Fighting Addiction With Exercise

While recovery from addiction takes many different forms and can be accomplished with many different treatment methods …

Guest Post by: Constance Ray from Recoverywell.org

Photo from: Pixabay

While recovery from addiction takes many different forms and can be accomplished with many different treatment methods, physical fitness is one aspect of the process that benefits just about everyone. You are attempting to help your body recover from a form of abuse, so it only makes sense to get your body in the best shape possible. 

Here are a few tips on how to build and maintain a healthy fitness routine during recovery from addiction, courtesy of Stacy Reuille-Dupont, PhD.

What Your Body Needs

As your body is adjusting to life without drugs or alcohol, it is undergoing some intense changes. While the end result is positive, the symptoms of withdrawal can include shakiness, increased heart rate, sweating, high blood pressure anxiety and more. Exercise can be a great way to fight these symptoms to make the withdrawal bearable; it can also be a healthy routine to continue even after your treatment is complete.

Types of Exercise

There is no one particular type of exercise that works for everyone who is in addiction recovery. Experience Life notes the key is to find a few kinds of physical activity that you enjoy and that helps you get closer to reaching your goals. For some people, this will be lifting weights, for others it will be cardio, for others it will be a sport. Many people find it helpful to mix hard training with activities that are more fun, such as rock climbing, kayaking or water skiing. If you enjoy the exercise, you’re much more likely to stick with it long-term.

Other alternative coping methods such as meditation, yoga and swimming can also relieve stress and anxiety and help you avoid relapse as you continue your fight against addiction. 

Whatever activities you choose, you might find it helpful to apply some tech to your program. A fitness watch, for instance, can help you monitor your progress and help you set goals. There are also numerous apps available to help. Some are dedicated to single exercise types — like Strong for weightlifting — and some are lifestyle apps — like MyFitnessPal or Whoop, which coaches your diet and exercise program as a whole. 

Along those lines, incorporating a holistic approach to your recovery is wise. Addressing your diet and adding meditation, time in nature, and time for socializing with supportive family and friends to the mix is wise. By remembering all your mental, emotional and physical self-care needs, you can raise your defenses that much more, and minimize your exposure to triggers.

Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

As the Chicago Tribune asserts, staying active can benefit you in several ways as you fight substance abuse. It can reduce your stress, improve your amount and quality of sleep, increase your energy levels, protect you against disease and reduce your drive to smoke and seek drugs. It will also keep you busy as you try to find ways to fill your time so you’re not dwelling on old, destructive desires.

In addition, focusing on exercise and physical fitness can improve your mental and psychological health. Studies indicate that exercise can reduce depression, ease anxiety, improve your self-esteem and lift your general mood, which are all important in the fight against addiction. It’s an avenue to release stress from your body and leave you feeling calm and refreshed. 

Keep a Healthy Routine

Once you have found an exercise program or activity that works for you, do your best to get into a regular daily and weekly rhythm so exercise is just part of your recovery program. You want to get to the point where you don’t have to decide whether or not to exercise – the decision has already been made by the way you have set up your life. This routine will not cure your addiction on its own, but it will play a vital role.

No matter what type of addiction you are facing, recovery is a long road. One way to make the trip smoother is to include a regular exercise routine in your daily life. You’ll find the physical and mental benefits invaluable as you fight to return to normal life without substance abuse.

Connect with Stacy Reuille-Dupont for more ideas to encourage your health and well-being.  Get a free WHOOP strap and your first month free when you join with Stacy’s link

Stacy on the Relational Implicit​ Podcast

In this conversation on the relational implicit podcast, Serge and I talk about a blending of disciplines – – specifically, using exercise science to bridge understanding in somatic psychology interventions. The goal is to bring together the science of the physical body with the science of the emotional body to go beyond symptom reduction and reconnect the self and body.

Enjoy!

Interview with Stacy Reuille-Dupont and Serge Prengal: Using Exercise Science to Bridge Understanding in Therapy

See more conversations like this at Relational Implict. On his podcast, Serge explores somatic psychology, relational therapies, mindfulness and trauma therapies. Most of this exploration takes the form of conversations with psychotherapists, occasionally researchers. Stimulating ideas are discussed, as well as clinical examples. The style of the conversations is reflective, to slow down and deepen the process. Many of the conversations are available in video as well as audio.

Get Moving: The links between physical exercise and psychological states

Ever wonder why it is so hard to exercise when you are feeling stressed? When you are feeling depressed? After experiencing a trauma? My research showed that when the nervous system is overwhelmed it is harder to workout, but that just exposing yourself to more exercise helps you get over the initial barriers you are experiencing.

This week, in the last of the series on self regulation, we are going to talk about exercise and movement. For many exercise is something extra they must do every day, but in reality movement is part of what regulates your body throughout the day. 

It starts with breathing. As you breathe you regulate your sympathetic and para sympathetic parts of your nervous system. You do this through what is known as heart rate variability. Many of us who work in the exercise and health care fields use this number to understand how healthy your cardiovascular system is, however in my world of somatic psychology I can also use it to program movement to help you change your psychological states. This manipulation of your physical system allows for another option to change how you feel without the same level of concentration changing your thoughts may take. 

Mind & Body as One

Lots of people talk about the mind – body connection and how important is is to your health. To me there is no separation. If we want to know if you are stressed we would look at your cortisol levels in your saliva, depressed check out your blood serotonin levels, how well you are absorbing the nutrients you need to make the neurotransmitters to feel content, pleasure, calm, and control your impulses (physical and thought based) we could examine your feces. 

The body and mind do not have a connection point. They are one thing. The mind just has the ability to abstractly consider your experiences and decide what you would like them to mean. This ability gives the impression that the body is separate from the mind, but the mind has nothing to make meaning of if it does not have the body experiences to decipher. Understanding this oneness helps make more sense of our need for movement to regulate our emotions. 

My Research Findings

When I was doing my doctoral research, it was hard to find the bridges to understanding how our physical health intersects our mental health. There were studies with some longevity looking at how aerobic exercise helped depression, anxiety, bi-polar, and even schizophrenia. We could see how exercise impacted stress levels and anecdotally I heard many stories of people who were helped by regular exercise. However, so many people struggle to work out it was hard to understand how psychological struggle was associated with lack of exercise when we know how helpful it is. Turns out there is correlation between how physically stressed your system is and how hard it is for you to exercise. In my research I found that those who struggled with panic disorder (that feeling like you are having a heart attack, going to die, cannot breathe, and are so scared that you cannot think. Sometimes even feel as though you are losing your mind) is the hardest disorder to get enough physical exercise to meet your needs. Problem is, physical exercise is what helps metabolize the chemicals out of your system and decrease your feelings of panic and stress. As the cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones rise in the system, they feed the symptoms creating a self fulfilling cycle of increasing stress levels. Thus making it harder and harder for the person to physically exercise.

Anxiety and Stress

For the person without panic, but with anxiety and stress overload, struggling to exercise is often linked in a similar fashion just not at the same level. It is hard to motivate and get out the door when your physical system is already so tired and feeling overwhelmed. People will describe feeling heavy, lethargic, slow thinking, or in contrast “tired but wired”. As a result exercise seems too hard and it is much easier to grab a substance to unwind or sit and watch TV. 

Depression

Depression is similar but different. In a depressed system every thing feels hard to manage and the body is very fatigued. It is a similar stress on the physical system, but depressed, a different manifestation of difficulties. When feeling depressed we often struggle to see the point of doing anything. People describe feeling heavy, lethargic, overwhelmed, increased sensitivity to pain, and inability to take care of basic living tasks. These make getting on the treadmill pretty darn hard. 

Kbands

How to Help Yourself Start Exercising

One thing interesting from my research was the fact that the more substance use disorder diagnoses someone had the more likely they were to exercise and the less likely they were to buy into barrier beliefs to accomplishing the tasks of working out. What they told me was, they had to move – they’d lost their license and had to ride bikes, walk, and “there isn’t much to do in jail”. As a result they were exposed to movement regularly and therefore saw and felt the benefits and kept the habit going while they could. As a result of their insight it became apparent that exposure was important to helping others begin the process of working out regularly. Enter movement specifically designed to help mental health diagnosed disorders – depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobia, bi-polar, ADHD. I routinely prescribe physical movement along side traditional therapy interventions because the research is pretty clear, exercise helps. It teaches us a lot about ourselves. 

The research links between physical movement and mental health is growing. There is more and more research coming out everyday looking at how the physical system changes as a result of our thinking and how our thinking is changed by our movements. 

So today, just move. Take a moment, get out of your chair or bed and walk around. As you move the body notice what movements might feel good. Based on your current mental state do you want to move slow or fast? Do you want to be close to the ground or jumping? Do you want to be “quiet” in your moments or “loud”? Move slow or explosive?

Use your inner awareness of your current mental health state to determine what movement would be best for you right now … Now go do that.