Mind-Body Techniques for Sobriety

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 13, 2021
4 min read

When you think about stopping your substance use, physical and mental exercise probably aren’t the first things to come to mind. But any kind of addiction affects both your body and your mind. Physical activity that also requires you to be mentally and emotionally present can be a powerful tool in taking control of your situation.

Exercise is great for everyone, but it has extra benefits for someone who’s trying to get sober. Here are some of them:

It helps you establish a regular routine. Schedule your workouts so they conflict with your moments of weakness. For example, if you tend to drink late at night, plan to work out early in the morning so you’re less tempted to stay up late and drink late into the night before. If happy hour is a problem for you, skip it and work out right after work.

It fills up your free time. Once you decide to get sober, you won’t be spending the time it takes to get and use any substance you’re addicted to. It’s best to keep yourself busy so you don’t risk making decisions you’ll regret. You may feel bored and restless. You can channel that energy into exercise and occupy your time in a healthy way.

It improves your mental health. Addiction often goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and make you feel more optimistic. Physical activity might also give you better learning, thinking, and judgment skills, which can help you navigate your journey to sobriety. It also helps your brain form new nerve connections, which makes the process of getting sober easier.

It makes you feel better about yourself. When you accomplish a fitness goal, you show yourself that you can do things that are hard. That can make you realize you’re also capable of getting sober. When you see results from a fitness program, you might feel more motivated to change your life for the better in other ways.

It helps you manage your emotions. During recovery from addiction, you might have strong feelings that can seem at times to be overwhelming. You could feel angry, frustrated, sad, confused, or a mixture of all of those. This could be a result of the recovery process itself, or you may start to feel the emotions that you were numbing through your use of a substance. Exercise helps you deal with them in a positive way.

It helps you maintain a healthy weight. If you’re using a nicotine replacement product, you might feel hungrier than usual. Exercise can help you avoid gaining weight, even if you’re eating more than usual.

With so many activities available, you may need to experiment to find the ones that most appeal to you and work with any physical limits you may have. But two in particular focus on your mind as well as your body:

Yoga. This discipline can reduce stress and pain. It can also make you more self-aware and mindful, helping you stave off cravings. Practicing yoga lowers your levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This is important, especially in your first year of sobriety because stress will tempt you to fall off the wagon. The less stressed you feel, the less you’ll turn to substances as a way to manage your emotions.

Tai chi. Practicing mindfulness has helped many people recover from addiction. Tai chi is both a mindfulness practice and a gentle form of exercise. It involves slow movements and helps you think more clearly and calmly, which can help you make good choices during recovery.

Getting sober may make you feel confused, unclear, and emotional at first. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help you stay grounded during the process. When you meditate, you calmly become aware of your feelings without judging yourself.

One of the most common reasons why people in recovery relapse is stress. When you’re stressed, you’ll likely feel the urge to use your substance. Meditating regularly helps you manage that stress.

Taking time to meditate reaps rewards for your body too. Studies show that it benefits your heart by lowering your pulse rate and blood pressure. It also lessens inflammation, eases digestive troubles such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and boosts your immune system.

Here are a few different types of meditation you can try:

Guided meditation. In a guided meditation, you’ll use your imagination to experience places, situations, and sensations that relax you.

Mantra meditation. In mantra meditation, you’ll concentrate on a positive word or phrase.

Mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you’ll focus on your breathing pattern, staying present in the moment, and accepting your current situation.

Transcendental meditation. Like in mantra meditation, you’ll focus on a particular word or phrase during transcendental meditation. This allows your body and mind to achieve inner peace without too much effort.

If you make exercise a part of your process of getting sober, you’re less likely to go back to using. It just might make the difference between relapse and recovery.