Finding time to relax and have fun can be difficult at the best of times; family obligations, daily stresses, and managing your life can all get in the way. It can feel hard to find time for even short, enjoyable moments, like watching a favorite show or reading a magazine. It can feel especially hard to give yourself permission to relax and have fun when you are trying to make significant life changes (like stopping or reducing your use of substances) or if you have a loved one who is struggling with making changes.
It is not uncommon for substance use to be deeply entwined with “fun.” For example, it can be hard to imagine watching a football game without drinking or seeing a movie without getting high. You may find that it feels like you need to avoid many of the activities you used to enjoy in order to achieve your goals.
As you try to achieve your goals around substance we want to encourage you to make one of your goals to “keep having fun”. Incorporating even one fun or relaxing activity into your day can improve your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and help you cope. Pushing yourself to get up and do the positive things that you used to enjoy can jump start the process of feeling better and creating new associations with old enjoyable activities.
While finding ways to have fun may feel like the exact opposite of what you are capable of or need when you’re feeling down/worried/anxious, they are really are crucial to sustaining and making life changes. Enjoyable or relaxing activities trigger your brain to release neurochemicals related to happiness and reward, like dopamine and serotonin. And if you are trying to reduce or stop using alcohol or drugs, your brain is likely craving these neurochemicals!. Even if you’re not feeling really into the activity (most likely because it does not feel quite as fun as substance use in the beginning) you can trust that your brain is experiencing the benefits and your actions are contributing to it re-wiring itself to experience pleasure and joy. We recommend that you incorporate fun into your change goals as you will feel some of the benefits immediately and many others down the road.
Do what you can do now
Scheduling even one pleasant activity into your daily routine can really help. Going to yoga, reading a book, calling a friend – all of these can help. The key is to schedule and plan ahead for one small thing each day, whether or not you feel like doing it in the moment. If you wait for a “good mood” to strike, you may be waiting quite a while. It doesn’t have to be big or ambitious – it just has to be something you can do and enjoy. Feeling good doesn’t happen on its own; you need to schedule it into your day.
This requires planning ahead and using your skills and resources to help you follow through. Use Google Calendar or a planner to schedule your activities. Book that yoga class with a friend so that you’re more likely to attend. Ask your family or friends to remind you so you give yourself someone to be accountable to (which often helps people follow through). And remind yourself of your commitment to and the benefits of taking care of yourself.
If you need some help coming up with something to do, here are a few ideas:
- Take time in the morning for coffee/tea and reading the newspaper
- Watch a funny or uplifting YouTube clip
- Cook yourself nice meal
- Go to a coffee shop and people watch
- Get a manicure/pedicure
- Buy yourself some flowers
- Doodle, draw, paint, or take some photos
- Tidy up and organize your space (if you find it relaxing!)
- Take a gym class
- Listen to a podcast or some stand-up comedy
- Walk in a park or go for a hike
- Go shopping
- Watch or play sports
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to uplifting or relaxing music
This is not an exclusive list… and you may consider other sober activities as part of your daily routine.
So, take that time for yourself and schedule one thing into your daily routine – even if you don’t feel like it right now. Notice if you begin to feel even just a little better. Even if you don’t, keep scheduling and trying! You’ll notice a big difference over time.