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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Burnout — Is Stress Affecting My Health?

2020 might be remembered as the Year of Stress. Pandemic fatigue, COVID-19 stress, and other issues with mental health have increased throughout the year, but there may be a silver lining: less stigma around therapy and tighter communities.

Stress is the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. It’s necessary for our survival, but when it’s triggered constantly, it can develop into any number of mental health disorders. 2020 has been ripe with stressors that cause anxiety, grief, and trauma. 

2020 Stress

As we wrap up the year, let’s evaluate: How has stress affected our mental health?


For many, the pandemic began with anxiety—we didn’t know much about the incoming coronavirus, and many of us were afraid of what could happen to us, to our family, to our way of life. 

As the year went on, the pressures of the election, social unrest, and the unpredictability and fear of COVID only amplified feelings of anxiety. Anxiety might even continue at its peak as we near the holidays, with the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings. 

This constant worry is a source of stress, which can strain mental health, especially if you were already prone to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety or depression. 


In 2020, people will experience grief and loss in ways we haven’t seen for a long time. And the grief isn’t just for those we have lost—that grief can already be unbearable—but also the loss of jobs, special events, travel plans, and routines. Each time people encounter aspects of their lives that have changed due to the pandemic, this triggers a sense of grief that builds on the 2020 stress.


Anxiety and loss develop into stress. But other situations arising from the pandemic can also cause stress, like watching others who don’t follow COVID restrictions. Observing family and friends acting in an unsafe manner can evoke particular stress if you are an essential worker doing all you can to protect your loved ones from the virus.

Furthermore, if you’re a parent or a student, online school is likely to cause stress and lead to burnout. Parents have to deal with their own workload and fulfill the role teachers once filled when checking on their students. Students have lost the socialization that they got from school and the positive attention they received in person from teachers. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness understandably settle in. 


Many people are experiencing constant trauma during 2020 and aren’t even aware of it. The body internalizes chronic stress, and the result is that we are stuck on high alert. Symptoms of trauma can include emotional numbness, persistent avoidance of reminders of the trauma, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and feeling jumpy and irritable.

Effects of Stress

Stress itself isn’t an issue, but over time it creates a buildup of cortisol in the brain, which can have long-term effects on your health. When you experience chronic stress, your body produces more cortisol than it can release. High levels of cortisol in your brain can wear down its ability to function properly. This can lead to less socialization, loss of brain cells, and a shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. However, chronic stress might increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more receptive to stress, creating a feedback loop.

Stress can also lead to effects on your body. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are a few common effects of chronic stress. Stress can also affect other parts of your body, like your reproductive and digestive systems, while also damaging your immune system and worsening any illnesses you may already have. 

Silver Lining

Although we have lived through an especially difficult moment, 2020 has taught us some important lessons. 

We have learned how to maintain connections with loved ones. Having honest conversations is necessary for our mental health, and we have learned how to have them, even if it’s through the phone. 

Many people have begun to consider therapy to improve their well-being. Those with financial and social means have been more likely to reach out for help and work on themselves, which is overall a good thing. Hopefully, this will lead to less stigma surrounding therapy.

Onward, 2021

It’s important to look toward the future with optimism. If you’re feeling stressed about the pandemic, job loss, or any other issue, and you’re worried that it might contribute to your relapse, The Haven at Pismo is here to help. We provide individualized therapy and aftercare support that reaches to the core of your needs and develops your strengths to help you manage the stresses of 2020, 2021, and beyond. Connect with us today to learn how we can help you on your recovery journey. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Surviving the Holidays: Pandemic Edition

Planning for the holidays can be a stressful time with figuring out which friends or family you will go see if you are hosting, and when you will travel. 

Now the Coronavirus has turned up the dial on these concerns and added its own problems along with it. 

Changing Traditions

Affectionately held traditions may not be happening, in the same way, this year, and you are possibly wondering how to navigate this holiday season with both safety and celebration in mind. Understandably, you want to be able to be in the spirit of the season, but there might be a few things you want to consider before your holiday gathering. 

Ways to Make Connecting Over the Holidays Safer 

  • Go Virtual. Though this has been the answer to many COVID concerns, it continues to be a good option over the holidays. This could allow you to expand your circle of people who you include to those who normally aren’t a part of your tradition. 

  • Get Creative. Swap family recipes to enjoy your favorite dishes. Mail goodies or gifts to one another.  Plan a group activity to watch a movie or a sporting event at the same time to enjoy time together in a different way. 

  • Be Outside. If you are doing events in person, it is suggested to be outside if the weather permits. There could be a new holiday tradition of taking a walk together to look at decorations or have a distanced event in the backyard.  

  • Follow the Guidelines. The CDC has given a wonderful guide for the holidays to consider keeping the season safe. Remember the basics of hand washing, wearing a mask, and keeping a distance if you are having any gatherings. 

Set Expectations

It is important to remember that each person’s view of “safe” for the holidays could be very different. Conversations with family members about what the plans are this year are crucial to help this season go smoothly. 

Before talking with family, it may be helpful to consider the level of risk you are comfortable taking. If your boundary is to celebrate in-person with the members of your household exclusively, make that clear from the beginning and have some suggestions prepared on how to connect in other ways.  Some may feel strongly to keep the traditions the same but remind yourself that you do not need to give in to peer pressure. 

Along with this, consider those other people may not feel comfortable with your plans. Maybe you designed an outdoor celebration with masking and someone you invited does not want to participate in person. Respect the decisions of others and do not take these actions as personal but as a measure of safety. Consider making portions of events virtual to include all parties. 

Loneliness, Grief, and Cravings

The holidays were a challenging time for many people pre-pandemic. It can be a reminder of the loss of loved ones and a time that most do not want to be alone. People may be grieving the loss of travel plans or their hopes for this past year, and this season there are families experiencing their first year without someone.

Loneliness and grief can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts. When experiencing these difficult feelings people can fall back to old coping mechanisms that are threatening to sobriety

Don’t be surprised if you are feeling more triggered to drink or use drugs, as this is quite normal. What’s essential is recognizing that risk and caring for yourself. 

Tips For Staying Sober Over the Holidays

  1. Set-Up Support: Make sure you are not keeping difficult emotions only to yourself. Call a loved one and let them know how you are feeling and take time to connect. There have also been virtual AA and NA meetings to provide a space to share struggles.  You are not alone in this experience. 

  2. Find Meaningful Activities: Take time to do the things that are special for you. Do you have a favorite cookie recipe or a movie you always watched with your family? Do the things that matter to you for the season or just in general. Taking this time will help build peace. 

  3. HALT: If you are considering thinking about HALT (are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?). If you, then make a plan to address that need. Such as taking a nap, calling a friend, getting take-out, or going for a walk. Listening to your needs will help you feel more centered. 

  4. Seek Help:  Therapy is an option every step of the way to learn new tools, brainstorm ideas, and be a space to share. There is no wrong time to ask for help. 

If you are needing support with the emotional toll of the holidays this season - The Haven is here to help.
Reach out today to talk about how we can support you or your loved ones. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Six Foundations of Recovery

At The Haven, we believe that recovery rests on six important foundations: motivation, coping with cravings, managing emotions, nurturing relationships, lifestyle balance, and finding purpose in life. Each is integral to the recovery process, so read below to learn more about what comprises a successful recovery.


In recovery, you might find that it’s difficult to find the motivation to maintain your sobriety. It’s tough to change. We are hard-wired to enjoy comforting situations or to make the “easy” choice even if those situations are unhealthy. 

As you think about motivation, remind yourself of these four precepts:

  • Recognition
    Consider whether alcohol or drug use is a problem for you. Is it influencing your mood, or contributing to symptoms of anxiety? Does it interfere with your motivation to do the things you love?

  • Concerns
    Think about what concerns you about your alcohol or drug use. Are you afraid of becoming more isolated, or perhaps developing depression or anxiety? Are you concerned about the health issues you might develop from your addiction?

  • Intention
    Think about how changing your alcohol or drug use will affect your life. If you were to stop your substance use, how would your life change? What would you be able to accomplish?

  • Optimism
    Think about the reasons that you can believe in yourself and your ability to change. What inspires you to believe that change is possible for you?

Coping with Cravings

Everyone, not just people who suffer from addiction, know-how cravings work. In one moment, you’re able to understand and fully believe that your behavior has become toxic. The very next day, however, you might find many reasons why it’s okay to drink, smoke, etc. You’ll never completely rid yourself of these cravings, but there are many ways to manage these moments in successful ways that do not lead back to relapse. 

Therapy is of course one of the best options since a therapist can help you develop the skills you’ll need going forward. However, other methods like replacing the urge with something else (like chewing gum or exercise), developing healthy habits, and learning to manage your emotions can help with cravings. 

Managing Emotions

Let’s be frank: undealt with emotions lead to substance use. As we grow into the world, we develop coping mechanisms for emotions we can’t handle. Some of us dampen these powerful emotions with substances to drown out the pain. Thankfully, with proper individualized treatment, you can develop skills to regulate your emotions without running away from them. 

In treatment, first, you’ll learn distraction, but it’s not a permanent measure. Then, you are able to delay the effects of your emotions, giving you the time and space you need to deal with the repercussions of those emotions and engage in safe behaviors to avoid relapse.

Nurturing Relationships

When you suffer from an addiction, it often takes a lead role in your life. Relationships, no matter how important, can’t compete with the urge to engage in substance use, and thus the connections you build with others suffer. This also leads to frustration and self-hate—when relationships are severed, you begin to think you are the problem when in reality the addiction is the issue.

To nurture your relationships, make sure to reinvest time and energy into them. Spend quality time with those who you may have wronged, and make amends. Therapy also helps here—it can give you the perspective you need to know how to approach your relationships with a reinvigorated sense of belonging. Recovery is much easier when a person has support from their loved ones.

Lifestyle Balance

For most people who suffer from addiction, life in active addiction was anything but balanced. Recovery can take the same shape. People in recovery might feel overwhelmed by the difficulties of life, and without their go-to coping mechanism, they might freeze and leave everything hanging. Others might focus their energy on one project, but this might consume too much time and energy. 

The important thing to remember is that balance in life is constantly changing. You might have plans after work to go to the gym and meet a friend, but your boss might ask you to stay late. So—how do you react? Balance is about responding positively to changes and learning to be accepting of the world and how it might impact your life. 

In the example above, you might have to reschedule your meetup with your friend. Or perhaps you can negotiate with your boss and come in early the next day. Find ways to include healthy moments each day, and you’ll learn how to maintain balance in your life.

Finding Purpose in Life

Discovering purpose and passion in life is different for every person. If you’re in recovery, the purpose is necessary to give you the motivation and energy you’ll need to maintain your sobriety. However, your sense of purpose in the world might even benefit from having experienced the depths of addiction and recovery—knowing that you are capable of overcoming something as difficult as substance abuse can encourage you to reach other milestones in your life. 

Finding purpose can take the shape of forging new relationships and creating a new social life around your sobriety. You’ll also want to find out what makes you happy and follow those dreams. Some in recovery even choose to inspire others with their journey, using their own experiences to help those who might need encouragement with their addiction. The possibilities are endless as you restart your life. 

We at The Haven at Pismo want to help you make sure your recovery continues unchallenged. If you need help managing your recovery, reach out, and speak with our warm and professional admissions counselors today! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What You Need To Know Before Detox

Detox is often a person’s first step into their recovery journey. Cleansing the physical body of drugs and other toxins is a crucial step towards true healing. In fact, little progress can be made until the process of detox has done its work. Without first stabilizing things physically, we cannot truly be ready to do the work required of us in recovery.

Many recognize this as the turning point in their lives and know that things will not go back to the way they were before, and it’s true, the process of recovery does involve significant change. Unfortunately, many people allow their fear of change to lead them to hit “rock bottom” before they consider going to detox. 

Others fear entering this first big step of their healing process due to being unsure of what it will entail, and what it means for them to begin this “recovery journey”. However, armed with accurate information, they may be more able and likely to take the needed steps towards recovery. 

Who Needs Detox?

Not everyone who uses substances in a problematic way will need a detox. More than anything, the necessity of detox is determined by the body’s physical reliance on alcohol or other substances, marked by tolerance and dependence. 

Tolerance refers to the need to take more of a substance in order to achieve the same effect. While this demonstrates that the body has grown accustomed to the presence of the substance in the system, it is not always enough to warrant detoxification.

Dependence in this case means that the body has adapted to having a persistently elevated level of the substance present. When we ingest substances, they release particular neurotransmitters that mimic the processes of the brain’s reward center. Over time, the body adjusts its own production to account for the increase in externally-fueled neurotransmitters.

This results in a need to take the drug to feel as if we are functioning normally. When we stop taking the drug, we will face instant withdrawal symptoms, both mental and physical, that are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. 

This is the benefit of a medically-supervised detox, where we are able to cleanse our bodies and reset from the effects of the drugs on our system. 

Drug Detox Must Be Completed Before Rehab

Many treatment and rehab centers require guests to complete the detox process before being admitted to their program. To truly benefit from treatment, to gain insight, and be able to focus on the emotional and psychological parts of overcoming addiction, we must not continue to be under the influence of the substance. 

Both for your own sake and the others in the program, it is helpful when you are able to think clearly and have goals that are aligned with the goals of recovery rather than continuing in any drug-seeking behaviors and mindset. This can also be very triggering for other individuals if someone has not completely detoxed before entering the treatment facility. 

Should be Under the Care of Medical Professionals 

Although it is possible to detox on your own, it is not recommended. The process can be very uncomfortable and painful even, but when you’re medically supervised, the health professionals responsible for your care will do their best to keep you comfortable

During withdrawal, several complications can arise depending on the substance and the severity of physical addiction. This fact alone should have you convinced of the importance of seeking medical attention, along with your specific physical and mental health considerations.

Intense cravings and discomfort from the withdrawal process may weaken your resolve to quit and put you at risk of relapse, just as your recovery journey is starting out. But, detoxing with medical professionals can help you manage and treat symptoms. 

The Process Can be Uncomfortable 

The process of withdrawal is often accompanied by several symptoms: 

  • Insomnia 

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea, stomach upset, and gastrointestinal distress 

  • Appetite changes 

  • Irritability and agitation 

  • Depression and hopelessness 

  • Anxiety

  • Pain

  • Disorientation

  • Strong cravings 

  • Seizure

  • Coma 


Duration of Detox Can Vary

There is no set time frame for detox, and it is highly dependent upon a number of individual factors. For some, it may take weeks to clear the body completely from the drug. While it may be frustrating to not have a clear idea going in how long you will be detoxing, you can feel assured that they are very much taking your individual needs into account.

These factors include:

  • The drug of abuse

  • Potential poly-substance abuse 

  • Typical rate, dose, and duration of use

  • Goals of the patient 

  • Previous treatment attempts 

  • Co-occurring health conditions 

First Phase Of Recovery 

Detox is just the first phase of treatment. Many people believe that detox is all they need, but in order to break the cycle of drug addiction, rehab and treatment should follow. It is important to try and move from detox right into a treatment facility to limit the chance of relapse. 

One of the most beneficial things about detox at The Haven is the comprehensive treatment options that will allow you to move from detox at The Pines to phase one treatment, and on to phase two as you work through the program. At The Haven, there is no fear of not knowing what comes next, as our case managers will work with you to map out your journey through recovery at The Haven and beyond. Contact us today!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

4 More Reasons Online IOP is Better

Despite many of our society’s growing concerns with technology, this year especially, we have come to rely on our devices to connect us with others and serve an even greater role in our lives. 

In truth, we may have surprised ourselves this year in our ability to battle with our technology and come out victorious. Many of us have likely had the experience of trying to sort out connectivity issues, learning how to set up a zoom call, or even to make the printer succumb to our will. 

Last month, we reviewed the newcomer on yet another technological frontier: Virtual IOP for addiction treatment. 

We explored many of the benefits of a Virtual IOP program that is related to the length and frequency of meetings. Participants meet via zoom for 9-12 hours of therapy a week, be it an individual, group, or family sessions. This program framework allows for greater flexibility for participants, while still providing the needed structure and access to treatment providers during their crucial transition back to the community.

Today, we’ll take an even closer look at the benefits when treatment of this nature is delivered online. 

  1. You Can Stay Home

The best thing about a virtual IOP program is that you can participate right from the comfort of your own home. While we may be familiar with this phrase, and the “comforts of home”, let’s take a minute to unpack what that really means. 

When you are at home in your own environment, the first benefit is that you know you will be comfortable. You have the option to choose where you’ll sit, where you’ll participate, and have the benefit of being within reach of your favorite blanket, a sweatshirt if it’s cold, and an environment, in general, that is particularly soothing to you. 

When you’re in your own home and are not directly face-to-face with the others in your group you may feel more comfortable sharing when you are aided by the physical distance between you. You can also feel assured that there will be greater privacy and that you are not going to be seen walking into the treatment center. 

Of course, there are many other intangible benefits of participating in recovery from home that plays out in the day-to-day activities of life as well as through the general idea that learning is better stored and recalled based on location. This means that you may be more able to access and implement what is discussed in session back into your everyday life when objects and places around your home serve as treatment reminders. 

  1. You Are Demonstrating Commitment to Your Recovery 

Another important factor is that taking part in an IOP program that requires multiple hours of your time and attention a couple of times each week requires a certain level of commitment. In this case, your actions demonstrate your commitment. Because the brain has difficulty holding two opposing ideas at once, this sends an implicit message to your subconscious that you value the work that you are doing. In fact, this often leads to greater patient responsibility than for someone who is only engaged in treatment for one hour each week. 

  1. You Are Saving Time and Money

When compared to higher levels of care, like residential and partial hospitalization, IOP treatment is a lower-cost option, while still providing the structure and support needed for those who need it. 

Virtual treatment also opens the door to those who cannot easily access standard treatment. It may be that you do not have a car or there is no reliable public transportation system available to you. Or, you may live in a rural area where quality treatment is not accessible.

Without having to drive across town, grabbing a meal in between sessions is as easy as taking a walk to the fridge. That said, you’re also saving money on your commute and have more time back in your day to invest in things that support your recovery lifestyle. 

  1. You Are Setting Yourself Up for Long-term Success

Through virtual treatment, you will become better accustomed to receiving support in a virtual environment and more prepared for today’s technological world. 

In addition, because this is a more structured program and there are opportunities for both group and individual sessions, you have more opportunities to connect with others in the recovery community and establish relationships that will outlive your time in treatment. These relationships are also key to keeping you engaged and committed to the entirety of the treatment process. This, in turn, has shown to lead to better recovery outcomes. 

Virtual IOP at The Haven

The Haven’s Virtual IOP program may be right for you if you have successfully completed a higher level of care, or if you’re looking for more support than what a traditional outpatient therapist may provide. You can take part in our program right from the comfort of your home and may be able to find all the support that you need, delivered right in your living room. Speak with one of our admissions representatives to learn more about if IOP is the next right step for you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Video Games and Addiction

When you think of video games, depending on your age, the image of yourself as a child innocently playing Mario kart may pop into your head. Or you may think of the latest Fortnite dance your nephew showed you, or of the new game your granddaughter is begging to have you get her for Christmas. 

However, these days, many video games do not have the same innocent appeal. Rather, they are being targeted for adults with mature content. Over the last two decades, there has been an increase in violence and drugs featured in video games. Many of these new games have adult themes of sex, violence, and drugs. 

Though it may feel as though these games are harmless, the content of these games shapes our perspective of substance abuse and can contribute to both the stigma surrounding those who use substances and the later experimentation of those who play them. Too much screen time devoted to these games can also affect our behavior, thoughts, and emotions in a way that will also make us more susceptible to substance abuse. 

The Role Drugs Play In Video Games 

Through evaluating the current most popular games, interesting trends have revealed that many video games feature both fictional and real drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, magic mushrooms, and painkillers. Even just this exposure and normalization can affect our perception and attitudes towards substances.

Many games take it one step further and incorporate drugs directly into the gameplay. Players learn to use them for a couple specific purposes: as a power-up, a specific health power-up, or as a tool to disorient the game player. In some games, you may find that when you eat a mushroom, you gain energy and strength, or in others, you may be subject to vibrant hallucinations after finding and injecting the sought-after substance. Some games such as grand theft auto glamourize drug use and dedicate the game’s storyline towards building cocaine, heroin, and marijuana-dealing empires.

Some games seek to incorporate a more realistic and informed portrayal of substance use by giving players short-term rewards at the expense of long-term consequences. Others also seek an honest portrayal of drug use by manipulating gameplay to demonstrate the concept of physical dependence as in the Bioshock series.  Aptly named, one particular video game, Narc, gives players points for killing drug deals and references several illegal substances.

This wide array of drug use in popular video games can lead to muddled and confusing messaging about substance use as a whole. Teens who identify with their game character may find themselves more easily tempted and more willing to experiment with substances when offered the opportunity. They may not be fully prepared to handle the risks associated with drug use when in real life, they find they are playing without the guarantee of unlimited lives. 

Continued exposure to violence and risky behaviors such as substance abuse will soon impact their beliefs about these behaviors. This is especially true for teens drawn to mature-rated games. The themes in these video games are psychologically powerful and may lead to unhealthy beliefs about drugs and addiction, and may impact their brain development in these formative years.

How Video Games Contribute to Substance Abuse 

If we’re looking to understand the impact of video games on those who struggle with addiction, it’s important to look beyond the content of the games that they’re playing. 

When people expose themselves to too much screen time or video games, they may lose out on developing other areas of their life that builds their resilience and contributes towards positive well-being. Gaming, even online with others, often gives people a false sense of connection and belonging which can contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Video game use can become problematic in our lives when it comes at the expense of our other responsibilities and relationships or when it becomes our only coping skill to “get lost” within the world of our video game. It’s at this point that we might consider our gaming to be a “behavioral addiction” as it reflects many of the characteristics of substance addiction.

The link between the self-reinforcing behaviors found in video game addiction and substance abuse is thought to be a primary contributor to developing addictive patterns. 

When playing video games, certain brain pathways are impacted, including the dopamine or “reward” circuits of the brain. This same system is lit up when someone engages in other self-rewarding behaviors, including drug use. For this reason, gaming and substance abuse can exacerbate each other. 

This means that those who suffer from a video game addiction are also more likely to use substances. Research confirms this link between gaming disorders and substance abuse as well as between other co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety.  

Some gamers will use substances while playing video games, both as a means to relax or out of habit. They may also use different stimulant drugs to help improve their performance or help them stay up all night to finish the campaign. This combination of gaming and the use of drugs can make these individuals much more susceptible to drug addiction.

Addiction Recovery at The Haven at Pismo

While at The Haven, our focus is not on treating behavioral addictions like video game addiction, the truth is that many of these underlying patterns are the same. At the Haven, we teach our guests a new way of living life, of breaking these cycles of substance addiction and being intentional about both the way they spend their time, and what they allow to influence them. 

If you or someone you love is stuck in a cycle of addiction, reach out to us today to learn about how we can help!