A (Sometimes) Long and Winding Road
Recovery from any type of addiction can be a monumental task. Even for those ready to take it on, the road can be a painful one loaded with many obstacles. Although, one that will ultimately pay off with better health, better relationships, and overall better quality of life.
Smooth the Way to Your Independence
So, what can be done to ease the pain of transition from a life of dependence to one of self-control and freedom?
While not a ‘one-size-fits-all’, the following 3 tips are proven strategies that can help soften the blows the various phases of recovery throw at you. And, ultimately, lead you to a life of positive practices that will replace the conditions and substances you seek to avoid.
All of these common-knowledge practices seek to establish harmony in and between the brain and the body. When the ‘mind-body’ connections are performing at their best, you will have the greatest chance at overcoming your struggles (whether recent or lifelong).
Addiction Recovery Tips
- Meditate Daily – Research continues to show how sitting quietly for periods of time with a focus on ‘present moment’ sensations like breathing can allow for greater focus, clarity of thought, and self-regulation. Start at 5 minutes and work to 20 minutes daily.
- Exercise Daily – One of the best ways to control and improve functions of our brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) is to do vigorous exercise daily. Get your heart rate up, do resistive and high intensity activities, and, most importantly, move daily!
- Eat Smart – Eat whole foods, eliminate refined and processed foods (i.e. anything in a bag, box, or can), increase healthy fat and protein intake, limit sugar intake (sugar can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine), and stay well hydrated (that means water).
Stay tuned for Part II of II where we will go over the next 3 addiction recovery tips.
Ahh, the holidays! Time for many to celebrate their faith. Time for others to reflect on the accomplishments of yet another year gone by, and to plan for an even better one ahead. Time to be with family, give thanks, serve others, and enjoy a break from the normal routines of life. Right???
In a perfect world, yes. Although, the stark reality for so many is that the holidays bring on an increasingly high level of undue stress for more reasons than there are days in the holiday season. Financial struggles, health concerns, passing of a loved one, work deadlines, shopping, travel, crowds, and family squabbles are but a few that can spark fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, and depression in just about anyone; if they are not prepared for it.
Add to this the profound increase in calorie intake (particularly sugars), sedentary behavior, late nights and poor sleep, excessive alcohol intake, travel fatigue, decreased physical activity levels, and a general lack of attention to one’s health this time of year, and you have a perfect recipe for both simple and deadly mental and physical health problems.
While suicide increase during the holidays has largely been proven a myth, there are direct correlations between increased mental and physical stress around the holidays leading to exacerbation of depression and other mental health disorders, and a resultant spike in the number of calls to suicide prevention and substance abuse hotlines. It can be theorized that many around the holidays are thankfully unable to act on suicidal thoughts give the increased presence of friends and family, although self-medication through increased drug and alcohol use over the holidays can certainly lead to worse outcomes after the new year for many.
While this is a piece on stress around the holidays, the importance of physical health (which is directly impacted by stress) needs to be considered briefly. As an example, the journal Circulation published research in 2004 showing nationwide trends in heart attacks increasing by 5% during the holidays, with peak incidences occurring on both Christmas and New Year’s Day. Coincidence??? Certainly not. An editorial in the same edition of this journal discussed further the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon – related to increased mental and physical stressors this time of year.
With the gloomy realities and statistics behind us, we can now focus on what is most important – what can we do to prevent or minimize the fallout of the holiday season to ensure we may enjoy it to the fullest, and so that we may proceed with peace of mind, good health, and longevity into the year ahead?
- Drink responsibly. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink every 2 hours in social situations, with water in between to avoid intoxication and dehydration – your brain will thank you!
- Walk away. Don’t feel you must change anyone’s mind about politics, sports, or anything else for that matter. Engage in positive dialogue.
- Reach out. If something is deeply upsetting you, sometimes the worst thing to do is hold it in while everyone else is celebrating. Confide in a trusted source.
- Don’t stress over shopping. Getting into fist fights over the newest TV or toy is clearly not what the holidays are about and will dramatically increase your stress levels. Is it really about the presents?
- It’s OK not to travel. Many are compelled to travel due to family pressures and the like. It is OK to ‘skip a year’ if you are overwhelmed and feel you need a break.
- Get to bed. Sleep cycles are impacted enough going into winter with shorter days and longer nights. Be mindful of sleep routines as they have a large impact on buffering chronic stress responses and clearing your brain of toxins.
- Stick to your regular eating habits. If they are healthy ones, that is. It is OK to ‘sample the goods’ around the holidays, but overdoing it will be sure to weaken your immune system and allow stress to harm your brain and body.
- Move your body. Exercise should be a regular part of your daily routine, especially around the holidays. It minimizes the effects of stress and burns the excess calories you will likely indulge in.
- Meditate. Quiet time away from the distractions of the holidays to self-reflect and calm your mind will reduce stress levels.
- Turn off the tube. TV usage skyrockets during the holidays for many, leading to less physical activity and social disconnection. Decrease computer and social media use while you’re at it!
- Play games, listen to music, tell stories. All activities that will engage your mind and connect you to others around you during the holiday season.
- Connect socially. One of the secrets to stress reduction. Social connection produces hormones that reduce stress. If you have little or no family and friends around, volunteer opportunities abound.
Author’s Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing undue stress during the holiday season (or any season) leading to withdrawn, erratic, or dangerous behavior, increased substance use, trouble at home, work, etc., please know there are resources that can help. Brain Training is a highly effective option for dealing with chronic stress outside of acute or emergency situations. In these situations, national helplines are available and should be utilized:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)
Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling, food and shopping are just a few of the most common behaviors and substances that people can become addicted to. Why is it that some people never develop addictions while others give up nearly everything (including their lives) because of them? The answer lies in the wiring of the brain.
Addiction is a Disease of the Brain
While the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance abuse, the exact cause of this disease (whether your brain is wired for addiction because of genetics or environment) is still being debated. But one thing is certain—our environment impacts the way our brains work (for better or for worse). How we live has an incredibly powerful influence on the way our genetic tendencies are expressed. More simply put, what you think, consume, and do will determine the severity of your addiction.
Most individuals with addiction also suffer from other disorders including ADHD and OCD. The same brain regions are involved in most of these conditions, including addiction. Whether developmental in nature, related to injury, or otherwise, there is most often measurable compromise in cognitive networks in the brain that deal with attention, motivation, memory, impulse control, decision making and reasoning.
Neuroplasticity Offers Hope for Addicts
The tenets of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and grow based on its environment and experience – dictate that we can in fact change function in the key brain regions related to addiction. Add to this the ever-growing body of research on the impact of physical abilities such as balance and eye movements on cognitive function, and we now have a host of methods to address the impact of environmental factors on addiction.
The Brain Training Approach to Addiction
Brain training is one method of rewiring the brain that offers hope to those suffering from addiction. Neuroplasticity is the core concept that brain training exercises are based upon. Even in the case of addiction, you can change your brain function for the better. What follows are four brain training approaches to rewiring the addicted brain.
- Brainwave Regulation: Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta are some of the brainwaves that can be measured and trained in individuals with addiction. Through the use of quantitative EEG (qEEG), we are able to map the brain and determine where common patterns of dysfunction seen in addiction exist. Neurofeedback and other modalities, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation – rTMS, are the vehicles through which dysfunctional addictive patterns are broken and healthier brainwave activity established.
- Eye Movement Re-Training: The eyes are more than a window to the soul. Eye function can reveal a lot about your level of attention, impulse control, and other higher cognitive functions within the brain. Recent research from Tel Aviv University demonstrates how involuntary eye movements are accurate predictors of ADHD, the most common condition that occurs along with addiction. Eye movements can be measured and effectively rehabilitated; leading to improvements in impulse control, attention and, ultimately, addictive tendencies.
- Vestibular (Balance) Therapies: Is there a connection between balance and addiction? Absolutely! Over the past half-century or so, the links between our ability to remain balanced and our higher thinking abilities have been well established. A recent paper in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience explores the connection between the vestibular system (which regulates balance) and cognition. As with many other biomarkers of brain function, balance can be accurately measured with computerized assessment of postural systems (CAPS) testing, and corrected with a number of specific vestibular rehabilitation techniques.
- Metabolic Therapies: Nutrition is often overlooked when it comes to addiction. However, addressing nutritional or metabolic imbalances can be a critical intervention for those suffering from addiction. Most with addiction have extremely poor dietary habits and their brain fuel is compromised. From malnutrition and dehydration, to inflammation and neurotransmitter dysregulation, these problems can be detected and corrected quite easily. Proper nutrition allows for a healthier brain and greater promise for recovery.
By targeting the underlying wiring issues that contribute to addiction, these approaches can increase the effectiveness of more traditional interventions such as cognitive and behavioral therapies and psychotherapy, or counseling.