We all could use more energy, and that’s especially true for anyone starting out in addiction recovery. There are several reasons someone just starting her recovery journey may be feeling tired, lethargic, and unmotivated. One is poor nutrition. Many addictions cause you to eat too little, and what you do eat is often readily available processed food with little nutritional value. Alcohol is especially bad for creating nutrient deficiencies because it damages the lining of your intestines, causing poor nutrient absorption and it also disrupts your gut microbiome, which can lead to a number of problems, including anxiety, fatigue, and depression. Many patients report a feeling of extreme fatigue after quitting alcohol.
People just starting out in recovery may also experience post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, which is typically described as depression, lack of motivation, inability to experience pleasure, or emotional numbness. PAWS is thought to be caused by low dopamine and serotonin from prolonged substance use. Although PAWS usually goes away on its own and rarely lasts more than 18 months, those months can seem very long if you don’t have the energy to do anything. Sticking to a recovery plan can be hard under the best circumstances and it’s even harder if you’re always tired. If low energy is a problem for you, here are some ways to boost your energy levels and feel better.
The feeling of being tired and rundown in early recovery is sometimes referred to as “sobriety fatigue” or “recovery fatigue”. In fact, “how long does sobriety fatigue last?”, is a very common question from our patients.
Eat healthy food.
Since all your energy comes from what you eat, it makes sense to start there. Start by cutting out foods high in refined sugar. They give you a short energy boost, but then you crash. You get tired irritable and you’re hungry again soon. Eating whole foods that are high in fiber and protein will give you steadier energy over longer periods. Fried food is another energy drain. It’s high in omega-6 fats, which cause inflammation and lead to lethargy, irritability, and depression.
Next, add in a variety of fruits and vegetables, with a particular emphasis on green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens. All vegetables have a different nutritional profile, so eating a good variety will cover all your bases. Getting enough nutrients like B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and others improves your body’s ability to turn food into energy and produce the hormones you need to regulate your mood. Vegetables are also high in fiber, which feeds healthy microbes in your gut that produce, among other things, serotonin.
After eating healthy, exercise is perhaps the best way to increase energy. Exercise gets your heart pumping and moves more oxygen to your brain and other organs. Exercise also makes your body use energy more efficiently. Aerobic exercise increases the stroke volume of your heart, which means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to supply blood to your cells. Exercise causes adaptations at the cellular level that give you more energy. It also has psychological benefits, such as reducing stress, improving your mood, helping you relax, and helping you sleep better.
If you feel like you’re too exhausted to exercise, just start small. Take a short walk every day or do some other minor thing just to move a bit. After a while, it will get easier and you can do more.
Stress is like a black hole for your energy. You’re always tight, your heart rate is high, and you generally feel like you’re under attack. Chronic stress can keep you from relaxing and sleeping and it can impair your ability to heal and fight infections. When you’re stressed, you’re always preoccupied with some problem, even when you’re supposed to be eating or resting.
Make time every day to relax, whether that means listening to music, taking a hot bath, engaging in a hobby, or just doing nothing. Also, do what you can to manage your schedule. Identify your top priorities and focus on those. Learn to tell people no when you have too much on your plate. And spend time with friends who you feel you can talk to about your problems.
It’s true that nicotine is a stimulant, which should give you energy, but smoking also damages your lungs, which makes them much less efficient at supplying oxygen to your cells. If you can’t get oxygen, you won’t have energy. Smoking also increases your risk of respiratory infections, which can further drain your energy.
Quitting smoking is hard. Nicotine might be the most addictive drug there is and the habit of smoking only makes quitting harder. However, if you can manage it, your health and energy levels will start improving in a matter of weeks. What’s more, studies have found that people in recovery who quit smoking significantly reduce their risk of relapse.
Talk to a therapist.
There are several ways of talking to a therapist can give you more energy. It can help reduce stress, as explained above. It can also help resolve depression and anxiety disorders, which are exhausting. Talking to a therapist can help you resolve relationship conflicts, which are an emotional drain for many people. Finally, just unburdening yourself can give you more energy. Studies have found that the cognitive effort required to keep a secret can be draining and slow down your thinking. Just getting something off your chest by talking to someone professionally required to be discreet can be a relief.
It seems obvious that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re going to feel tired, but the quality of sleep matters just as much as quantity. Lack of restful sleep can lead to fatigue, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. One study even found lack of sleep leads to more suicidal thoughts. A good night’s sleep is like a reset button, that allows you to start each day fresh. Try to go to bed and get up around the same times every day. Sleep in total darkness, if you can, and total quiet. Don’t sit in bed watching TV or looking at Facebook. When you get in bed, be ready to sleep.
Hanley is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
For information on our programs,
call us today: 561-841-1033.