Honesty is the first and most basic step to being happiy and healthy. It is not a surprise that it is teh first step in the 12-steps as well. The 12-steps are not just for addicts or people who believe in God. As a clinician I have developed an appreciation for how simply enacting the spiritual principles of the 12-Steps can drastically improve anxiety, depression, anger and addiction. Spirituality is more than just religion, it is a way of life. These principles are present in every religion, and are helpful even for those who are not religious. Let’s take a look…
Honesty. The first step in being happy is to be honest, not only with others, but also yourself. This means developing a strong awareness of self, what you like and need, what you truly can control, and your feelings and what they mean. Many people who are depressed, anxious or addicted fail to realize the real reasons for their misery. They see the immediate answer—what triggered the negativity this time. What they fail to realize is that their fears and/or anger is usually all related to one or more deeper causes. Humans have six basic fears: isolation, failure, rejection, loss of control, death and the unknown. When you get angry or anxious, ask yourself which of these fears you are experiencing, why you fear it and how rational that is. For example, you may be nervous going in for a job interview—fear of rejection, failure, the unknown. Okay, they may not hire you (rejection from the employer), but are you also fearing rejection by someone else? Does failure to get this job mean you are letting someone else down such as a parent or spouse? Aside from the fact that you did not get the job, do you really care if the prospective employer liked you? In reality, does this change the way your loved ones feel about you? Yes, you would prefer to get the job, but if you do not is it really that much of a catastrophe?
Another part of honesty is being aware of how you contribute to your own misery. Do you fail to take responsibility for your actions and blame others, look for the easy answers or might you be intentionally making yourself miserable. Intentionally? Yes! Maybe not consciously, but there are many people who inadvertently sabotage their recovery, because being miserable is so rewarding. When you are depressed, wrought with anxiety or in your addiction, people pay attention to you, overlook/make excuses for errors and it gives you a built in excuse for failure. Many people are afraid of failure because they see failing at any task means failing as a person and/or they equate failure with rejection. Both of these are basic and powerful (though not always rational) fears.
To start to develop self-awareness, keep a journal in the morning and evening. It only takes a few minutes. Ask yourself, how do I feel emotionally (happy, sad, grumpy, lonely, resentful etc…), mentally (confused, sharp, creative, foggy…) and physically (sick, weak, lethargic, strong, energetic etc). Then identify why you feel that way, what you can do to change the negative things, and what you have no control over. This is your journal, you do not even need to write in full sentences, just pay attention. In the evening, repeat the exercise to see if you are feeling better, if your interventions are working or if you need to do something differently.
Some things you can do to help yourself out include asking yourself:
“Will this matter 6 months from now?”
“Does worrying/being angry or regretful about this help me in any way?” How could I better use my energy to do something about the problem?
“Is this worth the negative impact it is having on me and my family?”
“What parts of this do I have control over?”
“What does this mean about me as a person?”
“Realistically, what are the consequences of this?”
If you are tired, confused or “foggy” figure out why. Sometimes it is the easy answer—you did not get enough quality sleep. To fix this, set a wind-down routine. This will cue your body into when to go to sleep. Secondly, eliminate caffeine within 12 hours of bedtime. This includes soda, coffee and lots of chocolate. Set up your bedroom to be comfortable for you to sleep—clean, smells good, dark, quiet etc.
Often times, people are actually getting too much sleep or their sleep is fitful because of all the stress their muscles are holding. If you are getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep, try adding some physical activity—walking the dog, gardening, walking around the block during your lunch break, yoga, tai chi. . .whatever you are willing to regularly do for at least 20 minutes every day for two weeks.
A third thing to evaluate is your diet. Too much sugar, caffeine or not enough water can cause confusion, tiredness, depression, irritability, difficulty regulating your body temperature and poor sleep. Make sure you are not dehydrated. If you do not like water, try lemonade, flavored water. Just try to forego the carbonation and drinks with caffeine or alcohol—both of which will make you dehydrated.
All of these things: awareness of how you feel emotionally, mentally, physically; awareness of what you have control over and what your body’s signals are trying to tell you will help you feel happier and more content. It takes practice to learn to pick your battles and accept you are not in control of everything, but once you do, you will see how much it not only improves how you feel, but also how much it improves your health and relationships.
This article is part of a 12 part series on integrating the 12-steps into a healthy life.