finding your perfect daily routine as trial and error in the beginning. Not everything is going to work the way you think it might. Try different things at different times. If something is more of a chore than a joy, cut it out if you can.
Soon enough, you’ll find a groove that works. Being open to change is a short-term and a long-term game though. As life goes on, circumstances change, and your routine will right along with it.
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The most important part of finding a daily routine is doing the work to create one.
“Trading addictive behaviors for health habits has been shown to decrease cravings and compulsive behaviors,” Price says. “Your chances of success in just about every aspect of your existence jump dramatically when you have a plan in place.”