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If there’s one thing that can test the strength of your sobriety, it’s stress. The world is a stressful place, and it’s practically impossible to find a single person on this planet who isn’t worried or anxious from time to time. Unfortunately, stress is one of the biggest factors of alcohol and drug abuse by far. Emotional and mental stress can make it difficult to follow through with routine responsibilities to your family, friends, and employer. Physical stress like pain or an injury may add a deeper element that challenges your commitment to addiction recovery.
When life gets tough, we often feel alone in our experiences and become desperate for fast relief just to keep going. But substance abuse only makes things tougher in the long run, and many people suffering from addiction end up abusing substances more and more just to try and regain some small level of comfort.
Fortunately, life doesn’t have to be this way. With over 20 million people (over 10 percent of adults) suffering from addiction each year in the United States, you’re not alone in your experiences. Furthermore, with the right addiction treatment program, many people can both obtain sobriety and learn healthy coping skills for addiction recovery that can help them through stressful times.
You can’t eliminate stress from your life, but there are ways you can manage it more efficiently. Here are several time-tested techniques you can use to keep stress levels at bay without relying on unhealthy activities for relief.
Succeeding at Addiction Recovery When You’re Stressed
Here’s one quick tip to get you started: controlling your reaction to stressful circumstances can lead to instant relief and is far more effective than trying to find a quick fix for a long-term problem or a situation that is out of your control.
1. Spend Time with Yourself Every Day
Staying in touch with your deeper emotions and thoughts can help you react in a more positive manner when stressful situations arise. Commit to doing one or more of the following for up to an hour every morning or just before bed:
- Journaling – Get a pen and paper or open a blank document on your computer, and simply start writing whatever comes to mind. You can set a timer and challenge yourself to keep writing until your time is up or write two to three pages daily. As you write, you will focus on what’s stressing you out and on your deeper thoughts that often go unacknowledged in daily life. You will start to solve problems and stumble upon powerful realizations if you’re consistent in your journaling.
- Guided Meditation – Research has found that mindful meditation eases psychological stress. Depression and anxiety are symptoms of that type of stress and can easily set in during the addiction recovery process. The easiest way to start meditating is to find a guided meditation soundtrack or download an app or podcast that offers meditation tracks. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus your mind on the track.
- Gratitude Journaling – Write down five or more things that you’re thankful for each day. You can add that into your journaling practice or just do it on your phone when you have a few minutes to spare during your day. Focusing your mind on the blessings in your life will help you maintain a more positive mindset.
2. Use Breathing Techniques
There’s a lot you can do to lower your stress levels in general, and we’ll get to those in just a moment. When your stress levels are spiking at the moment though is when you need the most help, because this is when you are most likely to want to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. Using focused breathing techniques has been shown to help calm you down and bring your stressful thoughts back to a more grounded state. Find somewhere comfortable to sit if possible, and shut your eyes so you don’t have any visual distractions. Take long, deep breathes, focusing on filling your lungs to capacity with air and then slowly releasing it all out. Do this for as long as you need to.
3. Incorporate Exercise and Aerobic Activity into Your Daily Life
While exercise may feel difficult and stressful when you first start, it will eventually become a piece of the sturdy foundation that roots you in healthy addiction recovery. Even milder physical workouts have been shown to be almost instant stress relievers. Incorporating regular exercise into your weekly schedule will also help lower your stress levels over time as well as keep you occupied. This is especially important, as keeping busy with physical tasks (like working out) will leave you with fewer “empty moments” where you may otherwise feel urges to use substances.
Aerobic activity is anything that increases your heart rate, gets you sweating, and requires you to control your breathing and exertion.
Whether you decide to try water aerobics, Zumba, running, fitness walking, or cycling, routine aerobic exercise will help you relax while boosting your mood and allowing you to clear your mind of stressful thoughts. You may even find that your exercise sessions spark flashes of creativity that help you solve problems that have long been sources of stress for you.
4. Get Outdoors
According to the American Institute of Stress, getting outside and into nature has also been shown to help reduce stress levels almost instantaneously. Try looking up local parks or nature walks ahead of time so you have a destination in mind the next time you’re starting to feel overly anxious or frazzled. Likewise, spending time outdoors on a regular basis will help lower your general stress levels in the long run.
5. Avoid Stressful Triggers
Does reading or watching the news get you all stressed out? Do you have an exhausting work schedule or a relationship that may be toxic? Some things that stress you out are easy to avoid, while others may take a firmer stance. Nevertheless, it’s important to take steps in reducing your exposure to these stressful triggers. If a relationship (either personal or professional) may be stressing you out constantly, talking about your issues can sometimes help. If it does not, then it may be time to end the relationship and move forward into less stressful situations.
6. Practice Gratitude
Sobriety is far from the only thing that will help keep your life in recovery stable. It’s all about attitude. Studies have shown that actively focusing on the people, experiences, and objects you are grateful for every day can help you find joy in the little things. With this, stress levels decrease and general contentment wins over. Focusing on things you are thankful for having in life is also a good practice for whenever you do start feeling anxious or stressed out. Some people even make a list of these things and carry it around with them for such occasions.
7. Make Your Sleep Routine a Habit
When you look into the correlation between sleep habits and stress, the following facts stick out:
- Sleeping an extra 60-90 minutes per night would make most Americans healthier and happier.
- Many Americans report feeling more stressed when the length or quality of their sleep decreases.
- Americans report feeling even more stressed if they don’t get enough sleep during stressful times.
- The side effects of sleep deprivation can mimic signs of extreme stress, including irritability, fatigue and lack of motivation
Have you heard of the sleep-stress cycle? It’s a cycle in which stress interferes with sleep, and then inadequate sleep leads to more stress, which makes it even harder to sleep. You can break the cycle and control your stress by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Yes, that includes weekends. Make sure your schedule allows you to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
8. Minimize Overwhelm by Tackling One Goal at a Time
If you’re concerned that stress will sabotage your addiction recovery, it doesn’t make sense to create more stress for yourself. You may have a lot that you want to accomplish as you get your life back on track, but don’t try to do it all at once.
Try writing down all of your goals, and then listing them in order of priority. Put goals that energize and excite you at the top of the list because they will motivate you the most. The more you have to look forward to, the more likely you are to maintain your sobriety.
9. Don’t Bottle Up Your Stress
The worst thing you can do during addiction recovery is pretending that you’re okay when you’re not. When stressful situations arise, reach out to family and friends who are aware of your commitment to sobriety. Just venting to someone who knows about your struggles can help you see the situation in a new light, altering your reaction to the stressful situation quickly.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out
Reaching out to others and talking through the things that are stressing you out can also prove to be quickly relieving. This is one reason why many people in addiction recovery still attend regular support group meetings and keep in touch with their rehab program. Focusing on building a strong support network of family and friends will also give you people you can rely on as an outlet for life’s problems.
You can also reach out to the trained and compassionate professionals at Soba Recovery Center when stress becomes too much to manage on your own. We’re always one call away, so never suffer in silence.
If you’re still trying to reach life in recovery, it’s important to know that you don’t have to face addiction alone. Our team of substance abuse professionals at Soba Recovery is here to help you through detox and addiction treatment safely and avoid falling back into relapse. In our luxury treatment center, you can start building the healthy, productive life you deserve.
Everyday life will still come with stress, but we can help you learn to cope effectively without turning back to drugs. Get in touch with us when you’re ready — change can start today!