Positive Living: Looking After Yourself (cont.)

Don't Deprive Yourself

These nutritional guidelines may seem limiting, but they are just the building blocks for a healthy body. It's very common to feel resistant to giving up things you enjoy and that help you relax. It's important that you still feel freedom to indulge yourself occasionally. The word on the street is to use alcohol and caffeine in moderation. A glass of wine or a cup of coffee may be one of your greatest pleasures and should not be cause for alarm. If you're craving a piece of double chocolate cake for dinner, GO FOR IT; there will always be string beans later. It's critical that you don't feel completely deprived.

Drugs and Alcohol

It is no big secret that drugs and alcohol are bad for your immune system and your health when used in large quantities. Drinking a lot can suppress the immune system, increase the toxicity of your medications, and damage your liver. Smoking irritates the lungs and can leave you more susceptible to serious lung infections like pneumonia. Uppers like speed, crystal and cocaine can damage the immune system and give a false sense of energy, leaving the body exhausted. And any drug you buy off the streets may be cut with something even more dangerous than the drug itself.

Be sure to tell your health care provider(s) about your drug or alcohol use. Without this information, they could misdiagnose your symptoms or prescribe a drug that could worsen your condition. Of course, your health care provider may encourage you to quit or cut down, but don't let this stop you from getting the medical care you need.

Cutting Down or Quitting - While stopping the use of alcohol or drugs is usually the best way to maintain or improve your health, abstinence is not a realistic goal for everyone. If this is true for you, then decreasing the amount and frequency of your tobacco, drug, or alcohol consumption is still a positive step toward better health and may be more manageable. Some people have managed alcohol addiction by limiting the number of drinks they allow themselves. The same is true of some heroin users.

Substituting other activities for the use of addictive substances is a way to fill time and experience other things that make you feel good. Think about things you enjoyed doing before you started using drugs - you may still like them. Dancing, running, bicycling, exploring the city, reading, meeting people, cooking and repairing things around the house are a few beginning ideas.

For some people, joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or another support group is a way to spend time with others who are not drinking or using while building a spiritual program to help maintain sobriety. In general, if the people around you are supportive of your attempts to quit or cut down, the changes you make will be easier to maintain.

Some people find that getting into a treatment program is the easiest or the only way they can quit. Programs use different methods (methadone maintenance, aversion therapy, etc.) depending on the addiction and the philosophy of the program. Sometimes it takes a while to get into a program, so you may find that some of these other techniques will help you in the meantime. (Pregnant women have priority for getting into treatment.)

Relapse or "slipping" is a common experience for many people who try to quit or cut down on drinking or using. Rather than view this slip as a slide to doom, look at it as a detour that you can learn from. Relapse can be used to examine what and how certain thoughts, situations and cues may have led you to start using again, and you can choose to avoid these triggers in the future. Relapse can be an opportunity to renew your commitment to change, to seek further help and to remember your prior successes.

Exercise

Regular exercise will help keep your body healthier and reduce anxiety, tension and depression. Exercise could include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming - even taking a leisurely stroll. Find an exercise that you enjoy and that gets your heart working, but doesn't leave you exhausted. Start with a 30-minute workout every other day, and gradually increase your time, but keep it under one hour. If you are feeling fatigued, getting sore muscles or have a poor appetite, try cutting your workout back. You're probably working too hard. Work up slowly - exercise should be fun.

If you get a cold or another infection, hold off on exercising until you feel better. Your body will need all its energy to recover. And make sure you eat enough calories to keep your weight up. Energy foods that are also high in vitamins and minerals include bread, potatoes, pasta and rice.

Rest

Fatigue is a very common symptom of HIV infection, and it has a variety of causes. Loss of energy and ambition are often part of the fatigue associated with AIDS, and sometimes it is difficult to know whether the tiredness is caused by the virus or depression. If you are feeling tired, pay attention to what your body is telling you and rest as much as possible. Let your friends or local agencies help you with the cooking, cleaning and child care, and try to find low-energy ways to have fun like playing board games or renting a movie. If the tiredness continues for more than a few days, be sure to tell your health care provider.