For many of us, learning to live in recovery requires asking ourselves if our behaviors and habits are helping or hindering us from living our best lives. Learning to take care of ourselves is a crucial part of our journey. And it’s important to keep in mind that our self-care needs to be personalized to us.
One universal truth about self-care is that we are all worthy of knowing how to practice it and the happiness and health it can bring. In this article, we explore five areas of our lives in which we can learn to practice caring for ourselves and why self-care in recovery matters.
Types of self-care
Everyone is a house with four rooms: a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.
When we connect with others in recovery, we no longer isolate ourselves with our old behaviors. This is social self-care. Through connecting with others, we can learn healthy social self-care tools.
Here are ways to practice social self-care:
- Participating in sports
- Group or one-on-one exercise classes
- Creative art groups
- Recovery meetings
- One-on-one sponsor discussions
- Peer support
- Going to outings and enjoying activities with others without using alcohol, drugs, or other behaviors you are recovering from
- Church groups and gatherings
- Similar interest groups (some examples include book clubs, hobby clubs, gaming in-person, online groups, writers’ clubs, etc.)
- Surrounding ourselves with people who practice self-care and inspire us with new ways to live and keep us on track
Learning new, healthy ways to connect with other people is one way to create a base layer of support that can carry us through emotionally challenging times. Some people have learned to find peace and a better way to live. And sharing that experience with others is how many of us pay it forward and are able to stay on a path of recovery.
Physical self-care means taking care of our minds and bodies. This means being mindful of what we put into our bodies—substances and nutrition—making sure we rest when we need it, and getting regular physical activity.
Here are some examples of physical self-care:
- Learning about nutrition and the foods or substances we put in our bodies
- Staying hydrated
- Learning about body-mind connection
- Getting consistent quality and quantity of sleep
- Moving your body in ways we enjoy helps us to be consistent.
- Exercise, stretching, sports, yoga, or gardening are some examples.
- Getting fresh air, sunshine, being outdoors or in nature alone or with others is physical self-care
- Expressive arts like dancing, singing, or creating art
- Planning daily outdoor walks can bring health and happiness to the body
As we think about physical self-care, it’s crucial that we advocate for ourselves. Seeking out quality healthcare practitioners like doctors and nutritional experts who respect, listen, and advise us on our personal concerns is also good self-care. Additionally, health coaches and peer support specialists who practice physical self-care can be a great source of support and positive reinforcement to help us on our physical self-care journey.
It can be especially helpful to begin allowing whatever thought comes up to be what it is and not wish it away. Being with our thoughts and feelings is where healing happens. It’s recommended that we practice this with a sponsor, therapist, or mentor if doing it alone feels too difficult.
Here are ways to practice mental self-care:
- Mindful breathing
- Walks outdoors
- Scanning our bodies with our minds one section at a time
- Sending loving kindness to self, younger self, and others
- Journaling our thoughts
- Practicing gratitude daily
- Making time each day to be alone with your thoughts and feelings
Consistent mental self-care practices can help manage cravings, impulsive thoughts, and actions that help us to live better, healthier lives in recovery.
Principles before personalities was a big one for me as it asked me to live by a value system that put values and a new way of life into action despite how I may be feeling one minute to the next.
Emotional self-care is about identifying emotional states with awareness and practice. This helps us to ask ourselves better what our feelings are trying to tell us. It’s okay to remind ourselves that our feelings matter and that having a bad feeling does not make us a bad person.
Here are examples of emotional self-care:
- Sending compassion to our younger selves and current selves
- Asking for help from healthy support systems when needed
- Finding support from the community or others like a peer coach, sponsor, recovery group, therapist, etc.
- Self-help books or videos
- Writing words to help label our feelings
- Balancing work with alone time to rest and reflect
- Moving our bodies to work out emotions
- Spending time practicing an activity that makes you feel happy
Our feelings provide us with information about whether we are living in harmony with ourselves or not. Many of us who seek recovery were not encouraged to name and express our emotions in a healthy way. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn.
Spiritual self-care means being connected to and feeling part of something that feels purposeful and brings a sense of belonging and peace. It happens when we connect to the less tangible parts of who we are.
If you are not part of a social, religious, or spiritual group, but want to learn spiritual self-care, it may be helpful to hear that spiritual self-care does not have to equal religion. Think of it as whatever feels like home for you. Spiritual self-care can help remind us we all belong and we all have a unique purpose.
Here are examples of spiritual self-care:
- Attending a place of religious worship
- Practicing an activity that makes us feel content and safe
- Surrounding ourselves with what feels inspirational and positive
- Gardening, being outdoors, or in nature
- Being around people, places, and things that are beautiful and feel peaceful
- Activities such as yoga, music, and creative arts that bring a sense of calm and peace to our inner world
We all just want to feel good and be happy, and that is not a crime. Most of us are doing the very best we know how to take care of ourselves even when we have found ourselves in the grips of addiction.
It takes time to unlearn old patterns of thinking and behavior in order to make way for the new! This can feel uncomfortable and strange. But it’s through acknowledging pain and discomfort that we can begin to see discomfort as language asking what I need at the moment? And this is where the self-care begins.
- Mental Health America of Dutchess County & National Organization of Adult Addictions and Recovery. (2023). INTERSECTIONS: Policy, Program, and Practice Exchange. Intersections Exchange. https://www.intersections-exchange.org/
- Pagans in Recovery. (2024). Pagans in Recovery.https://pagansinrecovery.org/