Managing Stress Without Turning to Substances

one of the most challenging hurdles for an alcoholic/addict in early recovery is overcoming the curse of walking through life with a distorted perception.

One of the most challenging hurdles for an alcoholic/addict, in early recovery, is overcoming the curse of walking through life with a distorted perception. Stress is the perception that more is being demanded, of an individual, than he/she can manage. Stress can be rooted in many areas such as work, finances, family conflict, interpersonal relationships, health, legal consequences, and school. For most of our lives, in active addiction, we have always viewed the glass half empty. Most of us have been insatiable, searching for relief from stress in any mind-altering substance.

Stress is a common trigger for relapse. Studies have shown that most substance abuse disorders begin as a coping skill for managing physical/emotional stress. When we first get sober, we must be willing to put on a new pair of glasses, taking on an entirely new perspective, and applying healthy coping skills to help us navigate through stress. Here are five healthy ways to mitigate stress.

Awareness and Acceptance

When I'm confronted with stress, I like to write down all of the things causing me stressBefore solving any problem, identifying the problem is critical. Much like our addiction, we first had to admit we had a problem. When I was introduced to sobriety, Step One was a relief. There was a sense of hope that followed identifying the problem because then I was able to find the solution. Without awareness, we are hopeless. What is the source of stress? I am an avid list-maker. When I’m confronted with stress, I like to write down all of the things causing me stress and what I can personally do to take action and combat the stress.

If there is nothing I can do to change the source of stress, then I write down how I can cope with the pressure. More often than not, acceptance is my solution. Accepting that some things are entirely out of my control cultivates an inner peace. In recovery, I can conclude that I am not in control of anyone other than myself. The role of an omniscient Director is high above my pay grade. We do not have to have all of the answers, but we can learn to practice acceptance and take action towards eliminating stress.


Whenever I'm struggling with feelings of stress, fear and practicing acceptanceMeditation is my go-to coping skill. Whenever I’m struggling with feelings of stress, fear, and practicing acceptance, I always take time to meditate. Countless studies have been done proving that meditation is beneficial to one’s overall quality of life, both physically and mentally. It’s so easy to get caught up in the painful memories of the past and obsess over the anxieties of the future. How quickly I let chaos overwhelm my life rather than shifting my energy into a peaceful solution. It seems so simple, yet my unhealthy habits and thinking say otherwise. Mindfulness meditation has been an ever-evolving tool that I utilize when I find myself drowning in seemingly unwarranted stressful emotions.

Meditation requires us to surrender and accept what was, what is, and what’s to come. The goal of mindfulness is enlightenment which refers to awareness, attention and remembering. The individual should become aware of what goal/object they wish to achieve, focus on that idea, and ultimately remember and manifest the concept. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions. Recovery requires awareness, balance, and control, which can be cultivated through many meditative practices. Chaos and meditation cannot coexist. Meditation cultivates awareness and disrupts unmanageability.

Ask For Help

We have to let go of the opinion that we can do everything aloneAlmost all recovering addicts struggle with the idea of asking for help. We have to let go of the opinion that we can do everything alone. Before I got sober, asking for help was a sign of weakness or failure. Those who navigate through stress typically have a strong support system. My sober support has carried me when I couldn’t carry myself. One of the fundamental roots in recovery is fellowship. Isolation can be disastrous for anyone struggling with addiction. It’s so easy to get caught up in stress and without talking about it can be fatal. I’m instantly reminded of therapy. Less than desirable, but so liberating. It’s always favorable for an addict to speak to someone who understands exactly what the individual is going through.  It’s never easy to confess when we are struggling, but sometimes speaking out loud helps to sort out the chaos in our head.

Move Your Feet

It’s not uncommon for an addict to feel overwhelmed by stress, cravings, and becoming complacent in isolation. Remember, thoughts are fleeting. We can become enslaved to our thinking or do something as simple as moving our feet. Studies show an overwhelming amount of evidence that physical activity can dramatically relinquish stress. When I find myself struggling to get out of my own way, I will force myself into some physical activity – however mundane it may be. From cleaning the house, going for a walk, putting on makeup (with no plans to leave the house) can work wonders. Sometimes the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it” serves the desired outcome. As addicts, we have the innate habit of obsessing and indulging in over almost everything. The purpose is to distract the brain and encourage a new thought to sweep in and replace stress.

Be of Service

When I am selflessly helping others, it's incredible how quickly my problem seemingly disappearAccording to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” In other words: when all else fails, help another alcoholic. When I am selflessly helping others, it’s incredible how quickly my problems seemingly disappear. There is a magical change of perception that occurs when we lend a hand to help someone in need. It’s so easy for us to get unraveled within our own self-induced despair and stress. The goal is to get outside of ourselves by humbly helping our fellows. When I am not acting in service of others, I am sure to go back to living selfishly and ultimately falling back into my old self-destructive behaviors.

Learning to cope with stress is no overnight matter. Practical application, of these coping skills, is the best way to manage stress without resorting back to drugs or alcohol. Recovery is an all-encompassing lifestyle change: mind, body, and soul. Developing new and healthy coping skills replace detrimental habits and help shift old thinking and behaviors. Stress may still arise, but if we continue to relish in the things that feed our soul, the frequency and intensity of stress can decrease dramatically. It is pivotal for us to plug into our local sober support and maintain fellowship with other addicts as well. In order to achieve long-term sobriety, it is essential that we completely abandon ourselves to an entirely new way of thinking and living.

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