The Cyclical Nature of Mental Health and Addiction, and How to Reverse Course and Recover

Suffering from depression, anxiety, alcoholism or drug addiction, and other mental health issues can feel like being stuck in a giant deep hole that is impossible to climb out of.  This is in part because mental health issues and addiction are often cyclical in nature, meaning that the symptoms of a mental health issue or addiction related issue may cause the problem to get worse over time if left untreated.  Conversely, recovery is also cyclical in nature as well, meaning that the more wellness-based behaviors one engages in the better they are likely to feel over time.  This article serves to explain the cyclical nature of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and addiction and propose steps one can take to reverse course and begin their road to recovery.


Let’s use depression as our prime example of the cyclical nature of mental health since it is one of the most common mental health issues individuals experience.  Symptoms of depression often include things like oversleeping or under sleeping, overeating or undereating, isolating, and lack of interest in previously pleasurable experiences.  The irony is that the more one lives in these symptoms, meaning the more their sleeping schedule or eating behaviors are thrown off course, the more they isolate, and the more they avoid experiences they used to enjoy, the worse they will feel.  In other words, depression causes these unwanted symptoms, and these unwanted symptoms in turn sustain, prolong, and deepen the depression.  The same is true of another common mental health issue – anxiety.  Some common symptoms of anxiety include trouble sleeping, avoiding social situations, and excessive worry. All of these symptoms can exacerbate anxiety.


Similarly, we often hear of the progressive nature of alcoholism and drug addiction.  The more one engages in their substance abuse - the more frequently they use their drug of choice, the more quantity they use of their drug of choice - the worse their problem will become over time, and the more difficult it will be to recover from. This is true from a neurological, emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, and often financial perspective. For example, the more one detaches from their friendships or the more one damages their family relationships through their alcohol or drug addiction, the worse they will feel about themselves (i.e. guilt and shame), the more they are likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their negative emotions, and the more harm they will do to those relationships. The same is true of their mental health, their physical health, their careers, their finances, and every other aspect of their life. This is the progressive and cyclical nature of addiction.


In order to heal from such mental health or addiction related issues, one must learn to reverse course. Oftentimes this means taking the opposite action of what their mental health issue is “telling them” to do. For example, let’s say a person is feeling depressed resulting in them oversleeping, overeating unhealthy foods, isolating, and not engaging in activities they used to find pleasurable such as going for bike rides.  The longer these unhealthy behaviors persist, the worse that individual is likely to feel.  Conversely, if they work towards having a healthier sleep hygiene, healthier eating behaviors, socializing, and going for bike rides they will likely feel much better.  The cyclical nature of their recovery is that the more consistently they practice a healthier lifestyle, the better they are likely to feel over time. A healthy lifestyle includes behaviors such as engaging in physical activity, socializing with a positive support network, talk through emotions, meditation, proper sleep hygiene, eating nutritious whole foods, journaling, engaging in self-care, and other such wellness-based behaviors.


Now, of course it’s not that simple, and we are not suggesting that it is.  When an individual suffers from clinical depression, clinical anxiety, or substance abuse it is not as easy as simply telling that individual to get out of bed and go for a bike ride with a friend.  When one is suffering from depression, anxiety, addiction or other mental health issues, doing these simple things can feel impossible and dreadful.  As such, we always encourage such individuals to seek out help from a mental health professional such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.  Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists or other such mental health professionals can help provide support, guidance, and accountability to help you become a better version of yourself. Understandably, the prospect of talk therapy and seeking out a mental health counselor or addiction specialist is a challenge unto itself. But keep in mind that things will not change if you do nothing and are actually likely to get worse. Focus on wanting to get better and wanting to improve your mental health and your overall life.


It is not easy to pick up the phone and ask for help, but sometimes one must take a deep breath and force themselves to do the uncomfortable and challenging things in order to start their healing journey. If possible, ask a friend or family member for help and support. Always remember that recovery is possible, and that nobody is exempt from being able to recover. Our number one suggestion is to be easy on yourself. Don’t make yourself feel worse through your own negative self-talk. Beating yourself up is one of the worst things you can do. Remember that you are suffering from a mental health issue, and that there is nothing wrong with you as a person. Take baby steps, take time, take breaths, and do what you can in the moments that you find willingness. Even if it is something as small and simple as taking a shower or eating a healthy meal.


For more information on addiction treatment, therapy and mental health, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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