Q. I have been in recovery for a while now, but I still find myself on an emotional roller coaster. I keep going through these sudden bouts of lows. What can I do to help make my emotions more stable? Paul S., Boston, MA
A. This is an excellent question. People in recovery are making many changes and adjustments in their lives: changing geographical locations, job changes, ending relationships with old friends, rebuilding relationships with family members, and establishing new friendships.
It is also a time when people begin to experience emotions that they may have avoided in the past by using substances. These emotions – like anger, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame – can be difficult to manage without using substances as a coping skill.
The brain’s chemistry is altered by alcohol and drug use. This use can cause anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure from activities which were enjoyable in the past. Many individuals in early recovery can experience anhedonia, which in most cases is temporary.
It is also important to remember that there is a natural grieving process that most people experience around the loss of their substance. People can grieve the loss of the lifestyle they used to have, feelings that the substance induced, or other “benefits” that their use served.
- During times of depression or sadness, it is important to stay connected to a supportive network. This may be a fellowship or good friends and family.
- Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids or a vitamin D deficiency among other things can cause depression.
- Seek out medical attention to make sure that you don’t have a medical condition that is contributing to or causing your low mood. Thyroid disease and certain medications can cause depression.
- Obtain adequate sleep. Insufficient or poor sleep quality can have an impact on mood.
- Seek out a therapist if your symptoms are getting in the way of daily functioning. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a problem in the winter months. Sometimes, it helps to talk to a professional who can help you uncover issues that are getting in the way of your feelings of well-being.