Sobriety, Fitness, and Community during Covid-19

Importance of Community

In his 2015 TEDTalk, British journalist Johann Hari offered a unique perspective on addiction.  He stated the opposite of addiction wasn’t sobriety or recovery; it is connection.  During the current Covid-19 pandemic, staying connected has been difficult for everyone and seems to be incredibly difficult for people in recovery from a substance use disorder.  Most self-support groups have moved to Zoom, and the opportunity to talk before or after a meeting is limited.  This time is just as important to people in recovery as the time spent in a meeting.  Socializing in a healthy, sober way can help alleviate boredom and serve as an alternative behavior to substance use.

COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to enjoy the benefits of socialization and physical activity. Restrictions and stay-at-home orders have closed down many gyms, so it’s much more difficult to find a space to work out.  Also, stay-at-home orders have made socialization nearly impossible, which may increase feelings of social isolation.

People are coming up with creative ways to socialize and engage in recovery online.  The Phoenix, located in Denver, Colorado, is a nonprofit fitness center.  When the facility closed due to restrictions, he decided to find a way to build and maintain community while promoting an active sober lifestyle.  His answer – online fitness classes covering everything from yoga to strength training.  Since going virtual, his Denver, CO nonprofit classes attract individuals from across the US and four different countries.

How Can Fitness in Recovery Help Me?

Your mind and spirit need recovery from addiction as well as your body.  Exercise isn’t a top priority when you use substances, which may be overlooked while you grow in your recovery.  Alcohol abuse and substance abuse can take a toll on your body.  In addition to physical well-being, it is also an effective coping mechanism and can provide a sense of community with other like-minded people.  You may also find other benefits such as:

  • Boredom relief. Physical activity can serve as an alternative behavior when you have the urge to use substances out of boredom, as you can treat it as something to do. It also provides structure in your day to keep time from feeling endless.
  • Boosting your mood. Engaging in fitness-related activities, whether it’s a walk around the block or training for a marathon, releases endorphins, the chemicals that produce a happiness response in the brain. They can reduce difficult emotions or symptoms of depression and anxiety, so you may find yourself less tempted to turn to substance use as a coping mechanism.
  • Providing a sense of community. If you’ve been struggling with addiction for a long time, most or even all of your social interactions may revolve around substance use. Joining a gym or fitness class allows you to interact with others and make friends in another context, increasing your network of social supports and helping you spend time in a social environment that is less likely to serve as a trigger.
  • Improving your brain health. Prolonged substance abuse can lead to a reduction of brain mass in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for your memory and for reducing impulsive decision-making. Exercise has been proven to promote brain growth, which can reduce some of these effects and make it easier to pause and use your skills rather than turning to substances.
  • Improving your physical health. It’s no secret that physical activity is good for your health, but it can be especially important for people with substance use disorders. Substance use can lead to elevated heart rate and blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for serious cardiovascular diseases. Exercise improves cardiovascular health by lowering resting heart rate and blood pressure, so it can start to reverse some of the damage to your body that your substance use may have caused.Exercise is a great tool to help you recover from a substance use disorder, but it isn’t enough by itself. The best way to truly heal is to seek treatment and learn various coping skills to use in conjunction with fitness.

What Are Some Strategies At-Home?

Technology provides many solutions that can help with the complications presented by the pandemic.

  • Working out from home. It may not be as satisfying as the full gym experience, but a run outside or a bodyweight workout on your living room floor can still provide the same benefit to your mental and physical health. It can also alleviate some of the boredom you may be experiencing in quarantine. If you want a little equipment, you can also order weights and a yoga mat online.
  • Download a workout app. If you browse the App Store, you will find many workout app choices ranging from yoga to HIIT training. Many of them are free, so you don’t have to worry about expensive subscriptions!
  • Some of the best free online workouts serve as online support communities for people in recovery from substance use disorders. These support communities are typically free workout apps designed by nonprofit organizations to create a safe space for you to bond with others over your shared fitness experience as well as your struggles with addiction. These connections can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation. In addition, watching others in their journeys towards recovery and feeling them cheer you on can inspire and motivate you to continue your journey. These online recovery support communities are also designed to help you keep your body healthy through physical activity and provide you with something to do to alleviate boredom. As you recover from your substance use disorder, social supports and fitness are key. The coronavirus may present some additional complications to an already-difficult road, but the technology of 2020 makes it possible for you to enjoy the benefits of both.  Joining a recovery support network online can help you stay grounded on your path towards recovery and away from relapse.
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