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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Emotional Wellbeing in Recovery

emotional wellbeing recoveryResearch has demonstrated that psychological factors play an important role in physical health and overall wellness, particularly when it comes to recovery and the treatment of addiction related issues. Studies have demonstrated significant measurable relationships between cognitions, emotions, and immune functioning; indicating that happier individuals have healthier functioning immune systems, engage in healthier behaviors, have more energy, and better coping skills to manage challenges that are common to early recovery. Additional research also suggests that having a sense of meaning and purpose reduces the risk for countless diseases and provides individuals in recovery strength and motivation. There is substantial evidence that psychological health and emotional well-being are closely linked to physiological health factors and more sustainable recovery.

Social support, friendships, humor, and love also have documented positive impacts on health. For example, positive social support and friendships have been associated with greater resistance to disease of all types, lower rates of heart disease, and lower mortality rates. Social support can also speed up recovery processes and encourage health-promoting behaviors. Laughter and humor are other factors that enhance emotional well-being and health. Experimental studies have shown that laughter can increase certain antibodies that help to fight off infection while lowering blood pressure. Similarly, some researchers have proposed that music can increase positive mood and thereby lower stress hormones, decrease blood pressure, and increase endorphins - all of which provide relapse prevention techniques for the addict in early recovery to continue to develop and implement over time.

Conversely, current research suggests that the presence of certain negative emotions such as depression and anxiety are strong predictors of overall poor health status, increased substance use, and increased relapse rates. When it comes to experiencing trauma, addiction, mood disorders, and other difficult emotions, appropriate emotional expression is important for the maintenance of good health and wellness. Both verbal and nonverbal expressions such as art and writing can have significant therapeutic value. One study showed that after writing about a personal traumatic experience, individuals exhibited marked improvement in physical health indicators including reductions in blood pressure, better immune system responses, decline in visits to the health center, and reduction in distress. It is clear that attempts to control or suppress negative emotions can have an injurious impact on overall health, while healthy emotional expression produces improvements in overall emotional and physical health. Similar studies have supported the efficacy of utilizing verbal and nonverbal expressions to process cravings for drugs and/or alcohol, obsessions, and urges to use and/or act out in process addictions.

One negative emotion in particular that is associated with declines in emotional, mental, and physical health is regret. Several research findings indicate that intense feelings of regret are often associated with more health problems particularly among the elderly. Similar to regret is the feeling of “life longing” or a sense that life is somehow incomplete. The emotions that accompany this experience of longing can result in significant decreases in health and well-being if left unaddressed. 12 step based approaches typically address these feelings of resentment, regret, and remorse as part of comprehensive program of spirituality, relapse prevention planning, and positive fellowship.


Marie Tueller, MEd, LPC

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