Establishing a Routine in Recovery

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January 31, 2020
Establishing a routine in recovery

Life after residential drug and alcohol rehab is a challenge your treatment has equipped you to handle. Even so, you may not be sure how to best approach independent living after treatment. While you were actively following a treatment program, you benefited from highly structured days where your treatment team scheduled all your eating, sleeping, treatment and recreational time for you. Now that you’re back to living on your own or have joined a sober living community, you have a lot more time on your hands, and your recovery depends on using that time wisely.

Setting up a routine for your day and following through on the schedule is a crucial element in creating a strong foundation for your sobriety. It’s not always easy to achieve, but once you find the routine that works best for you, you’ll find it is an essential tool in maintaining recovery.

Why Is Routine Important in Recovery?

Positive routines play a significant role in maintaining good mental health. When you are able to establish daily patterns that benefit your physical health, you also reduce your stress and can use your time more effectively. Developing a routine with structure makes it easier to make better decisions and avoid situations that may trigger cravings and relapse.

Addiction is the result of habit formation, and the formation of positive habits is necessary to stay strong in dismantling chronic substance abuse. Building healthy routines into your life is the first step toward achieving your goals for sobriety and your new life as a whole.

The Challenges in Developing a Routine

Sticking to a routine is difficult at the best of times, and recovering from addiction makes it more of a challenge. These three obstacles are some of the most frequent to occur when working toward a routine. Watching out for them can help you avoid these obstacles as you build positive behavioral patterns.


Specific circumstances make it inherently more challenging to make positive choices or follow a plan you’ve already made. The acronym HALT — hungry, angry, lonely, tired — helps you remember these states and identify whether any of these feelings are stopping you from fulfilling your goals or performing your scheduled activities for the day.

2. Physical Health

Even when your exercise and nutrition regimen is sound, there’s always a chance you might get sick. Something as common as a cold can easily make you feel ill enough that getting out of bed and eating a healthy breakfast becomes a challenge. Chronic illness can also take a toll on a person’s ability to maintain a routine. It’s crucial to build in exceptions or alterations to your routine for when you’re not feeling full strength.

3. Lack of Motivation

Often, a simple lack of motivation can derail an otherwise successful schedule. Many people in recovery struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time, and the symptoms can drain your desire to follow through. The best way to face up to this challenge is to use the tools you learned in recovery to remind yourself of how integral your routine is to recovery. Additionally, healthy activities in your schedule directly benefit your recovery. For instance, regular exercise reduces symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety.

Use the tools you learned in recovery to remind yourself how integral your routine is to recovery

Benefits of a Routine in Recovery

Although you may face challenges, particularly in the early stages, the benefits of a good routine follow you throughout your life in recovery. These five advantages are just some of the ones you can look forward to.

  • Maintain purpose: Waking up to a daily routine can give you an external sense of purpose when you may not be able to find one internally.
  • Manage stress: Stress is a considerable part of what causes people to relapse. A daily routine can help you reduce stress and manage anxiety when you are facing unexpected events.
  • Improve self-esteem: Addiction to drugs and alcohol develops partly out of a sense of helplessness and low self-esteem. Creating and implementing your routine helps remind you of your self-efficacy and ability to direct your life.
  • Improve brain function: A routine that includes at least 150 minutes of exercise a week improves blood flow to the brain and enhances brain function. A clear head enhances your ability to stay engaged in your schedule.
  • Reduce chances of relapse: Boredom is often a factor in the development of addiction, and ensuring you have occupied most of your day in advance helps remove that element from your life and reduce your chances of using drugs or alcohol again.

Developing a routine gives excellent stability and the opportunity to become the person you want to be. Everyone’s routine will be different, so use yours to maximize your health and further your recovery goals.

10 Tips to Establish Routine in Recovery

Everyone has had a different experience with building or following routines, and some people have little to no experience with the process. These 10 tips can help anyone turn over a new leaf and gain stability with a new routine.

10 tips to establish routine in recovery

1. Start With a Template

Visualization is essential for effective routine design, and for that, you need a template of some sort to look at as you plan. You can use anything from a wall-mounted calendar to a pocket-sized notebook or smartphone app to help you as you start to envision what your days will look like.

2. Take Time for Recovery

As you are building this routine to assist with your recovery, it makes sense to plan around activities devoted to your goals. Consider activities and exercises like affirmations, meditation or journaling, and think about where they best fit in around your other obligations like work or school.

3. Consider Daily Responsibilities

For most people, work or school will fill the bulk of their days. It’s crucial to consider how these responsibilities might affect your emotions, so you don’t over-schedule yourself on days you work or attend classes. If you have a stressful job, you might want to give yourself a half-hour of decompression time before putting anything else on your schedule. If you’re a parent, you might want to build in some quiet alone time after the kids go to bed.

Over-scheduling around your daily responsibilities can end up stressing you out more than it helps. You will likely have to try out a few different configurations of your routine before you find an ideal balance of activity and rest.

4. Make Time for Exercise

While exercise is crucial to anyone’s recovery, everyone’s needs and preferences differ. One person might be happy getting a gym membership and spending several hours a week on exercise, while another person may be happy going for a brisk walk three times a week. If you find exercise stressful or if there are physical limitations on your ability to exercise, find a type of movement that works for you.

5. Make Time for Fun

When people complete addiction treatment, they often feel the need to make up for lost time and end up over-scheduling themselves as a result. Leave some flex time for things like socializing with your sober friends, spending time with your family or doing something you love, like going to a concert or working on one of your hobbies. While you should take your routine seriously, don’t underestimate the power of a good time participating in sober activities.

6. Consider Your Basic Activities

We all need to do specific tasks each day, and slotting them into a schedule is a vital part of developing an effective routine. Showering, brushing your teeth and eating breakfast, for example, are fundamental things you should do to maintain a healthy base level of hygiene. You might try interspersing these tasks with recovery activities like meditation to ritualize them and make them second nature.

You should consider self-care a core activity, as well. Self-care is any activity that improves your physical and mental well-being, and it means different things to different people. For one person, it might mean scheduling a weekly bath and feeling like they’re “treating” themselves to something special. For someone else, it might mean going out for a cup of coffee after their weekly house cleaning. Try to build at least one self-care activity into your routine.

7. Find a Hobby You Enjoy

Hobbies have the dual benefit of acting as a fun time while also engaging you cognitively and improving a skill. Picking up a new hobby helps fill all the time you previously used to engage in substance abuse. The more a hobby engages both your mind and body, the better it is as a stress-management tool. Many hobbies can also help you build a new social life. For example, it’s perfectly fine to practice creative writing on your own, but you can reap even more benefits from participating in a local workshop.

Many people in recovery find volunteering helps build social connections and delivers the satisfaction of giving back to the community.

8. Balance Your Diet

Substance abuse takes an immense toll on the body. The substances themselves cause damage to bodily systems, and indirectly cause problems due to the poor dietary habits most people have when engaging in substance abuse. It’s critical to make time in your routine to prepare healthy meals that will help your body recover from the effects of addiction. Ideally, everyone would be able to prepare themselves three square meals a day, but try to aim for at least three home-cooked meals per week in your routine.

9. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep can be elusive for people in recovery. In the early stages of recovery, people are five times more likely to struggle with insomnia than the general population. Don’t give up on your sleep cycle. Make sure you choose a bedtime and stick to it as part of your routine. Try doing something soothing and relaxing before bed, like taking a shower or having a cup of tea.

10. Find Support

While addiction treatment may end, recovery itself does not. You’ll need support at times, and joining a group like a 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery can provide a safety net when you need one. Regularly attending sessions as part of your routine will help ensure you don’t lose sight of your recovery goals. Your peers and sponsors can also help you fine-tune your routine by letting you know what has and hasn’t worked in their lives.

Adjusting for Balance and Remaining Flexible

Your schedule probably won’t feel right the first time you try it out, and you will likely need to make changes to create healthy balance. While you don’t want to have hours and hours of free time on your hands, you also don’t want to have something on the docket for every second of the day. Just as it’s not healthy to watch TV all weekend, it’s not a good idea to work 60 hours a week. Through experimentation, you will figure out a balance that gives you enough freedom and enough structure to support your recovery.

While your routine is a guideline that structures your days, you don’t want to get so wrapped up in it that a minor change in plans causes emotional distress or anxiety. Once you become used to your routine, you may want to consider adjusting it just for a change of pace. Doing so can help prepare you for inevitable life changes that may affect your daily activities, like taking a new class or getting a new work schedule. These three tips can help you maintain balance and flexibility.

  1. Ask for help: You will, at some point, find yourself in a situation where you need help understanding or processing your emotions. Find a friend, family member or someone from your recovery group who is willing to help out when you need it.
  2. Evaluate your state: When you find yourself not wanting to follow through on your schedule, consider HALT. Making a minor adjustment, like getting something to eat when you’re hungry, can help keep your plan running smoothly.
  3. Progress, not perfection: Expecting perfection from yourself is unrealistic and unhealthy. Remember that as long as you are making progress, you are succeeding in recovery.
Three tips to help you maintain balance and flexibility in recovery

Building a healthy routine requires trial and error, as well as a willingness to adjust when necessary. You will make mistakes, but as long as you keep striving for improvement, you will find a solution that works for you.

Get Help Establishing a Strong Recovery

Medication-assisted treatment helps make addiction recovery more comfortable, manageable and attainable. AppleGate Recovery specializes in treatment for opioid addiction using buprenorphine and Suboxone®. Our individualized treatment plans integrate counseling and other recovery services into a comprehensive plan to address the root cause of addiction. We understand no one chooses to become addicted to opioids, and we offer the evidence-based treatment necessary to overcome this chronic condition.

AppleGate has multiple locations across the country to serve people from all backgrounds and walks of life. To learn more about what we provide and the next steps in seeking treatment, call 888-488-5337 or contact us online.

Get help establishing a strong Recovery from AppleGate Recovery