According to the American Psychological Association (APA), within the past five years, “27 million Americans reported dependence or misuse of illicit or prescription drugs.” As the nation is called upon to social distancing, those with substance abuse require special preparation and ongoing support. Spending days or weeks at home social distancing, with limited resources, stimulation and social contact can take a toll on mental health and can spark or even reignite substance abuse problems.
While it is important for everyone to find healthy ways to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, for those facing the challenges of addiction, coping requires an additional level of mental health preparedness and developing positive daily routines. Most importantly, we need to find ways to social distance but not disconnect. Essential strategies I recommend for improving both your mental and physical health include:
- Control What You Can. This is a very complex time for all of us…so it’s important to control what we can. Do not isolate emotionally because we are being asked to distance ourselves physically. Examples of controlling what you can include: Clean your living environment every day; get up and get dressed every single day; get your exercise in; and so on.
- Find a local support group. Support groups provide a safe place for people to find comfort in knowing they are not alone. The General Service of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is utilizing digital platforms such as Zoom to continue offering meetings and services to individuals online. AA groups are also creating contact lists, keeping in touch via phone, email and social media.
- Have a Daily Goal. Come up with a goal each day that you can accomplish, feel good about, and most importantly feel fulfilled when you put your head on the pillow at night. It can be as simple as reading 10 pages in a book, walking a mile, exercising for 30 minutes, or writing in your journal. The purpose is to give you something to focus on and complete before the day is finished.
- Start a Big Project.Just as important as daily goals are, having a larger or long-term project on your to-do list is important. A long-term goal could be painting a canvas, reading and finishing a book or a puzzle, or even building a DIY project at home. The point is to accomplish a larger project over the course of the two, three-week quarantine; this includes looking forward to working on something, and ultimately finishing it.
- Meditate. Meditation, whether it is done formally or just in 30-second increments throughout the day, is critical. It allows us to find peace and be still at a time when many of us are stressed, anxious and in the unknown. Take these moments to breathe deep, appreciate what you do have and relax your mind.
- Challenge & Change Your Thoughts. When experiencing a craving, many people have a tendency to remember only the positive effects of the drug and forget the negative consequences. You may find it helpful to remind yourself that you really won’t feel better if you use or drink. It can be helpful to have the negative consequences of the activity listed on a small card that you keep with you.
- Establish & Maintain a Routine. Try to eat meals at normal times, exercise if possible, get dressed in the morning, and put yourself on a sleep schedule to ensure a sense of normalcy. You can even add a positive or fun activity into your schedule to look forward to.
This crisis, social distancing and related stay-at-home orders will eventually pass. Let’s make sure that those struggling with substance abuse aren’t added to the many disastrous casualties of the Coronavirus.
About Tanya Young Williams
Tanya Young Williams is an African American businesswoman, advocate and former wife of basketball star Jayson Williams who had his own highly publicized challenges with substance abuse. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pivot Treatment and Wellness Center in Singer Island, Florida which provides services for drug and alcohol dependency and co-occurring issues. Learn more at https://pivotcenters.com/.