Recovering from drug or alcohol addiction generally includes rebuilding our lives, clearing the wreckage of our past, making amends, and more often than not — dealing with an unwelcomed amount of anxiety and stress. Stress is an unavoidable and natural side-effect of being human, but especially for those of us who make the courageous decision to get sober.
Almost every addict uses substances to escape unwanted emotions and stress. It’s no surprise that we have to face triggers as we trudge the road to recovery. However, because stress is one of the primary triggers of relapse, we must learn how to manage stress. Walking through uncomfortable emotions and stress – sober – can undoubtedly be a challenge for anyone in recovery. Here are five ways I have learned how to manage stress in recovery without resorting to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular stress management tool. Keeping up with transparency, when I first heard about mindfulness, I thought it was a complete joke. I envisioned myself attempting to position myself in the lotus position and holding back laughter as I try to recite the ever-popular “OHM” chant. I couldn’t have been more misled.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been studied since 1979 and has been proven to be effective. Mindfulness focuses on teaching an individual to be aware of the present moment. “Where are your feet right now?” This simple phrase is so useful in helping an anxious like me find grounding. Mindfulness can help to reduce cravings, mitigate stress, and deal with stressful environments.
My contempt, prior to investigation, led me astray from a tool that has become a ritual I try to practice daily today. Although mindfulness is a form of meditation, the implementation of this practice is not formal in nature. There is no instructional manual that leads us to the perfect mindfulness practice. Take a second to breathe, notice where your feet are planted, re-shift your focus, and restart your day. I promise you won’t regret it.
Find an Outlet for Your Stress
Think of the outlets you use on a daily basis to charge your most precious devices. Electricity and energy are transferred from the outlet to the device. In the same way, a stress outlet is something you deliberately engage to release the energy of your stress. Stressors vary for each person, and your healthy outlets may differ from the outlets that others utilize.
Ever since I was a little girl, I can always remember my constant need to write when I was feeling stressed or overly emotional. During my many years of active addiction, I failed to recognize the stress management practices I used in my younger years. When I found recovery, I began to make it a goal to start writing again. When I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, my outlet is to put pen to paper and begin to release unhealthy energy.
Many people in recovery find exercise as a great stress outlet. Stimulating blood flow, creating an influx of dopamine and serotonin; exercise is a great way to eliminate stress. Some other examples of healthy outlets for stress are :
- Go for a walk
- Take a hot bath
- Practice Yoga
- Cook and eat a healthy meal
- Read a book
- Pick up the phone and call your sober support
Find an activity that requires you to move your feet and refocus your attention on that thing. It is suggested you find an outlet you enjoy to better manage stress.
Eat, Sleep, and Be Well
Most people in active addiction neglect to take care of their overall health. Many of us eat sparingly, rarely sleep, and avoid dealing with our mental health. Health and stress are connected, and the two work together to maintain overall balance. If you are not exercising and eating poorly, you are more likely to be stressed than if you eat well and exercise.
When I came to South Florida, my life was completely unmanageable. I couldn’t successfully maintain anything in my life outside of getting my next fix. I didn’t have much of an appetite for anything other than my drugs and alcohol. I neglected sleep, in fear of missing out. I spent every second of my day self-medicating to suppress all of my emotions and untreated PTSD. My life was an absolute disaster, and my body was anything but alkaline – no wonder I was stressed.
Studies have shown the overall benefits (mentally/physically) of exercising even just 30 minutes a day. Exercise reduces stress, boosts self-confidence, and improves your sense of self. Quality nutrition can reduce your body’s stress response system. Directly attributed to substance abuse, many recovering addicts and alcoholics suffer from cooccurring nutrient disorders. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters like vitamins B6, B12, folate, and Omega fatty acids can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and elevate your body’s stress response. Eating well and getting adequate sleep can mitigate stress while boosting serotonin and dopamine, ultimate cultivating happiness.
Allow Yourself Time to Relax
Recovering from the seemingly hopeless disease of addiction is difficult — to say the least. Most of us walk into treatment beaten into a state of submission. Grandiose and unrealistic expectations of perfectionism exhaust us. The idea that we must recover perfectly creates a perpetual state of stress and anxiety.
When I was a little girl, it was not acceptable to take a nap during the day. I was frequently told to do chores or play outside. It’s no surprise that this idea followed me long into my late 20’s as I stepped into recovery. In fact, I would sabotage myself by not allowing myself time or space to rest. I couldn’t sit with myself – ever. Three years sober, and with the grace of enough pain, I have learned how important it is to take care of myself.
In recovery, we are striving to clean up the destruction we left behind and aiming to be better versions of ourselves then we were yesterday. This can feel stressful and seemingly overwhelming at times. It is important to remember that relaxation is an effective way to reduce stress. It is vital to take time to quiet your mind, relax your body, and be present at the moment.
A daily gratitude practice has been proven to reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing. It is merely impossible to feel stressed out and anxious when you are reflecting on the things you are grateful for. If you can take a moment to focus on something or someone you are thankful for, you may just find yourself calm as you notice the mental shift. An overall positive attitude can be cultivated with a little gratitude practice.
Gratitude and stress cannot coexist. I was told, early in sobriety, that I needed to take the time to reflect on the things I am presently grateful for. At first, I considered the exercise to be a cheesy summer camp ritual that had been incorporated into recovery as a method of torturing me. Today, I send a gratitude list to 10 women (including my sponsor) in a chain text every night. Taking time to reflect on the things I am grateful for while reading the gratitude list of the women I love the most, has revolutionized my recovery. My entire perception has shifted, and I couldn’t be more grateful.