The start of winter, officially marked by the solstice on December 21st, benefits greatly from a flurry of activities associated with joy, family gatherings, fond memories for the newness of a changing season, and for some, a small degree of stress. With a handful of lingering fall weather days, the first snowfall, Christmas lights strung up, merry attitudes, and ringing in the new year, the first month of winter has plenty of distractions to help people ignore the growing discomfort from increasingly dropping temperatures.
However, come February, winter tends to be a bit less appealing, with black and gray clouded snow piled high on the sides of the road. For most Americans, being isolated and alone indoors during the cold winter months can, at best, lead to boredom — at worst, it may bring about increased chances for mental health issues like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety, depression, and even substance misuse.
For individuals recovering from an addictive disorder, these symptoms of winter fatigue are only exacerbated by the unpleasant seasonal conditions; those who are actively in addiction recovery can be in real danger of increasing their risk for triggers and potential relapse during the winter months. It is important to note that individuals in early recovery are at an even higher risk for relapse.
The increased risk factors are emblematic of the types of behavioral changes that the winter season brings about. For starters, the changing season brings about a disruption to the routine. Creating new, healthier habits is an integral part of any recovery program, but these new habits can only supplant the old ones through repetition. The decreasing winter temperatures present a roadblock to the usual schedule — not only by preventing routine and structure, but also by causing individuals to stay indoors more often and being less social. This ultimately results in higher chances for isolation and boredom among addiction recovery patients — two triggers that can directly lead to a relapse.
This all sounds like the perfect storm for triggering a relapse, right?
It does not have to be, and the winter season should not be viewed as a negative thing. Winter should be viewed as a challenge and for the potential positive opportunity that it provides addiction recovery patients: to pivot and change. The one constant in addiction recovery is that no rule is absolute, save for the will to try and try again. Pivoting and change is a necessary part of recovery, and the winter season is the perfect time to develop or even improve this skillset to become more adaptable in your self-reliance.
Bring Outdoor Activities Indoors
The pandemic sparked in many an increased interest in gardening during 2020. It was a safe, covid-friendly activity that got people outdoors while also creating a productive sense of accomplishment. The winter months are obviously not conducive to the type of outdoor gardening that many individuals spent their time with earlier in 2020, but it does not have to prevent you from continuing your gardening experience.
Microgreens and indoor grow kits are an easy alternative and a fun project to begin indoors in the colder winter months. You may not be outdoors, but you can still grow plants no matter your price range. You can get seeds from your local gardening store, or you can easily find ready-made kits online. Microgreens only need about 4-5 hours of sunlight, and they can be grown to harvest in as little as 10 days. Not only can you get that same productive feeling of accomplishment from growing plants, but you also have a healthy and nutritious food source to add to salads and cooked meals.
It is important to find a local, cost effective gym to join during the winter months, especially for addiction recovery patients who have made exercise part of their routine. However, depending on the area you live in, the pandemic may have either made gyms potentially unsafe (from an infectious standpoint), or caused them to close down for the time being. If securing a gym membership is unattainable, then outdoor exercise activities — weather permitting — should be explored, as well as cheaper home gym options like a new or used exercise bike.
Although a home gym with a professional set of equipment such as a treadmill, weight machines, and an elliptical is out of the question for the majority of Americans, exercise bikes are generally affordable and take up limited space. Look on eBay or even Facebook Marketplace for bikes under $100. It may not be enough for a full workout, but it should provide enough physical activity, especially if it is only being relied on for the shorter winter season.
Boredom is a surprisingly dangerous trigger for all patients in addiction recovery, so your activities cannot be just limited to all work and no play. You need to find ways to entertain yourself, especially during the colder winter months. Drive-in movie theaters have increased in popularity and are a fun pastime that you can experience with friends or family within your covid bubble. For many, it may even be their first time. An event like a drive-in theater is considered covid-friendly and gives you the opportunity to experience a shared activity that can prevent feelings of isolation.
Online Social Gatherings and Meetings
For those in addiction recovery, the most limiting aspect of the colder winter months (as well as during the pandemic) is typically access to group meetings and support networks. Thankfully, the online community for addiction recovery has developed to the extent that you can find a meeting or an online support group almost 24 hours a day. To find out more information regarding online group meetings, you can check out the listings on the Alcoholics Anonymous website.
If the winter months have left you feeling isolated, alone, and in need of assistance with an addictive disorder, Choice House is here to help. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, we offer men dual diagnosis treatment for substance misuse, addictive disorders, and co-occurring mental health issues. We offer a 90-day inpatient treatment program, as well as intensive outpatient services and a sober living campus for those in recovery to successfully transition back to their more independent, sober lifestyles. Through a variety of therapeutic modalities, we help men create a foundation of love and empathy as they reconnect with themselves and others through a newfound lens of sobriety. We take full advantage of having the Rocky Mountain National Park directly in our backyard and provide a unique outdoor therapy modality that lets men bond with each other through physical activities like rock climbing, hiking, and more. Not only are we just steps away from untouched nature, but our facilities are also only minutes away from the bustling city of Louisville. This proximity to the city helps those transitioning on our sober living campus to maintain employment and social lives with the supervision and guidance that is so often needed in early recovery. If you are suffering from an addictive disorder and would like to find out more about Choice House’s facilities and programs, please give us a call today at (720) 577-4422.