Isolation is the Biggest Threat to Health and Wellness in Recovery: Learn How to Combat It with a Healthy LifestyleAnna Ciulla
Social isolation and loneliness may be a bigger threat to public health and wellness than even obesity, according to a 2017 press release from the American Psychological Association (APA). As evidence in support of this claim, the report cited research that has revealed a strong link between loneliness and premature death and other health issues. And the roughly 43 million Americans over the age of 45 who are suffering from chronic loneliness, according to a 2010 study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), are the most vulnerable.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,” Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, said in the APA press release.
Her conclusion and supporting data help to confirm a central tenet of Beach House Center for Recovery’s philosophical approach to treating addiction: namely, that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but rather love and connection. We believe that relationships of love and connection are so essential to successful long-term recovery that their absence—loneliness and social alienation—is the biggest threat to your health and wellness in recovery. This article will, therefore, point you in the direction of evidence-based tools for combating loneliness and building a healthy and well-rounded lifestyle that supports the best treatment and recovery outcomes for people with substance use disorders (SUDs).
Yoga for Healthier Social Connections and Overall Wellbeing
A growing body of research has found that yoga can:
- calm the nervous system
- manage stress levels
- help you heal from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- boost energy and mood
- address sexual issues
- improve body image and self-esteem
- contribute to greater self-acceptance and self-connectedness
It, therefore, may go without saying that each of these health benefits can have a direct bearing on your relationships. The calmer, happier, less judgmental, and more self-aware and self-connected you feel, the greater your capacity for finding meaningful connections with others— as an antidote to loneliness and its health risks.
Often, moreover, the best way to maximize yoga’s health benefits is by engaging in the practice with others, through one of the many group offerings that are out there. There are many types of yoga and ways to practice it. What’s key is to find a form of yoga and venue for regular practice that suits your individual needs and schedule.
How Yoga Improves Treatment Outcomes for Co-Occurring Disorders (CODs) and Substance Abuse
Numerous studies have also explored yoga’s benefits as they relate more specifically to treatment outcomes for substance abuse and CODs like anxiety and depression. The following findings help to illustrate why Beach House integrates yoga in dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and other mental illnesses—and why we recognize the benefits of holistic substance abuse treatment and use it in various ways:
- In a University of Utah study cited by Harvard researchers, the test subjects who did yoga were able to regulate their stress levels, and, as a result, managed their pain more effectively. (Stress and pain issues are common contributors to substance abuse.)
- Even just two sessions per week of yoga, as part of regular practice, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, two disorders that often co-occur with substance abuse, in multiple studies cited by the APA in 2017.
- Veterans with elevated depression scores before a twice-weekly hatha yoga program achieved a significant reduction in symptoms after completing the eight-week program, according to 2017 findings in Yoga Journal. (Veterans’ substance abuse and co-occurring depression often correlate with experiences of trauma and PTSD, for which yoga has proven therapeutic. (Learn how Beach House is supporting veterans with these co-occurring disorders and how trauma can affect men and women differently.)
Aerobic Exercise – Another Key Component of a Healthy Lifestyle
Like yoga, aerobic exercise can strengthen health and wellness, thereby supporting long-term recovery. Physical fitness has even been suggested as a possible adjunct treatment for drug abuse, as the result of a 2011 study involving rats, which found aerobic exercise reduced cocaine cravings and rates of cocaine relapse.
And, like yoga, aerobic exercise can be a group activity that builds or strengthens social connections, whether through a running club, spin or Pilates class, tennis team, or Master’s swim practices. The opportunities for team and group physical fitness are virtually inexhaustible so that if one outlet isn’t a good fit or becomes tedious, you can always try another.
A Strong Support Network Is Key to Health and Wellness in Recovery
Both yoga and aerobic exercise can be avenues to building a strong support network, by helping you establish new or deeper connections with others. And research at the University of Chicago has shown that people who maintain these positive social connections and a strong support network are healthier and live longer. Naturally, such findings are of great relevance to recovery also. In fact, they may shed light on why peer support and recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have such high rates of participation and generally positive success rates.
In addition to the above tools for mitigating loneliness and achieving a deeper connection with others, mindfulness is another intervention worth exploring. To learn more about mindfulness and how it can be used to deepen your connection with others, check out these articles:
- How Mindfulness Exercises Aid Recovery
- How Mindfulness Can Connect Us to Others
- How Mindfulness Can Prevent Relapse
- How to Use Mindfulness to Reduce Cravings
We also invite you to learn more about our Family Wellness Program.