Addiction recovery is an ongoing process. Long after your professional rehab has ended, you’ll still deal with outside triggers, stressors, and other challenges. With a solid stress management plan, you’ll have easy, practical ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and frustration, and without returning to substance use.
When people drink or use drugs, their brains release large amounts of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). These chemicals are part of the brain’s reward system, and they account for the feelings of relaxation and euphoria that come with getting high. Repeatedly triggering these chemicals conditions drug and alcohol users to expect instant gratification.
Moreover, when drug and alcohol users experience stress, they regularly use substances to relieve it. This negatively affects how the brain works. More importantly, rather than resolving the causes of stress, drug and alcohol use often create additional problems and additional stress. During addiction treatment, patients are taught healthy ways of coping with unexpected challenges and difficult emotions.
Not only do these healthier coping strategies reduce the likelihood of relapse, but they also help people improve life qualities. At Recovery Bay Center, we’re committed to helping our clients recognize the importance of managing stress in recovery. That’s why we’re sharing these 10 tips for managing stress across all life areas.
1. Stop and Breathe
Deep breathing is one of the best strategies for managing stress in recovery. Focused, conscious breathing requires you to take your attention away from the circumstances that are causing stress. It also forces you to pause before taking any action.
Reaching for substances to alleviate anxiety, tension, and other negative feelings can be an unconscious decision during the early stages of recovery. For most people, this reaction is purely a matter of habit. By pausing, breathing deeply, and assuming total control of your thoughts and actions, you’ll be giving yourself ample opportunity to react in a far healthier way.
2. Make Self-Care a Top Priority
Often, when people think of managing their stress, they envision themselves as learning how to face tremendous challenges without losing their cool. However, it’s far more effective and infinitely easier to take proactive steps that prevent overwhelming stress from developing. For instance, unexpected developments are guaranteed to be stressful when you’re under-slept, hungry, frustrated, or have spent several days isolated from others.
Make sure that you’re eating healthy, nutritious foods on a regular basis, and that you’re getting at least eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. Regularly take part in social activities by:
- Participating in group fitness classes at a local gym
- Joining a local sports team
- Joining an addiction recovery support group
- Enrolling in art, music, or other classes for continued learning
Basic self-care can go a long way towards helping you maintain mood balance, even when life throws a few challenges your way.
3. Establish a Routine Exercise Plan
Much like drug and alcohol use, physical exercise triggers the brain’s natural reward system. However, it does so in a balanced and beneficial way. Taking long walks or jogs, going cycling, dancing, or swimming are all excellent ways to trigger the release of endorphins. Best of all, even when physical exercise doesn’t lead to an endorphin rush, it can still beat back stress.
Calming activities such as yoga, tai chi, and hiking will take your mind off of your problems by making you focus on your movements. During exercise, you’ll learn to let go of the things that you can’t change. You may even find yourself inadvertently stumbling upon solutions for the things that you can change.
4. Check Your Diet for Stress-Inducing Foods and Beverages
If you’re constantly riddled with overwhelming stress during addiction recovery, learning how to manage it is not a sustainable solution. You have to find out why you’re prone to feeling overly anxious. If you drink a significant amount of coffee each day, or largely subsist on caffeine and cigarettes, this may be your problem.
The same is also true for people who eat a lot of high-sugar foods. Nicotine, caffeine, and sugar are all highly addictive stimulants. Rather than attempting to quit these things outright, try replacing some of them with healthier alternatives.
Drink less coffee by making an effort to drink more fresh water. Smoke less by munching on carrots, almonds, or other heart-healthy snacks, and start using fresh fruit to sate your cravings for sweets whenever you can.
5. Establish and Nurture Meaningful Relationships
Two heads are always better than one. Stress makes it difficult to think and see things clearly. When you have solid relationships with family members and friends, you’ll always have people to turn to when you need guidance and advice. Cultivating meaningful relationships also means that you’ll have supportive people who will reliably and patiently listen to you vent.
6. Accept Addiction as a Long-Term Illness
Fear of relapse can be a tremendous source of stress in recovery. Many people beat themselves up for experiencing temptations and cravings, sometimes even months or years after having last used. Recognizing addiction as a complex and lifelong disease can help alleviate these emotions. Understanding that you are constantly in recovery rather than “cured”, will help you see your fluctuating emotions and anxiety as an inherent part of getting better.
7. Solve What You Can and Let the Rest Go
To some degree, stress is a natural part of life. It’s an emotional state that humans are hard-wired to experience. Stress is meant to incite action so that people take steps to resolve potentially harmful circumstances.
When you feel stressed, try to identify the source of your angst. Then, take proactive steps to fix it or to mitigate its consequences. If there isn’t anything that you can do, let your stress go. It won’t make you think more clearly, and it won’t improve your circumstances.
When there is no action to take, stress is purely a negative force, and one that can never have a positive impact on your recovery or your quality of life-quality.
8. Set Yourself Free From Emotionally Harmful Relationships
Much of the stress that people feel in recovery comes from the people around them. You have to take extra care to make sure that you’re always surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care for and support you in your efforts to stay healthy. People who make you feel guilty, ashamed, or unworthy can actually derail your entire recovery plan. Learning how to let emotionally harmful relationships go may be an important step for keeping your sobriety on track.
9. Never Be Embarrassed or Afraid to Seek Help
Stress isn’t something that you have to manage or navigate entirely on your own. When you feel stressed and can’t seem to calm your thoughts by working out, sleeping more, eating better, or by leveraging any other stress management techniques, it’s time to seek help. Consider connecting with:
- Sober sponsors
- Accountability partners
- Mental health counselors
- Relapse prevention programs
Overwhelming stress that can’t be easily resolved may be a sign of general anxiety disorder or another underlying mental health issue. In some instances, excess stress can mean that people simply aren’t ready to deal with the outside world, and need more time in addiction treatment. Relapse prevention programs, moderate to intensive outpatient programs, and even extended options in inpatient treatment are all options for people who find themselves constantly battling stress, temptation, and cravings.
10. Immerse Yourself in Calming Activities
Journal writing and art therapy are also excellent forms of stress relief. When you don’t want to vent to your loved ones, sit down and hash your problems out in your diary. Much like physical exercise, painting, playing music, doing puzzles, crocheting, and other focused activities will take your mind off the problems that are bothering you. In similar fashion, this gives you the chance to either let things go, or work towards effective solutions unconsciously.
Stress is a normal and expected part of life. Without stress, most people wouldn’t feel a necessary sense of urgency when dangerous circumstances arise. Stress also makes it infinitely easier to fully appreciate moments of relaxation and calm. However, when stress is unfounded or connected to problems that you can’t resolve, learning how to let it go is essential for keeping your recovery on track.
If you’re in need of addiction treatment and are ready to learn how to use healthy coping techniques, we can help. Call Recovery Bay today to learn more about the full range of programs and support services that we supply.