Stress is a completely normal and unavoidable part of daily life. Sometimes, in the right situation, stress can even be a good thing. It can help you push through a slump if you’re on a deadline, or spur your “fight or flight” response if you’re in danger. When it’s not being put to good use, however, stress can be extremely disruptive. For those who are struggling with addiction or working toward recovery, it is important to understand what triggers your stress, how it affects you and how to practice stress reduction. Clients practice stress reduction tactics that can be used to manage stress at any time. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used as an effective technique that can help change negative thought patterns that develop as a result of stress, helping the person in treatment find new ways of thinking about stressful events that do not have such a negative effect.
When you are stressed, your body will release hormones and your brain will release chemicals that give you the energy and emotional motivation to react to stressors. When faced with a normal amount of stress, this bodily cycle works to benefit you. When you feel constantly stressed out or overwhelmed or your brain chemistry is being altered because of substance abuse, this function may actually work against you.
Substance abuse will weaken and repress your natural stress response, making you feel relaxed. Withdrawal from substances will have the opposite effect and will end up making you feel completely over-stressed. This pushes many substance abusers back toward drugs to help them feel better again. Stress is one of the major factors in relapse because when you’re working toward recovery, you are more sensitive to stress and even a minor thing can push you over the edge. That is why it is so important to find healthy ways of managing the day to day stressors that come your way.
One of the most critical elements to giving yourself your best chance at recovery is to develop rock solid stress management techniques. We all experience stress in a wide variety of ways and each person reacts to stressful situations differently. Something that you consider stressful may not phase another member of your family or your friends. Knowing what causes you stress can make a huge difference when it comes to your success with sobriety. Being aware of what you react strongly to can help you better prepare for your daily activities that may bring about those types of stressful situations.
There are some common situations that have been known to cause stress:
- Losing a job
- Starting a new job
- Financial problems
- Getting married
- Getting divorced
- Having a baby
- Work issues
- Home life issues
- Large-scale news events
These types of stressors, as well as other forms of stress, can really take a serious toll on your mind and your body. Sometimes we are so used to living with the stress, that we mistake the signs for some form of illness. These situations might also make you feel a strong desire to turn to substance abuse to “take the edge off”.
Some common signs of stress include:
- Muscle tension
- Chest pain
- Stomach problems
- Trouble focusing
- Overeating or undereating
- Social withdrawal
- Racing thoughts
Knowing how to manage your stress can help you better manage your recovery as well as your day to day life. Having good stress management techniques can help you decrease the risk of relapsing back into substance abuse. There are several techniques that you can use to help manage your stress levels and keep yourself on the right track with your recovery:
Identify your stressors. Is there a feeling, behavior, circumstance or root cause of your stress? Make a list of your stress pressure points or things you think may become stressors – this can help you become better prepared for those situations when they do come up.
Be your solution. After identifying your stress points, write down solutions for each scenario. Make a plan for what you would like your desired result to be, and then stick to it when the situations arise.
Breathe. Taking several deep breaths can actually help your brain to relax which will, in turn, cause your body to relax as well. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly for a minute or so and take the time to center yourself.
Meditate. Meditation is all about finding yourself and your inner peace. Try focusing on an image in your head of a place or circumstance that you find soothing, and use that place of calm to help overcome stressful situations.
Exercise. Exercising causes “feel good” messages to travel from your brain to the rest of your body. Being active can also help raise self-image and relieve tension or frustrations.
Write about it. Start a journal and write down thoughts or feelings to help relieve stress. Sometimes dumping all of your feelings and thoughts onto paper and just getting them out of your head will help you to relax and feel unburdened by your worries. You can also use these written thoughts to look at and help organize your feelings and formulate plans to deal with your stress in a productive way.
Phone a friend. You are not expected to make it through life on your own, and your friends and family are there to help and support you. Talk about your feelings, things that stress you out, or just ask for help. Let your friends and family offer insight and guidance or just show that they are there to support you, whatever you need.
Be in the now. Don’t spend long periods of time dwelling on the past, whether it’s pain or experiences or even the feeling of your last high. Paying attention to the present keeps you in the here and now, rather than focusing on past mistakes or how things used to be. Live in the moment and enjoy how far you’ve come and be proud of the work you’ve put in to get here.
Don’t expect perfection. Everyone trips once in a while, and you are not expected to be perfect either. You will only set yourself up for disappointment if you attempt to be completely perfect. Make changes as issues come up to continue trying to reach your best self, but be glad for your mistakes and the opportunity to learn from them.
Know your limits. You, like everyone else, have every right to just say “no” when you need to. Don’t try to overexert yourself by committing to too much or pushing your recovery too hard or too fast. Don’t put yourself in a position that will cause you to stress, such as trying to be everywhere at once, or overextending yourself financially. Just be realistic and know what you can and can’t handle for now.
What is Stress Reduction?
Stress reduction is the process of taking steps to eliminate stress in a positive way from your life and remove the feeling that you have to rely on substances to reduce stress. Making healthy lifestyle changes to maintain your sobriety and gaining insight into what makes you feel like falling back into your addiction. For anyone in recovery who is looking for a fresh start, it is essential to learn how to relax and mitigate stress because even the smallest of things can set your mind to turning. Here are a few things you try to help you relax and reduce the stress in your life:
- Relinquish control. There will always be things you cannot change. When you accept this as true, you will be able to relax more easily, because you will know that there is nothing you can do to control the situation. When faced with a situation ask yourself this: Can I change what is happening? If the answer is no, let it go. If the answer is yes, take the necessary steps to make the change.
- You have the power. Even if you cannot control the situation, you always have the ability to control the way you react to it. Try facing situations with calm and clarity rather than anger or anxiety.
- Get healthy. Make sure you are eating well, exercising daily and getting restful sleep. Having a routine will help your body begin to naturally expect these things, and as an added bonus will help you feel more in control of your stress levels.
- Hang with friends. Aside from spending time with those that support your addiction or cause you to fall back into addictive patterns, spending time with your friends and family will help you decompress and manage or reduce stress naturally.
- Figure out what works for you. Everyone is different, so what makes you feel Zen won’t be the same as the next person’s method. Find what works for you and makes you feel calm and in control. It might be walking, reading, going for a run, painting, music, writing, yoga…whatever it is, make time to enjoy it and keep yourself centered on your recovery.