When it comes to mental wellness for people in recovery, many of us still believe in the mistaken cause and effect that recovery must happen first before mental wellbeing can improve.
The truth is, wellness is at the very center of the recovery process. As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), “Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
For people with substance use issues, especially where wellness may have taken a back seat for a very long time, knowing how to make personal wellbeing a priority again can feel difficult or confusing.
According to River Martin, community support manager at NAMI Maine, improved wellness starts with an understanding of the different forms of wellbeing that are woven into our lives.
“There are eight different types of wellness,” Martin explains. These interdependent “dimensions” of wellness build off each other to provide people with a safety net of good habits throughout recovery.
Caring for the eight dimensions of wellness
1. Physical wellness:
This form of wellbeing is all about good physical health habits, which include such mission critical components as healthy nutrition and eating habits, exercise, regular health care, and a treatment plan for substance use.
2. Emotional wellness:
According to SAMHSA, “emotional wellness involves the ability to express feelings, adjust to emotional challenges, cope with life’s stressors, and enjoy life.”
It also includes knowing your strengths as well as recognizing the facets of your life that you want to improve.
3. Occupational wellness:
Do you have work or other outside activities that provide meaning and purpose and reflect values that align with your recovery?
This can include employment or self-employment, participating in a job skills program, or volunteering.
4. Social wellness:
Recovery is intensely personal, yet having a “social network” around you is a valuable source for support.
Social wellness includes your ability to foster healthy relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, as well as knowing how to ask and accept help from others.
Participating in the recovery community through attending support meetings and meeting with your recovery treatment team are essential for this dimension of wellness.
5. Spiritual wellness:
This is a broad concept that represents your personal beliefs and values and how you find meaning, purpose, and a sense of balance and peace in your life.
Aspects of spiritual wellness include an appreciation for life and recognition that the search for meaning is a higher purpose of human existence.
There is no prescribed religion or dogma associated with spiritual wellness.
6. Intellectual wellness:
When you have things that keep your brain active and your intellect expanding, your mind is being fed key ingredients for better decision making.
Broaden your horizons by reading more newspapers, magazines, and books, taking an adult learning class, or starting a simple habit that stretches your brain power, like completing a daily Sudoku puzzle or playing Wordle.
7. Environmental wellness:
Feeling safe in your surroundings helps reduce stress, a known trigger for relapse.
Take a good look at the places where you spend most of your time.
At minimum, you want to ensure that you have access to clear air, food, and water.
As a person in recovery, it’s important that your environment supports your journey.
Is your environment free of substances? Is your environment as clean, comfortable and calming as it could be?
8. Financial wellness:
Addiction issues often wreak havoc with personal and family finances, including income loss, draining of savings accounts, and increased debts.
Improving financial wellness involves taking accountability for financial harm and taking steps to restore and rebuild.
This can start with something as basic as making a budget.
The truth is, wellness is at the very center of the recovery process. As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), “Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.
Start with self-care
Supporting all these different facets of wellness starts with one thing: self-care, or simple habits that improve wellbeing and help people better cope with daily stressors.
“It’s really important for folks to build self-care routines,” Martin says.
“The more self-care you incorporate, the more dimensions of wellness these self-care activities can touch on.”
Self-care doesn’t have to be complex. “It can be taking a short walk, making art, or having a cup of coffee. Even 15 minutes can make a huge difference,” Martin says.
On a walk, for example, you are prioritizing your physical health, but you can also use the time to reflect on emotions you’re experiencing around recovery or a relationship you would like to improve, or the walk gives you the headspace to finally weigh your options for consolidating old debts.
To understand which self-care habits best serve your wellbeing, be prepared to take a trial and error approach, Martin adds.
If healthy eating is an area of physical wellness that needs added support, self-care may involve visiting the farmers’ market for fresh local ingredients and taking the time to prepare and savor a healthy meal, or it could mean visiting a dietitian to start learning the ground rules for good nutrition, or joining a support group like Overeaters Anonymous.
Social media — good or bad for wellness?
Social media is a mixed bag for people in recovery.
Making comparisons with the “perfect life” other people portray on their social media accounts may result in feelings of low self-esteem and contribute to depression.
Social media is also a source of news and current events for many. In today’s world, this can be overwhelming.
“People need to know that it’s okay to take a break from social media or keeping up with the news…it’s okay to not connect there if that’s not supporting your wellness,” says Martin.
If you do decide to stay on social media, Martin suggests following pages and accounts that are uplifting and bring you joy.
These might be recovery-centered accounts or pages related to other interests you may have, from gardening to funny animal memes.
You can also put your tech devices to work supporting your recovery by downloading meditation apps for stress relief. “I really like the meditation app Insight Timer because it’s completely free to use,” Martin says.
Resources for Wellness
Sometimes supporting your wellbeing in recovery requires outside support, and this is where Maine’s constellation of recovery centers and support groups becomes a pivotal part of the journey. There are over 30 centers in Maine. “People can get connected with help through a location near them,” Martin says.
NAMI Maine is also a resource for people in recovery, and their friends and loved ones who often need support in their own wellness journey. “NAMI Maine offers our Connection Recovery support group for mental health recovery that meets online. There are also family and friends groups for those with lived experience supporting a loved one in recovery. You can learn more about how to join these groups on the NAMIMaine.org website,” Martin notes.
NAMI Maine also offers a free Family-to-Family mental health recovery educational course.
The NAMI Maine helpline 800- 464-5767 (press 1) is a free service to help people in need to problem solve and get connected to resources.
“Maine has many options for people in recovery trying to support their wellness,” Martin says. “If you reach out, there is a lot of support waiting.”