Accessible Yoga at Home

Many people in recovery become yoga enthusiasts. It’s no wonder because yoga has universal health benefits — to the mind, body, and spirit — and it’s incredibly supportive useful in one’s recovery. 

I’ve practiced yoga on and off for about 20 years now. Each time I come back to it I wonder why I stopped doing it. It helps me focus my mind for the day ahead, stretch my achy body, and reconnect with myself. 

Those types of supportive resources are crucial now more than ever. 

The pandemic has impacted us in ways that we may not have expected. I have felt exhausted, my capacity to deal with stress has been greatly reduced, I find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time, I struggle to make decisions, I’m producing less work, and my anxiety is high. Many of my friends talk about bouts of depression, overeating, and generally struggling to cope with social isolation and the emotional devastation that COVID-19 has had on the world. 

The benefits of yoga

Scientifically speaking, the benefits of yoga are far-reaching. Studies have shown that yoga:

Perhaps the greatest benefit of yoga, at least for me, is how it helps with mindfulness, calms my nervous system, and supports my mind and body. I practice yoga for 30 minutes every morning, and on the mornings that I forget, or get distracted, I really notice — my stress levels are higher and I struggle to get through the day. My days go incredibly well when I practice yoga at the end of the day, too. 

What I also love about yoga is how accessible it is. You don’t have to be fit to practice yoga. You can do it in a chair, attend virtual yoga classes for different age groups and body shapes, and you can apply modifications to almost every pose. 

Melissa told me how SHE RECOVERS yoga classes have benefited her throughout this challenging time. “Taryn’s yoga is like no other yoga I have practiced. It is trauma-informed, gentle, and geared toward women in recovery,” she says.

“This yoga allows me to move through difficult stuck emotions in my body and do so in a safe environment. Taryn’s themes and her readings are so helpful and often are just what I need on a given day. As a woman in recovery, I feel honored for the work I am doing following one of Taryn’s classes.”

Yoga for recovery

For people in recovery, the benefits of yoga are aligned with the goals of recovery: improved health and well-being, and managing the triggers and emotions that cause us to seek escape through drugs and alcohol. 

It also helps us on a much deeper level, explains yoga teacher Arielle Ashford of Unity Yoga.

“For so long we were trying to escape our bodies, what they meant, how they felt, or what they looked like. Through yoga, we can become reacquainted with our bodies and begin to form a positive relationship with our bodies. We spent so much time trying to escape what we were feeling,” says Arielle.

She continues, “Yoga for people in recovery offers us a chance to re-engage with our energy centers and move through emotions in a thoughtful and curious way. Whether you’re at a studio or practicing at home, yoga offers you a way to get to know yourself better.”

Understanding that people in recovery need more support during this challenging time, Arielle has taken her classes online and offers three free classes a day (details below) for people in recovery. 

Free online yoga classes

Below we’ve listed a range of free online recovery classes available to people in recovery.

From recovery-related organizations:

  • Unity Recovery offers 3 online classes a week via Zoom and Facebook/Instagram Live. For more information contact by email (link) or via their website (link)
  • Tommy Rosen offers a free daily 14-day practice (link), after which you may sign up for his program Recovery 2.0
  • SHE RECOVERS offers a 30-day free trial (link)
  • Jen Yockey offers free classes every day at 10 a.m. PST (link)
  • Recovery gym The Phoenix offers a range of online classes including yoga (link)

Other free yoga classes:

While these aren’t specifically recovery organizations, they are free online yoga classes available to everyone. 

  • Rosie Acosta offers virtual Yoga Nidra and restorative classes (link)
  • Sara Beth offers a range of short classes for coping with various emotions like anger, sadness, or stress (link)
  • Yoga with Adrienne offers a range of classes (Link
  • Size-inclusive Joyn offers 30 days for free (link)

How To Survive a Wedding Sober

As COVID-19 restrictions lift, many of us, having been isolated indoors for months, are jumping at the opportunity to have any social interaction.

Our feeling of new freedom in July happens to coincide with the wedding season — perhaps one of the more difficult occasions to navigate as a sober person.

Why weddings are difficult for sober people

Weddings are celebrations, and for that reason, people drink more and get merry. While most guests might be able to handle alcohol, it can be triggering for those of us who are sober. You may be offered countless alcoholic drinks; you have to prepare a list of reasons why you don’t drink when you’re repeatedly asked; perhaps a relative becomes a little annoying after one too many drinks, or maybe you’re naturally socially awkward or anxious and find parties challenging.

I remember really struggling with weddings in early recovery. I was acutely aware of my social anxiety. It’s partly why I drank — to fit in and not feel so awkward. Ironically, it had the opposite effect: I’d get drunk and then everyone was acutely aware of me. Now I have eight years of recovery, and while I’m aware of being sober, it’s actually refreshing to attend a wedding or any social event without drinking. It took a while for me to get here, though.

How to attend a wedding sober

I spoke to Geri-Lynn Utter, PsyD, about attending weddings sober, why it can cause so much anxiety, and how to safely attend and maintain your recovery. She recommends starting with the consideration of what feels comfortable. 

“In working with individuals who have a social event such as a wedding to attend and are worried or concerned about maintaining their sobriety, the first thing we discuss is attendance,” she says. “How new they are to their sobriety and how they are currently feeling are also considered when it comes to making the decision of whether or not to attend the wedding. Would not attending be a better option for them?” 

She explains that this decision is something that can be processed collaboratively in therapy, but it is ultimately up to the individual. If they make the decision to attend, she cautions it is imperative that they take care of themselves. 

Many of my friends and I sometimes opt not to attend at all. And that is ultimately what is best for our recovery. We don’t have to have a reason beyond that it doesn’t feel right and we politely decline. And note that you can change your mind at any time, even if you have already accepted the invite. If however, you feel like attending, it should be on your terms. 

“Showing support for the couple tying the knot may be sufficient enough by attending the ceremony and avoiding the reception, where alcohol is often served. This way you are demonstrating your affection for the couple, while simultaneously taking care of yourself,” Utter says. 

There are many ways we can prioritize our recovery, from setting physical and social boundaries to planning social support ahead of time. 

“If you choose to attend all of the wedding festivities, consider your physical proximity to the bar. Conversing or hanging close to the bar may be a trigger. Therefore, it may be best to create physical space between oneself and the bar as not to trigger or entice one’s desire to drink,” says Utter.

If you choose to attend the reception, it’s wise to consider your stance about not drinking. While it is entirely your right to not have to explain your choices, Utter advises being open but casual about your stance on not drinking, but also be prepared to be direct and firm where you need to be.

“Simply responding with ‘No thank you, I’m not drinking’ is both a polite and sufficient answer. There is no need to elaborate or explain away your reason for not drinking,” she advises. “Continue on with your conversation and move about the day. However, if for some reason you feel as though you are being harassed to drink or toast to the bride and groom, respond politely and firmly stating that you are in recovery and will not be drinking. Again, keep it simple, to the point and move on. If the pressure becomes too much, it is polite to attend cocktail hour, give your gift, congratulate the bride and groom, and quietly make your exit. Those who love and support you will understand that your sobriety comes first.”

Some other physical boundaries might include:

  • Driving yourself and parking close to the venue
  • Taking your own drinks
  • Having an escape plan with something planned after the event, even if it is to have a bath and early night
  • Take regular breaks: go for a walk or go for a short drive 
  • Give yourself permission to have fun: just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean you can’t dance, laugh, and have a great time
  • Remember to eat and hydrate. Weddings can go on for hours. It’s important to keep your energy levels up by drinking non-alcoholic beverages and eating regularly. Plus, even if you do feel tempted, you’re less likely to drink alcohol if you are hydrated.

The importance of sober supports

A critical element of recovery is social support, and that’s particularly true of attending a triggering event like a wedding. Family engagements can be emotional, especially when others have been drinking. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and talk through that plan with a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist. 

Utter discusses the importance of letting sober supporters know that you will be attending a wedding that will be serving alcohol. 

“This way, if the pressure or temptation becomes too overbearing, you can take a time-out and call your sponsor or sober friend to offer care and encouragement,” she says. “By letting your sober support know that you will be attending the wedding, you can discuss a strategy to help you along the way. For example, you can provide your sober support with an hourly mood check (i.e. give him/her a number on a scale of 1 through 10 — the higher the number the more tempted or pressured you to feel you drink. Once you hit a 6 or above you will call your sober support from the wedding).”

It’s also important to remember that a big part of recovery is learning to both loves and accept yourself, explains Utter. “It gives others the opportunity to love and support the sober you. Those who support you will ultimately support your decisions,” she says.

The bottom line, advises Utter, is “Do what feels right for you and your recovery journey.”

PTSD Awareness Day 2020

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately 8 million people live in the United States with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Unfortunately, just like substance use disorder, not all people with PTSD get the help they need. That’s why PTSD Awareness Day and PTSD Awareness Month helps to recognize the impact on the lives of those who are affected by the condition and promote effective treatments available that ultimately improve their quality of life.

The United States Senate has designated the whole month of June as PTSD Awareness Month, and the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has designated 27 June as PTSD Awareness Day. 

The US Senate established PTSD Awareness Day in 2010 by former Sen. Kent Conrad’s efforts to designate a day of awareness as a tribute to Army Staff Sgt. Joe Biel of the North Dakota National Guard. Biel suffered from PTSD and tragically took his life in April 2007 after returning to North Dakota following his second tour of duty in the Iraq War.

What is PTSD?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines PTSD as the development of debilitating symptoms following exposure to a traumatic or dangerous event.

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Men are more likely to experience physical assault or witness a death or injury. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault or sexual abuse. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that while it is natural to feel frightened during and after a traumatic situation — triggering the body’s fight or flight response — most people recover naturally. However, those who continue to experience a number of symptoms may be diagnosed with PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

NIMH reports that the symptoms of PTSD can occur within three months of a traumatic incident and must last for one month or longer and impact a person’s day-to-day life. 

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing: PTSD can result in the person experiencing flashbacks, bad dreams, persistent and frightening thoughts. Even certain objects, words, or situations can lead a person to relive the traumatic event again-and-again
  • Avoidance: People with PTSD may avoid certain places, people, events, objects, and even thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Brain and mood: Those with PTSD may experience difficulty with memory about the traumatic event, they may lose interest in enjoyable activities, have distorted feelings of guilt or blame, and have negative feelings towards themselves or others/the world
  • Arousal and reactivity: Those experiencing PTSD may have difficulty sleeping, have angry outbursts, are easily startled, and feel tense or “on edge”

If these symptoms persist for more than a month and impact a person’s ability to function, NIMH advises that they may have PTSD.

People with PTSD often also experience anxiety, depression, and substance misuse. For more detailed information about PTSD symptoms, including a screening questionnaire, you can download this booklet from the National Center for PTSD.

How common is PTSD?

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year, and this is only a small portion of those who have gone through a traumatic event

About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and around 10 of every 100 women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men.

Please note that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, and not everyone experiencing PTSD will be a veteran — it impacts everyday people and especially children. However, there are some factors, including:

  • Dealing with an increase in stress after a tragic event, like a death, injury, or loss
  • Having a history of mental illness or substance use disorder
  • Getting hurt
  • Experiencing traumatic events
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Having limited support after a traumatic experience
  • Watching another person experience a traumatic event 

How to treat PTSD

According to the American Psychological Association, the length and type of treatment will vary from one individual to another. Treatment should be matched to the individual nature and circumstances of the person requiring treatment. And the treatment timeline might be revised throughout the treatment process depending on how the person progresses. What is important is that the person is given sufficient time to recover and adequate support.   

Some examples of treatment for PTSD include: trauma-focused psychotherapies, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and medication. 

The National Center of PTSD has more information about these treatments here

How can we support PTSD awareness?

You can start raising awareness by a number of key activities aimed to educate, promote PTSD awareness, and support those who experience PTSD. Some actions that the National Center of PTSD and NIMH have highlighted include:

How Did My Back Pain Turn Into An Addiction to Opiates?

Olivia Pennelle of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen explores the dangers of prescription drugs, as her back pain turned into opiate addiction.

When I was in the middle of my functional alcoholism—even though I don’t think there is such a thing, because that’s really an oxymoron!—I was very physically sick. I suffered with terrible skin conditions that required frequent trips to the ER; acute asthma requiring steroids, and due to my excessive 150 pounds I pulled my back muscles into frequent and debilitating spasms. I didn’t know that hurting my back would accelerate my spiral toward rock bottom and reveal a full-blown addiction.

At that point in my addiction, I was in complete denial.

I just thought I was depressed and because of that, I had no interest in life. All I wanted to do was drink to oblivion. If I could’ve fit in the bottle of wine, I would happily have jumped in and drowned myself. But I was so stuck inside the walls of addiction, that I hadn’t realized just how bad things were. Warnings and concern from friends and family seemed to hit deaf ears. I was numb in every sense of the word.

“I didn’t know that hurting my back would accelerate my spiral toward rock bottom and reveal a full-blown addiction.”

So when my back became injured, I was just on autopilot to go to the doctor and get a pill or quick-fix to manage it. I had zero desire to get to the root of the problem because I had zero desire to care for myself. The doctor told me that because of my weight, I had pulled the muscles in my back and was suffering with spasms. To cope with the pain, the doctor prescribed co-codamol (acetaminophen and codeine) in a stronger dose than available over the counter. I didn’t think twice about the prescription, and off I went to the pharmacy.

I found myself with a big bottle of pills and a relentless and incessant desire to escape myself.

It was never going to work out well. I thought nothing of taking them. And as soon as I did, it was like I discovered alcohol again for the first time; I felt a rush throughout my body, I had a warm fuzzy feeling, and suddenly the world took on a rose-tinted glow. Life seemed less of a problem and my existence in it melted into insignificance—just how I wanted it. Off I floated on a hazy cloud of opiates.

“I found myself with a big bottle of pills and a relentless and incessant desire to escape myself—it was never going to work out well.”

Those feelings led to that familiar unquenchable thirst for more.

So more I took. I ignored the directions not to drink. And before I knew it, I was taking the pills all day long. Soon enough I was back at the doctors requesting more. I’d top up those pills with over-the-counter equivalents.

I’ll never forget a friend coming to my apartment and opening the top drawer of my chest of drawers; it looked like a pharmacy. His jaw dropped and he looked at me with eyes that finally seemed to pierce the denial I’d been living in.

But that wasn’t enough of a wakeup call. While it was enough to open my eyes, the uncomfortable feelings it generated only increased my desire to escape myself. And so I did. For at least another couple of years.

During that time, I began taking those pills with my first (of many) glass of wine.

The trouble was that I’d often forget having taken them and consume significantly over the prescribed dose. That wasn’t the worst of it; when I wasn’t at work, I lived in a complete blackout. And I couldn’t wait to get there. I would literally run home from work to get the pills and wine inside me as quick as humanly possible. I couldn’t bear to be sober, to be without any kind of anesthesia in the world. Reality was like an electric current on my skin—I felt it to be too painful.

“I couldn’t bear to be sober, to be without any kind of anesthesia in the world. Reality was like an electric current on my skin”

In some ways, I am grateful for the pills because they accelerated my journey to rock bottom.

I did more crazy things, had more severe consequences, and got so physically sick that I had to stop. Fortunately, that journey didn’t lead to street opiates. I am one of the lucky ones. My journey led to a rock bottom where I was given the grace to find recovery. And thank god I did. My life today is a world away from pill popping and wine chugging.

How to Build Structure Into Your Day During COVID-19

I’m sure many of us are finding life during COVID-19 different than how we expected it. 

Initially, we may have relished the idea of chilling at home for a few weeks, but the reality of having endless time stuck inside, dealing with a financial crisis, maybe full-time parenting and schooling at home, and spending way more time with the people you live with have actually proven to be quite challenging. 

We are losing structure and the days begin to all run together. Establishing a structure during a pandemic has been key to my keeping my life together. 

Even though I normally work from home, the stay-at-home order has restricted my freedom to vary my work environment by working in coffee shops and co-working with friends. I see my friends less and am unable to visit the nature parks that I go to with my dog and friends several times a week. 

While those may seem like small changes, they’ve had a significant impact on my mental well-being because they form the foundation of my recovery. Right now I feel infinitely more lonely, less grounded, and somewhat detached from the outside world. 

From a working perspective, things have also been challenging. Social interaction and a variety of working spaces makes a big difference in my productivity. I feel more creative and energized by getting out of the house. Add the fact that I’m an empathetic person who gets overwhelmed by life events, and my ability to work at my previous capacity has seriously diminished. 

Fortunately, I’m a pretty organized and flexible person. I’ve been able to adapt and establishing a solid routine really helps me stay focused. Together with some carefully placed boundaries around social media and information flow, I’m able to still complete my work commitments — I even wrote a new 40-page website over the last few weeks! 

Note: I’m not always that productive, but routine does help. 

How to add structure to your day

It has taken me a couple of months to really settle into this routine, notice my resistance to it and the challenges I’ve faced, and make adaptations where I’ve needed them. It is by no means rigid — I’ve learned that flexibility is key to any routine during this pandemic because how we feel and our energy levels vary wildly from day to day. 

  1. Give yourself a break! Remember, these are challenging times with a lot of uncertainty. Life as we know it is over until a vaccine is found. That is a lot to comprehend, so build time into your day to allow yourself breathing space.
  2. Reduce working hours. Easier said than done — and I’m still practicing this one — but a number one way to avoid burnout. When I push myself for 10 hours or more a day I’m too tired to enjoy the weekend and I feel the effects with reduced productivity and low mood the following week. Try working 4-6 hours a day, if possible.
  3. Get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time every day. Sleep is important now more than ever. We need to rest. Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night. 
  4. Try some gentle movement. I find that movement in the morning energizes me for the day ahead. I practice 30 minutes of yoga and take my dog for a 30-minute walk. You don’t have to exercise for an hour — just 20 minutes will make a difference. 
  5. Get ready for work. If I work in my PJs all day I am less productive than when I have a shower and change into comfortable, but non-pajama clothes. 
  6. Only list three tasks per day. In my daily planner, I list on one side all of the tasks I have to complete that day but only add three to my daily schedule at a time. That way I feel less overwhelmed and like I am working through my to-do list. 
  7. Take regular breaks. I like to work in 52-minute increments, then take a 10-minute break, stretch my legs, make a cup of tea, meditate, or hug my dog. I am way more productive and focused on working in short bursts.
  8. Eat lunch away from your desk. Taking 30 minutes to sit outside or in another room for lunch can help you decompress from work. I try to eat and have a short walk with my dog during lunch.
  9. Eat nutritious food. While it’s tempting to eat whatever you want to cope right now — and if that’s helping, by all means do it — it doesn’t help me. Eating processed foods or rich, carb-heavy meals just makes me want to go back to bed. Whereas if I eat a tasty, but nutritious meal — with protein, fiber, and veggies — I feel infinitely better.
  10. Do something restorative. Whether it’s yin or restorative yoga, painting, sitting in your garden, gardening, cooking, or anything else, do something that helps you wind down and feel rested. For me, sitting in front of the TV all night does not help me relax (especially with the dramas I watch), so I end up waking up tired. If I practice 30 minutes of yoga or do a short mediation, my body is more relaxed and I feel like I’m getting some restorative sleep.
  11. Connect with others. You may be restricted from meeting friends in person, but you can call them on FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. You could also have a socially distanced walk, while wearing masks. I’ve been making time every week to have at least three phone calls where I check in with people, ask how they are doing, share my challenges, cry, laugh, or whatever else. You can also have Zoom birthday parties and virtual gift-giving.
  12. Take recovery online. There is a range of online recovery meetings at In The Rooms and Unity Recovery

Last, and perhaps most importantly, give yourself permission to do nothing. We can’t always be productive, especially during a pandemic. Resting isn’t lazy. Grieving our old life isn’t emotional. Take the time you need.

 

Three Delicious Bulk Recipes

Olivia Pennelle loves cooking. She particularly enjoys experimenting with new recipes, especially ones with punchy and fresh flavors.

Cooking and getting creative in the kitchen has been one of the main tools of recovery — I’d go as far as saying that learning how to effectively nourish my body has been fundamental to my recovery. And it’s particularly important right now, during the pandemic, more than ever. 

We all know that what we eat impacts how we feel. Food has the power to:

The main impact of eating a nutritious diet for my body is my energy and mental health. When I eat a diet high in processed food I feel terrible: lethargic and low energy, increased cravings for sweet food, depression, headaches, and zero motivation. 

Another positive effect of cooking is that it is a creative pursuit for me. Experimenting with different flavors, textures, and colors is another form of nourishment: we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. I find food so much more enjoyable when it looks interesting and colorful. 

I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to be eating well during the pandemic. My body and mind need that extra support of a healthy diet, even though it can be very tempting to get takeout or survive on pancakes. Now, I’m not saying that I’m a saint — I’m fallible, like every other human. And I’ve definitely ordered takeout over the last few weeks, but I’ve tried to make my other meals on those days more nutritious to balance it out. 

It’s also worth noting that the pandemic has impacted our capacity to handle our emotions. Some days we have more energy than others, and sometimes we may feel mentally and physically exhausted. During those times I find it most helpful to cook bulk recipes. That takes the thought out of deciding what to cook and when and ensures I have food ready to go when I’m not feeling like cooking. 

Here are some of my favorite go-to recipes to sustain my body during challenging times.


Momo Meatballs

I love this recipe because it’s so easy and can last for around 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Originally from  The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook, I’ve adapted this recipe to suit my tastes. I’ve probably cooked this meal at least 20 times. It’s definitely a staple in my home. 

Serves 3-4

Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion

3 cups crushed tomatoes

½ cup water

Meatballs

1 pound ground turkey

½ cup long-grain white rice

1 teaspoon ras el hanout spice (you can find this in a big grocery store with a Middle Eastern section)

1 tsp salt

To serve

Chopped cilantro

Squeeze of lemon juice

Sliced green onions

Directions:

  1. Make the sauce by selecting the saute setting on the Instant Pot. Heat the olive oil and fry the onions for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes and water, stir, and simmer.
  3. Make the meatballs by combining the rice, turkey, spice, and salt in a bowl. Ensure everything is combined, then start to shape meatballs. They should be about the size of a golf ball and you should be able to make 12 from the mixture.
  4. Add the meatballs to the bottom of the Instant Pot and a little of the sauce over the top of the meatballs. 
  5. Secure the lid onto the pot, select sealing, press cancel, then select the poultry setting and cook for 15 minutes on high pressure.
  6. When the timer goes off, you can do a quick release, ensuring the valve is recessed before opening the top.
  7. Serve the meatballs with chopped cilantro and green onions. I like to serve these with green beans or a side salad.

Lemon-Turmeric-Ginger Congee congee

This dish is adapted from Alison Wu’s recipe. I adore her food and creations. I serve the congee with grilled chicken or roasted veggies. Alison serves it with roasted cauliflower, shaved fennel, and pine nuts. It is delicious and gets better every day. It also freezes really well.

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice

½ cup white rice

¼ cup millet

9 cups chicken stock

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric

1 large piece of ginger (around 3 inches), peeled and cut into large chunks

1 large lemon, skin peeled

2 green onions, sliced

¼ cup pistachios (shells removed)

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot, stir, secure the lid and set the pressure valve to sealing. Cook on manual for 30 minutes, letting the valve release naturally. Ensure the valve is completely recessed before opening the lid. 
  2. While the congee is cooking, you can grill chicken thighs, or prepare whatever other topping you’d like. 
  3. I top the congee with green onions and pistachios. 

Pear chia puddings chia-pudding

This recipe is adapted from Amy Chaplin’s book Whole Food Cooking Every Day. I rarely try every recipe in a book, but this book contains so many awesome recipes that I keep making meals out of it every week.  

What I love about this recipe is that it is so quick and easy to make and gives you breakfast all week. 

Serves 6

Ingredients

3 firm but ripe pears, diced

½ cup of orange juice (or water if you don’t have OJ).     

Pinch of sea salt

½ cup of cashews

2 tablespoons of coconut butter

6 tablespoons of chia seeds

Directions:

  1. Combine the pears, orange juice (or water) and salt in a pan. Bring to boil and then simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly. The pears should be cooked through.
  2. Blend the mixture with the cashews and coconut butter in a blender until smooth.
  3. Pour into an airtight container and mix in the chia seeds, stirring and making sure they are combined. 
  4. Let the mixture cool and stir again before transferring to the refrigerator.
  5. Serve with berries and a sprinkle of granola. 

 

High Self-Expectation: A Curse For People in Recovery

Sometimes I think I’m superwoman. Well, not really. But my expectations are often so high that I would have to be superhuman to achieve them.

At the end of each day, I’m faced with the gap between my unrealistic self-expectation of myself and reality. Rather than acknowledge how much I’ve achieved, I use what’s left on my to-do list as ammunition to beat myself up. 

High self-expectation for people in recovery

High self-expectation can be a curse for people in recovery. While recovery is often our greatest achievement, we feel like we have to catch up for the time we lost in addiction and make it up to the people we let down. This overcompensation manifests in lots of ways: 

  • Saying yes to everyone instead of saying no 
  • Putting others’ needs before our own
  • Keeping an overly busy schedule, either out of fear of missing out or to avoid being at home
  • Having impossibly high expectations of what you can achieve in one day
  • Using stimulants like caffeine and nicotine excessively to keep going longer 

Most days I think I’ll be able to write two to three articles, interact on social media on behalf of my blog, podcast, and journalism, respond to all emails, walk 5 miles with my dog, make all meals from scratch, keep a clean house and a tidy garden, and network enough to keep my business afloat. I also challenged myself to work out three mornings a week and go to yoga twice a week. I expected that I’d have the same level of energy each day and that each article would take the same amount of time to write. 

For the first two years of running a business, I just about achieved this to-do list most days. I published more than 500 articles online, and I worked most days of the week — often for 10 to 16 hours a day. And this is all immediately after moving to the US and starting a new life has never managed a business before. Unsurprisingly, I burned out with exhaustion. I suffered from depression, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue.

While I didn’t see this at the time, the burnout was a gift — an invitation to pause, reflect, and rebuild with a more solid foundation. As I reflected, I came to a number of realizations:

Even though I was exercising under the guise of self-care, it wasn’t self-care — it was self-punishment because of my self-expectation, it was one more thing to achieve and I was using it to give me the energy to achieve more. Had I been putting my well-being first, I wouldn’t be expecting to cycle 50 miles a week and work out so much. I’d be listening to what my body was telling me: it was tired and needed rest.  

I learned that while there are more mindful ways to approach running a business, like taking advantage of some technological efficiencies, I was expecting too high an output. I had to reorganize my business by saying no to lower-paying work and yes to fewer but higher-paying jobs. I also had to set some boundaries with clients. 

Working in the recovery industry has its costs and benefits. I get to make a difference in people’s lives, meet incredible people and challenge the perspectives around substance use disorder and recovery. Conversely, it also means some people I’m working with may not have learned how to have healthy boundaries and expectations. I’ve had to model healthy boundaries and expectations for some clients by stipulating my working conditions, like working hours and response times within contracts that I had them sign. I set out when I’ll write their blogs and create a schedule. Every time they break a boundary, I refer them back to our working agreement. 

Ultimately, if clients don’t respect my boundaries, they are not the clients for me. As competitive as the writing market is, I cannot perform well for clients if I don’t put my mental health first. This is particularly important given that many of us are operating within the realms of the behavioral health industry: we have to walk our talk if we want to be taken seriously and be responsible leaders. 

Boundaries for me are just as important as those I set for clients. As a person who writes for organizations worldwide, I get emails and social media notifications throughout the day and night. While I manage the notifications and have set working hours, it can be really easy to pick up my phone when I wake up and work into the evening. I’ve found myself answering emails at 6 a.m. and before going to bed at 10 p.m. Undermining my own boundaries is simply self-sabotage and it tells my clients that I’m not serious about upholding my boundaries, too. It creates an unhealthy expectation that I’m always available. 

Ways to set more realistic expectations

It takes time to learn self-compassion and realistic self-expectation. As with most things in recovery, we learn through doing! Some practical strategies to use include:

  • Consider whether you’d expect a friend to achieve everything on your to-do list in the timeframe you’ve set yourself.
  • Plan out your to-do list, assigning each task a timeframe. If you can’t fit it all in one day, then it’s time to scale back.
  • When writing a to-do list, pick three items to prioritize and only move on to other tasks once you’ve completed these.
  • Keep track of everything you’re expecting of yourself and compare it with your peers.
  • If you have a therapist or mentor, ask them to go through your list and ask them if it is realistic. Are they trying to achieve as much? If not, are you expecting too much of yourself?
  • Are you limiting distractions? Have you silenced your notifications and focused on one task at a time? 
  • Consider implementing working hours. Do you work a standard workday? Or do you answer emails in the evening and when you wake up? Are you setting yourself up for failure by setting a standard with your boss, coworkers, and clients that you’ll always be available?
  • Create a self-care schedule that regularly gives you planned downtime to do nothing. Or better, to do what you find rejuvenating like hiking or walking your dog. 

The antidote to high self-expectation is self-compassion. By showing ourselves compassion for the things we didn’t achieve, we’re more likely to realize that we’ve been trying to do the job of five people. We need to give ourselves a break. We are worthy of downtime and we don’t always have to be achieving! Recovery is about giving ourselves space, time, and rest to recuperate throughout our lives, not just during early recovery.

 

The Many Surprising Benefits of Walking

Walking is one of the most accessible, and most underrated, forms of exercise for almost everyone — you don’t need to be fit, it’s free, and you can do it anywhere (even during a pandemic!). At a time when anxiety is high, we cannot underestimate the benefits of walking. 

My walking journey 

A few years ago I was feeling pretty miserable about my weight. I was two years sober but weighed over 300 pounds and was struggling with binge eating. Even though I was struggling financially, I managed to hire a coach for one session a month to help me get healthier. 

When she challenged me to immediately start walking 10,000 steps a day, I felt pretty overwhelmed. My body felt heavy and stiff, and my pace seemed so slow. But I was determined to improve my health so I took her advice, bought a pedometer, and off I went. 

I walked to work, walked around the park at lunchtime, and got off the bus earlier to walk home. Even with all of that movement, I still didn’t reach my goal, so I’d have to walk after dinner too. 

The benefits of walking

Initially, I hated all that walking. Even though it is a fairly easy exercise, it felt hard to walk in my body. But I kept at it. And within a week I noticed some pretty miraculous improvements: I was more energized, my mood was brighter and less depressed, my appetite decreased, I lost weight, my waist was getting smaller, and I felt less stressed.

Studies show that walking for 30 minutes a day for five days a week:

  • Reduces your risk of cancer
  • Improves heart health: the risk of coronary heart disease decreases as walking increases, by up to 19 percent
  • Reduces the risk of death by 32 percent
  • Eases joint pain
  • Boosts immune function
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improve the area of your brain that is critical for memory
  • Improves mental health

The overall effects for me over an 18-month period was that I lost 60 pounds and felt great. It motivated me so much that I even took up cycling, which then became my primary form of exercise. Before walking and achieving my step goal I’d never have considered getting on a bike, never mind using it as my transport. 

I kept up walking and cycling when I moved to America. However, with tennis elbow in both arms, I had to give up my bike and I bought a car. While I walked regularly with my dog, I still wasn’t tracking nearly as many steps as I had before the car. I noticed that I was more depressed, I felt tired all the time, I started to gain weight, and I was getting a lot of colds and viruses. 

Walking during the pandemic

COVID-19 presents a heavy burden on the world as we struggle to cope with the effects of the pandemic while practicing social distancing. Spending increased amounts of time indoors can be isolating and can have a real impact on our mental well-being. 

I live alone, so these times are particularly isolating for me. I’ve experienced the desire to check out more — spending many evenings staring at the TV or my phone — and have felt higher levels of stress, extreme tiredness, and an insatiable appetite. 

However, It’s times like this that I am really grateful for my dog, Bowie. She has to get regular exercise or she will incessantly jump on me. She spurred me on to reinstate the 10,000-steps-a-day challenge and it has been life-saving — not only to my mental health, but also my ability to cope with stress, my perspective on the crisis and to moderate my appetite and energy levels. 

Ultimately, I feel better and I make better choices when I walk. And I’m not alone. I asked friends and colleagues in recovery about the benefits of walking and how its impacted their lives.

How walking impacts people in recovery

Counselor, trauma specialist, and expressive arts therapist Dr. Jamie Marich tells me that walking has been her saving grace during the coronavirus quarantine. “Moving my body and walking outside in the fresh air each day is helping me stay grounded and sane. I hope that I continue with this daily practice even after this passes,” she says.

Yoga teacher Esther Nagle tells me that walking has helped her process big life experiences and has been a path to healing. “I got into walking when I was grieving after my brother’s death. It got me through that, and started me on a massive path to healing. It is a huge part of my self-care now. Being able to get out into the hills, or to the coast, has stopped me losing my mind and myself on many occasions.”

David Whitestock says it’s his favorite and most beneficial habit formed over the last decade. “Jefferson — the beagle — and I will do some epic walks — especially on the weekend. But, we average 45 minutes per outing. We averaged 4.3 miles per day in 2019.”

In his blog on the topic, David refers to a famous quote from Thomas Jefferson about the purpose and mindful benefits of walking. 

“The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk. But divert your attention by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.” 

How to start walking

You don’t have to start off with 10,000 steps a day. You can start small. Build it up over time. Perhaps in the first week, you could walk 4,000 steps a day, and increase by a thousand steps a week. The goal is incremental and lasting change. Your body and mind will thank you for it. 

 

How to Find Peace While Working From Home

While most people think it’s appealing to work in your pajamas while sitting on the sofa, the reality is that it is actually quite challenging.

I know. I’ve worked from home for the past three and a half years. It can be difficult to motivate yourself, be productive, and manage your well-being.

The main reason for working from home is hard is that it blurs the line between personal life and work. And if you also have an underlying mental health condition — like depression or anxiety — it can impact your well-being to spend too long isolated at home. 

The unfortunate reality is that due to COVID-19, most people around the world have been instructed to work remotely to try to reduce the spread of the virus. Times are really uncertain. We don’t know how long we’ll be in self-quarantine and most people fear running out of food (and toilet paper) for their families. Restaurants and schools are closed as states try to reduce crowds forming.

If you’re self-employed or run a small business, social distancing presents a whole other challenge: we might not even have work in a few weeks. 

All of these stressors are not conducive to being productive or feeling calm while working from home during the pandemic. 

That said, as the Buddhists say, “The only way out is through.” We can get through this and we can achieve some semblance of normality in the most uncertain and stressful times. 

Here are our top tips for finding peace while working from home.

  • Keep a routine. Get up at the same time for work, get ready, eat meals at the same time, and go to bed at the usual time. That also means take a shower and get out of your pajamas. This will keep your body clock on track and provide a sense of normalcy. 
  • Create a morning ritual. I like to do some kind of exercise or yoga, read something inspiring, journal, and meditate. I do this before anything else because it calms my nervous system and grounds me before I start working.
  • Keep regular hours. Try to stick to your regular working schedule and perform the duties you normally do at work.
  • Work in 52-minute increments. Seriously. Set a timer and work for 52 minutes and then take a 10-minute break. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to keep this up and how productive and focused you are as a result.
  • Move during your breaks. If you have a dog, take it for a walk, even if you don’t lace up your shoes and walk only a couple of blocks. 
  • Practice mindfulness. When I am stressed or feeling out of sorts, I sit for five to 10 minutes in front of something I find calming. That could be in my garden, or even in front of my favorite plant. Say either aloud or to yourself five things that you can spot in the room around you. Do not judge or label how you feel — just observe. You’ll find that your breathing will slow down and deepen, and your shoulders will relax. Anytime you feel stressed, return to this practice. 
  • Plan your meals. Maybe you could pick a new recipe to try. This way you spend a limited and focused time in the grocery store while practicing social distancing, and you can still occupy your time getting creative in the kitchen.
  • Hydrate. Keep a glass of water at your desk/workspace and try to drink at least six glasses of water each day. 
  • Keep a structure with family. If you have kids who are at home due to school closures, it may be challenging to work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a routine. I’ve seen lots of people structure their days as follows:
    • Breakfast
    • Homeschooling
    • Game/activity
    • Lunch
    • Household chores
    • Playtime outside
    • Nap
    • Dinner
    • Clean up
    • Get ready for bed
  • Stay social, but do it remotely. I set regular dates with friends and family to FaceTime or Skype. We can still catch up and share our fears while in the safety of our homes.
  • Create work and home spaces. Try to create separate areas for different activities. For example, work in one room like the kitchen (or home office if you’re lucky enough to have one), and try to sit in a comfortable chair and at a table or desk. Take breaks outside. In the evening, relax in your usual spot. This level of separation should keep you from feeling like you’re stuck in the same place for days on end. 
  • Set boundaries. If you live with others, be sure to tell them when you are working and ask for them to try to keep the noise level down. Consider wearing headphones. 
  • Take recovery online. There are many meetings being hosted online right now:
    • Unity Recovery has teamed up with the Alano Club and WeConnect to provide free virtual meetings five times daily. These meetings are non-denominational, agnostic to any specific pathway, and open to everyone. Link here
    • In The Rooms hosts online meetings for all recovery groups including AA, SHE RECOVERS, SMART Recovery, NA, MAT Recovery, Recovery Dharma, Gamblers in Recovery, SLAA, and many more. Link here
    • For queer, trans, and questioning sober people, Tracy Murphy is holding online Zoom meetings. These are not recovery meetings, but rather a social support space. Link here
  • Reach out to those struggling. If you’re having a hard time, take a moment to imagine how it is for someone who is immunocompromised or is in a high-risk group. Reach out to your community and see if you can help
  • Get busy. Take the opportunity to organize and spring clean your home! Clean out closets, drawers, cupboards.
  • Eat regular and nutritious meals. While it’s tempting to eat whatever we want, our brain needs nutritious food to help us keep focused and energized during stressful times.
  • Limit news intake and social media. It can be quite anxiety-inducing to watch the rise in infections and deaths across the world. 
  • Schedule downtime. Try to unplug from technology completely. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer, and maybe even the TV. Try doing yoga at home, taking a bath, go for a walk, or read a book. 

It can take practice and discipline to try to stick to a working from home routine. Go slow, but keep at it. It will get easier, and after a while, you’ll be grateful for the structure in your day.