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Staying in recovery despite pandemic stresses

Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and the uncertainty and upheaval it has brought can be especially challenging for people in recovery from mental illness or substance abuse. Like most folks, they face stresses like working from home or in a high-risk location, suddenly homeschooling children, or experiencing job loss or other financial uncertainty.

Besides, they may not be able to access their usual recovery support systems, like 12 step groups or drop-in centers, in the same way as before. This loss can produce feelings of intense isolation as if they have to it all alone.

But they’re not alone.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting everyone,” the Ohio Association of Behavioral Health Authorities (OHABA) wants people to know. “Many people have never experienced anxiety or depression or worried about their drinking and drug use. But now they find themselves ... having to deal with feelings that they have never had to deal with before.”

During the pandemic, prioritizing self-care and -kindness is critical for people who are in recovery from mental illness or substance abuse.

The OABHA is reaching out to encourage hope for people in recovery and offering suggestions for how communities can help, through their “Developing a Better Understanding” newsletter.

“Remember that the emotions you may be experiencing are normal reactions to difficult circumstances,” the newsletter quoted the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Be kind to yourself and others. Try to stay positive and use this time to spend more time with your children or spouse. Try things you’ve been putting off, such as taking an online class, learning a new skill, or getting in touch with your creative side.

“It can be hard to think past what is going on today, let alone in a week or in six months. But give yourself permission to daydream about the future and what is on the horizon. Remember that this is temporary, and things will return to normal.”

Other tips for recovery self-care during the pandemic included:

Stay connected with your support networks, even if they are not as available or the same as they were in the past. People will react differently to the pandemic, social distancing, and seeing things begin to open back up, possibly affecting your support network experience.

Be educated, but limit time focusing on the pandemic to help reduce negative thinking.

Know and recognize your red flags and triggers. Acknowledge that, in these times, new ones may develop.

Practice your recovery skills, use your tools, and if you need to ask for help, do so.

Develop a routine of healthy practices such as eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, connecting with others, meditating, and making time to have fun.

The OAHBA also offered suggestions for helping others who may need support during the pandemic. Understand that indi

Understand that individuals in recovery, like all individuals, react differently to stress and anxiety. Make sure you listen to them to learn what they need, instead of what you may think they should need.

Help individuals in recovery understand that these are extremely unusual times. It is not unexpected that they may be struggling even if they have years of recovery.

Help the person in recovery deal with their own internalized stigma or sense of failure if they are once again having to work their recovery diligently.

When possible, be present whether via technology or in-person with appropriate social distancing.

The OAHBA recommended a “Strive for five” practice, with a daily check-in with five people for 30 days. Reaching out can help individuals and families cope with feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation by connecting with others.

When necessary, help individuals in need of professional help access a treatment program or counselor.

Finally, make sure that you are also taking care of yourself!

If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800- 273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

People can also connect with the Crisis Text Line for free, confidential, 24/7 support by texting 4Hope to 741-741.