You know how amazing you feel after a good workout? How relaxed do you feel after a nice massage? And how peaceful do you feel after a yoga class? Bringing awareness of the connection between the mind and body is a growing focus among addiction recovery and behavioral health providers, and for good reason. Increased physical and mental health states can reinforce the individual’s positive attitude in recovery.
Science reinforces what is already known through first-hand experience of the effects of holistic activities on overall wellness. Even a single 30-minute workout can reduce the effects of depression and anxiety due to the increase of endorphins, body temperature, blood circulation in the brain, and effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (1). Randomized clinical trials point to the benefits of yoga on mental health, and new studies report the positive effects of aromatherapy for regulating anxiety.
Incorporating holistic therapies into overall recovery programming and after-care adds another layer to recovery efforts that can help promote a deeper engagement in treatment. Many rehab programs have embraced holistic activities, as these complementary therapies act as an added boost to the clinical effects of psychotherapy and other evidence-based treatment elements, while also improving feelings of well-being. Post-rehab, these alternative therapies are inexpensive and easy to add to the daily or weekly routine, providing excellent tools to help manage stress and low mood.
Addiction is indeed a complex disease that requires fundamentally a scientific approach to overcome and manage it in the early treatment phase. But adding simple holistic elements to both the treatment and the long-term recovery efforts just makes sense. These activities have been shown to improve mood and physical wellness. That said, why not equip yourself to battle using every possible weapon?
About the Mind-Body Connection
There is a powerful, somewhat mysterious, connection between our physical health and our mental well-being. This link between the body—through the digestive tract, the muscles, the spinal cord, and the cardiovascular system—and neurological pathways that involve processing mood, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, creates a comprehensive, interdependent system of functioning. Healthy functioning between these fundamental parts of the human person requires that they be in alignment.
This alignment is commonly disrupted by active addiction. The health consequences of the substance in the body and mind can result in significant alterations that impact all aspects of well-being. Individuals who have been struggling with a substance use disorder will often experience a decline in physical health. Addiction can spark mental health issues, such as mood disorders like depression or anxiety, and the effects of this bleed into physical well-being. When depressed we don’t really have the desire to exercise. You also battle with getting quality sleep. Eating habits become dysfunctional. Anxiety can cause insomnia and loss of appetite, and excessive worry leads to social isolation. All of these impact both mental and physical health and disrupts the mind-body connection.
9 Holistic Alternative Therapies That Enhance Recovery Efforts
Consider incorporating a few of the following holistic activities into your after-care planning. While these activities or therapies may not be familiar initially, accessing them on a regular basis helps develop self-confidence, in addition to the specific benefits of each. New health habits take a few weeks to solidify into habits, so set your sights on the end goal and persevere. It will be worth it.
Adding three to four workouts of 30-60 minutes each to one’s weekly routine can have a significant impact on both physical and mental well-being. Exercise will naturally produce the brain chemicals that lift mood, improve cognitive functioning, provide a better quality of sleep, and improve physical fitness. Additionally, regular physical activity in recovery can help the individual avoid relapse. Exercise provides a distraction from cravings or “romancing” past substance misuse. It can also offer more structure to the day when it is incorporated as a routine activity.
Essential oils offer an easily accessible source of wellness in recovery. Essential oils are highly concentrated extractions of plant and flower parts, created through the distillation process, and are used to promote health and well-being in a wide array of conditions, including addiction recovery. Aromatherapy uses these essential oils, such as citrus oils, lavender, rose, frankincense, and bergamot via a vaporized mist or a diluted topical application, to help relieve anxiety, depression, or to reduce cravings. Because these issues are often correlated to relapse, aromatherapy can offer calming benefits as well as be a protective factor against relapse.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness on the present moment. It helps to rein in distracted or unsettling thoughts and consider the feelings, sensations, and thoughts happening in the here and now. Coupled with purposeful breathing, mindfulness can help the individual to acknowledge present emotions and process feelings. This can minimize stress and promote relaxation. Mindfulness trains the individual to consider their present feelings or emotions without judgement. This allows the experience to run its course while reminding oneself that it is transient.
The use of yoga as an adjunct therapy in rehab helps to connect the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga postures and techniques that are slow and purposely practised can increase levels of GABA. This has a natural tranquilizer effect and can modulate the stress response. Yoga improves physical strength, flexibility, reduces stress, promotes relaxation, and improves sleep quality. There are a variety of yoga practices available. The most popular methods include Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and hot yoga.
In recovery, attention should turn to restore brain health and overall wellness through diet. A diet that is rich in lean protein sources is essential to rebuilding physical strength and well-being. These foods include fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, and plain Greek yogurt. You can also eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and eggs, seeds, and nuts. Limiting caffeine, sugar, and processed foods will enhance the nutritional effects of a healthy diet.
Spending quiet time in thought, prayer, or reflection can help the person gain important personal insights that aid them in the recovery journey. Try guided meditation tutorials. A lot of these tutorials are designed specifically for addiction recovery. They can guide the individual through common emotional hurdles while providing a helpful coping strategy. These are available through personal meditation services. A variety of apps also provide guided meditation tools. These sessions are also very soothing and relaxing, further assisting the healing process in recovery.
Eastern medical practice has been found to assist in recovery. How so? By reducing pain related to withdrawal symptoms, and also by reducing stress. Acupuncture is designed to help open up energy pathways, called Qi. According to acupuncture, these blockages in energy flow can cause illness. Auricular acupuncture, or placing needles in the ear region, is a particular focus point for using acupuncture in addiction recovery. It has been shown to help reduce cravings and anxiety. Some rehab centers use acupuncture for their patients during the detox process. This is because it has been shown to provide some relief from withdrawal symptoms.
People often carry their stress in the neck, back, and shoulders. Massage therapy helps to release tension in the body and toxins in the muscles. This then benefits the mind with pleasurable feelings of deep relaxation in the process. Massage therapy also improves the immune system, reduces physical pain, and improves sleep quality. Are you looking for a valuable tool for reducing stress and the risk of relapse? If yes, then one should include massage therapy in regular self-care regimens during recovery.
Keeping an ongoing journal can be an immensely effective holistic activity in recovery.
Journaling allows the individual to process their feelings as they relay various daily experiences or thoughts. The process of writing the feelings down on paper, or typing into a digital diary, can induce a sense of relaxation while sorting out the associated emotions pertaining to the day’s events. Are you looking for a safe outlet? Are you looking to unload any worries or recovery challenges without any judgement? If so, get a journal.
The bottom line
One cannot overstate the important role of self-care in the process of restoring health and wellness in recovery. Including supplemental holistic therapies in the overall treatment plan, for use both during treatment and after completing a rehab program, can improve recovery success. Any complementary activity that helps reduce stress and anxiety, improves mental well-being and can help reduce cravings, and therefore, relapse, is a useful tool in recovery. One can combine these activities with traditional continuing care efforts. These include ongoing outpatient therapy, group therapy, and participation in a 12-step community for optimal recovery results.