Recognizing the Stages of Recovery for Better Emotional Health

In honor of National Recovery Month, we checked in with local experts to learn about the stages of recovery for substance use and mental health. Here are their healthy ways to cope with everyday life.

Life is stressful at the best of times. But during a pandemic that affects every aspect of daily life, anxiety can skyrocket.

“Right now, everyone’s anxiety is heightened,” says Wendy Standifer, director of behavioral health services for Easterseals Michigan, an Auburn Hills-based organization that provides services to adults and children and support to their families. “As a nation, we are all struggling with what is happening. We’re also dealing with information overload, and it can all be very overwhelming.”

It’s important to recognize how we cope with stress a­­­­­­­­­nd anxiety. “What’s the first thing you do when you’ve had a hard day? Many people say they have a glass of wine or a beer because it calms their nerves and allows them to sleep,” Standifer says. But when alcohol and drugs become self-medication, that can be the point where mental health and substance misuse intersect.

When coping with anxiety or working through recovery for a substance use disorder, it’s important to know there is support for all of the challenges we — and our loved ones — might face.

“There is so much help out there, through Easterseals or Oakland Community Health Network, or your county’s mental health authority,” Standifer says.

Because September is National Recovery Month, we share the typical stages of recovery for both substance use and mental health — and some tips for staying emotionally healthy.

Recovery occurs in stages

Contemplation is the very early stage of recovery, where you know something doesn’t feel right. “You’re wondering to yourself if this is more than you can manage,” Standifer explains. Preparation is the stage that follows. “This is where you create a pros and cons list with yourself. You recognize you need to do something, but you’re not quite ready.”

Action is the stage where you address the challenge. “You’re looking for services and considering seeing a therapist,” Standifer explains. This stage often brings a feeling of relief when you learn you are not the only person who is struggling.

“There’s some hard work here, but all kinds of services to help. You may have some mild mental health needs that you can address with outpatient therapy with a counselor, social worker or psychologist, either through telehealth or in their office.” Some sessions may feel great, while others may delve deeper into the conflicts in your life.

Talking with those who understand

At this stage, you may work with a peer recovery coach, who is a support specialist in their own recovery for a substance use disorder, and can help you recognize that recovery is an ongoing process, says Kaleb Franks, a peer recovery coach with Meridian Health Services in Waterford.

“It’s also about progress and not perfection,” Franks says. “We all make mistakes. … I understand that I have to acknowledge that and work on it as things are coming at me. I don’t have to relapse; I can correct my course of action right there.”

Maintenance, finally, is the stage where you’re putting tools into practice, where symptoms might be stable and things are going well. “With behavioral health and substance use disorders alike, in maintenance, you need to do things to make sure your disease is not spiraling,” Standifer says.

Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, exercise and mindfulness or meditation are critical, plus time for a personal pursuit like journaling, music or reading. “These tips work for kids, adults, anybody,” she says.

This content is brought to you by the Oakland Community Health Network. To learn more about how the network inspires hope, empowers people and strengthens communities, call 248-464-6363 or visit


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