Thomas Cothern

Supporting a Loved One in Recovery: How to Be an Effective Ally

Supporting a loved one in recovery from addiction can be a challenging and emotional journey. While your support and encouragement can be invaluable, it’s essential to understand how to be an effective ally without enabling harmful behaviors or undermining their progress. In this blog, Thomas Cothren of New York will explore practical strategies and guidance for supporting a loved one in recovery, fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and creating a supportive environment for their journey to sobriety.

Understanding the Role of a Supportive Ally

Being a supportive ally to a loved one in recovery involves more than just offering words of encouragement or sympathy. It requires empathy, understanding, and active engagement in their journey towards sobriety. As a supportive ally, your role is to provide encouragement, guidance, and accountability while respecting their autonomy and agency in the recovery process. Here are some key principles to keep in mind:

  1. Empathy and Understanding: Take the time to listen to your loved one’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings without judgment or criticism. Show empathy and understanding for their struggles, challenges, and victories in recovery.
  2. Education and Awareness: Educate yourself about addiction, recovery, and the challenges your loved one may face along the way. Understanding the nature of addiction can help you offer more informed support and guidance.
  3. Encouragement and Validation: Offer words of encouragement, validation, and support to boost your loved one’s confidence and self-esteem. Celebrate their progress, no matter how small, and remind them that you believe in their ability to overcome challenges.
  4. Setting Healthy Boundaries: Establish clear and healthy boundaries to protect your own well-being while supporting your loved one in recovery. Be firm but compassionate in enforcing boundaries around behavior, communication, and expectations.
  5. Avoiding Enabling Behaviors: Avoid enabling harmful behaviors or making excuses for your loved one’s actions. Instead, encourage accountability, responsibility, and self-reliance in their recovery journey.
  6. Creating a Supportive Environment: Create a supportive environment that promotes sobriety and well-being. Remove triggers and temptations from the home, encourage healthy habits and activities, and foster connections with supportive individuals and communities.

Practical Strategies for Supporting a Loved One in Recovery:

  1. Open Communication: Foster open and honest communication with your loved one about their recovery journey, concerns, and needs. Encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment or criticism.
  2. Active Listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention to your loved one when they speak. Validate their feelings, ask clarifying questions, and reflect back what you hear to demonstrate understanding and empathy.
  3. Offering Practical Assistance: Offer practical assistance and support to help your loved one navigate the challenges of recovery. This could include helping with transportation to appointments, assisting with household chores or responsibilities, or providing emotional support during difficult times.
  4. Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Encourage your loved one to develop healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress, cravings, and triggers. This could include mindfulness practices, exercise, hobbies, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being.
  5. Attending Support Meetings Together: Offer to attend support meetings or therapy sessions with your loved one to show your support and solidarity. This can also provide you with valuable insights into their recovery journey and help strengthen your bond.
  6. Celebrating Milestones and Achievements: Celebrate your loved one’s milestones and achievements in recovery, no matter how small. Acknowledge their progress and resilience, and express your pride and admiration for their efforts.

Supporting a loved one in recovery from addiction requires empathy, understanding, and active engagement in their journey towards sobriety. By being an effective ally, you can provide encouragement, guidance, and support while respecting their autonomy and agency in the recovery process. By fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and creating a supportive environment, you can help your loved one navigate the challenges of recovery with confidence, resilience, and hope for a brighter future.


Celebrating Non-Scale Victories: Recognizing Progress Beyond the Numbers

Embarking on a journey to improve health and fitness often involves setting goals centered around weight loss or reaching a certain number on the scale. While tracking weight can be a useful metric for progress, it’s essential to recognize that success goes beyond the numbers. Non-scale victories (NSVs) are achievements and milestones that occur throughout the journey towards better health and well-being, irrespective of what the scale says. In this blog, Thomas Cothren of New York will explore the significance of celebrating NSVs, the diverse forms they can take, and why they’re essential for maintaining motivation and perspective on the health journey.

Understanding Non-Scale Victories

Non-scale victories encompass a wide range of achievements and milestones that reflect positive changes in physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Unlike traditional metrics such as weight loss or body measurements, NSVs focus on progress that transcends the scale, highlighting improvements in lifestyle habits, fitness abilities, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. Examples of NSVs include:

  1. Increased Energy Levels: Feeling more energetic and alert throughout the day, with reduced fatigue and improved stamina for daily activities and exercise.
  2. Improved Mood and Mental Health: Experiencing enhanced mood, reduced stress, anxiety, or depression symptoms, and greater overall emotional well-being.
  3. Better Sleep Quality: Enjoying more restful and restorative sleep, with improved sleep duration, efficiency, and overall sleep quality.
  4. Clothing Fit and Comfort: Noticing changes in how clothes fit and feeling more comfortable in clothing, with looser waistbands, tighter-fitting shirts, or the ability to fit into smaller sizes.
  5. Increased Strength and Fitness: Achieving fitness milestones such as lifting heavier weights, completing more reps or sets, running faster or longer distances, or mastering new exercise techniques.
  6. Healthier Eating Habits: Making positive changes to eating habits, such as reducing portion sizes, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into meals, or practicing mindful eating.
  7. Enhanced Body Confidence: Feeling more confident and comfortable in one’s own skin, regardless of weight or body shape, and embracing a positive body image.
  8. Improved Health Markers: Seeing improvements in health markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, or other indicators of overall health and wellness.

Why Celebrating Non-Scale Victories Matters

Celebrating NSVs is crucial for maintaining motivation, sustaining progress, and cultivating a positive mindset on the health journey. Unlike the scale, which can fluctuate due to various factors such as water retention, muscle gain, or hormonal changes, NSVs provide tangible evidence of progress that goes beyond mere numbers. Recognizing and celebrating NSVs can:

  1. Boost Motivation: Acknowledging and celebrating NSVs reinforces positive behaviors and encourages individuals to stay committed to their health goals, even when progress on the scale may be slower or less apparent.
  2. Provide Perspective: NSVs offer a broader perspective on the health journey, reminding individuals that success is not solely defined by weight loss or physical appearance but encompasses various aspects of well-being and personal growth.
  3. Build Confidence and Self-Esteem: Celebrating NSVs boosts self-confidence and self-esteem by recognizing and affirming one’s achievements and capabilities, regardless of external validation or comparison to others.
  4. Promote Sustainable Change: Focusing on NSVs promotes a holistic approach to health and wellness, emphasizing long-term habits and behaviors that contribute to overall well-being rather than short-term fixes or quick fixes.

How to Celebrate Non-Scale Victories

There are many ways to celebrate NSVs and acknowledge progress on the health journey. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Keep a Journal: Maintain a journal or log to track NSVs and reflect on achievements, milestones, and moments of progress along the way.
  2. Share with Others: Share NSVs with friends, family, or a supportive community for encouragement, accountability, and celebration.
  3. Reward Yourself: Treat yourself to non-food rewards such as a spa day, new workout gear, a massage, or a fun outing to celebrate NSVs and milestones.
  4. Create a Vision Board: Create a vision board or visual representation of your goals, aspirations, and NSVs to keep you motivated and inspired on the journey.
  5. Practice Gratitude: Cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for your body’s abilities, accomplishments, and progress, celebrating each NSV as a step towards greater health and happiness.

Non-scale victories are powerful reminders of progress and success on the health journey, reflecting positive changes in physical, mental, and emotional well-being that go beyond the numbers on the scale. By celebrating NSVs, individuals can boost motivation, gain perspective, and cultivate a positive mindset that sustains progress and fosters lasting change. Whether it’s increased energy levels, improved mood, better sleep quality, or enhanced fitness abilities, every NSV is a testament to resilience, dedication, and personal growth on the path towards better health and happiness.


Understanding Emotional Eating: Strategies for Managing Stress and Cravings

Emotional eating is a common phenomenon where individuals turn to food for comfort, solace, or distraction in response to emotional triggers such as stress, anxiety, boredom, or sadness. While it may provide temporary relief, emotional eating can lead to overeating, weight gain, and negative feelings of guilt and shame. In this blog, Thomas Cothren of New York will explore the concept of emotional eating, delve into its underlying causes, and offer practical strategies for managing stress and cravings without relying on food.

Understanding Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is often characterized by the consumption of food in response to emotional cues rather than physical hunger. It involves seeking comfort or distraction from uncomfortable emotions by indulging in high-calorie, palatable foods that provide immediate pleasure or relief. Common emotional triggers for eating include stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, anger, or fatigue. Additionally, environmental factors such as social gatherings, celebrations, or watching TV can also contribute to mindless eating habits.

Causes of Emotional Eating

Several factors contribute to emotional eating, including biological, psychological, and environmental influences. Hormonal changes, such as fluctuations in cortisol and serotonin levels, can affect appetite and mood regulation, leading to cravings for high-carbohydrate or high-fat foods during times of stress. Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, negative body image, or past experiences of trauma may also contribute to emotional eating patterns. Environmental cues, such as food advertising, availability, and social norms, can further reinforce unhealthy eating behaviors.

Strategies for Managing Stress and Cravings

Managing stress and cravings without turning to food requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying emotional, psychological, and behavioral aspects of eating habits. Here are some strategies to help break the cycle of emotional eating:

  1. Identify Triggers: Start by identifying the emotions, situations, or thoughts that trigger your emotional eating episodes. Keep a food diary to track your eating patterns and associated emotions, noting any recurring patterns or triggers.
  2. Practice Mindful Eating: Learn to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger by tuning into your body’s cues. Practice mindful eating techniques, such as eating slowly, savoring each bite, and paying attention to hunger and fullness signals.
  3. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Find alternative ways to cope with stress and uncomfortable emotions that don’t involve food. Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as exercise, hobbies, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
  4. Build Emotional Awareness: Cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence by exploring the underlying emotions driving your eating behaviors. Practice self-compassion and acceptance, acknowledging your feelings without judgment or criticism.
  5. Create a Support System: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, or professionals who can offer encouragement, empathy, and guidance on your journey to overcoming emotional eating.
  6. Establish Healthy Habits: Focus on building a balanced lifestyle that prioritizes regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, and nutritious eating habits. Incorporate whole, nutrient-dense foods into your diet to support overall health and well-being.
  7. Seek Professional Help: If emotional eating patterns persist despite your best efforts, consider seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders or emotional eating. Professional guidance can provide valuable insights and tools for addressing underlying issues and developing healthier coping strategies.

Emotional eating can be a challenging pattern to break, but with awareness, effort, and support, it is possible to overcome unhealthy eating habits and cultivate a positive relationship with food and emotions. By understanding the triggers and underlying causes of emotional eating, practicing mindfulness, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and seeking support when needed, individuals can learn to manage stress and cravings without turning to food for comfort. Remember that change takes time and patience, so be kind to yourself as you navigate the journey towards healthier eating habits and emotional well-being.

Thomas Cothern

Why Helping Others is Good for The Brain

Helping others feels good. That’s a fact. But is there more to it? Can helping someone else benefit us in more ways than we know?

Helping others is both physically and mentally beneficial. Studies have shown that when we help someone in need, it dampens the part of the brain associated with fear and stress. Plus, our self-esteem improves, our risk of depression decreases, and we have more energy. There have also been links to physical health benefits such as getting sick less often and living longer.

Pretty amazing stuff, right? Thomas Cothern of Maryland explores below how the simple act of helping someone in need can trigger even greater benefits for you.

What Physically Happens to Our Brain

When people provide targeted support to someone in need, two areas of the brain are activated: the ventral striatum, or VS, and the septal area, or SA. Further, scans show decreased activity in the amygdala, which is the center of the brain that is linked to fear and stress. Plus, helping others directly can activate the reward centers of the brain, similar to receiving a gift or petting a puppy.

Effects of Decreased Amygdala Activity

The amygdala controls our emotional and physiological responses to fearful or threatening stimuli. When amygdala activity is high, our body is under a higher amount of stress. This leads to higher cortisol levels, which in turn raises your blood sugar. If you lead a stressful life, volunteering regularly or otherwise actively assisting those in need can lower your blood sugar and help prevent diabetes.

People with depression or anxiety can also benefit due to the effect on the brain. Anxiety and depression are associated with a larger amygdala, so calming this center of the brain can improve anxiety and depression symptoms.

Emotional Impacts

Regularly helping someone has been linked to improved self-esteem compared to those who rarely volunteer. This is most likely due to the feelings of purpose and satisfaction we gain by doing good deeds for others. It has long been understood that acts of kindness such as volunteering improve our mood, increase our energy, and improve our overall outlook on life.

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Physical Impacts

Aside from the mental benefits discussed above, aiding others can cause physical benefits as well. Regular volunteering has been linked to a longer lifespan, reduced illness, and improved heart health. These benefits can all be attributed to lower blood pressure when we reduce stress levels and feel more positive about life in general. Volunteering can even help with weight loss since you’ll be more physically active.

Final Thoughts

Overall, volunteering and helping those less fortunate triggers areas of our brain that produce a happy, fulfilled feeling. The positive benefits caused by these changes in our brain’s physiology may also be connected to increased physical activity or social activity when volunteering.

However, it’s essential that the motives for volunteering remain pure; the positive effects on mental and physical health only occur when volunteering with altruistic intentions.