How can you handle stressful times in addiction recovery without picking up a drink or a drug?
One of the challenges of addiction recovery is finding new ways to cope when life gets hard. Even the very process of recovery is stressful in itself; you have to learn new ways of being, new strategies for dealing with life’s ups and down. You must come face to face with the consequences of your previous actions, and deal with your feelings, rather than numbing them.
All these things, and more, can be hugely challenging, and can lead you to feel at times completely overwhelmed. Getting sober is just the start of the journey, you need to find ways to develop the resilience you need to stay sober in challenging situations.
Fortunately, there are many tried and tested strategies you can turn to. If you are following a recovery program, you may find that this gives you all the tools you need to navigate your way through life’s storms. However, if you are reading this article, you may find you need more tools to cope with stress in hard times.
Here are 10 tips to help you manage stress both in life's toughest moments, and to develop greater resilience to protect you long-term.
1. Focus on your breath.
Taking deep breaths in a difficult moment can help you to calm yourself down, and step out of the stress of the moment. Deep breathing reduces the "flight or fight" response and brings the nervous system to a place of calm. A few deep breaths before responding to a difficult situation can transform your response. A daily practice of sitting with the breath for a few minutes can transform the way to manage stress.
2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
A daily gratitude practice has been proven to help to reduce stress and increase wellbeing. It is virtually impossible to feel stressed and upset while feeling grateful. If you can take those breaths mentioned above, try to take a moment to focus on something or someone you are deeply grateful for, and see how your response changes.
3. Connect to nature.
Spending time in or near nature is a powerful way to bring the mind and body to balance. Walking in a park, tending to a garden, being close to water, or hiking in the hills all have a grounding and healing impact on wellbeing, and will leave you feeling at ease.
4. Getting enough sleep.
Sleep is absolutely vital for mental and physical wellbeing. If you don’t get enough sleep, life feels much harder to deal with, which can create a vicious stress/insomnia cycle. This can be especially difficult in early recovery. Try to create a relaxing evening routine, reduce your caffeine intake later in the day, and step away from the screen before bedtime to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
5. Talk it out.
Problems kept to yourself can grow into insurmountable disasters. Talking to someone about your worries can help beyond measure, allowing you to put things into perspective, figure out solutions and know that you are not alone. Whether at a meeting, over coffee with your close friends, in therapy, or with family, the benefits of sharing your worries with a caring confidante are immeasurable.
6. Prioritize your goals.
Are you trying to do everything all at once? It can be tempting to think, now that you are sober, that you want to make up for lost time, and try to do all the things you feel you missed out on in active addiction. Be careful not to overburden yourself with projects, remember that your recovery and wellbeing is the most important project. Be realistic about what you can actually achieve while also prioritizing recovery.
7. Let go of what you can't control.
One of the ways we can create unnecessary stress in our lives is by clinging on to how things used to be, or to the ideas we had for how they were meant to be. Recovery needs us to let go of things that no longer work in our lives, but beyond that, developing the ability to let go of control of external events. Realizing your own behavior is the only thing you can take control of is hugely beneficial in managing stress. You can never control what is happening on the outside, but you CAN control how you deal with it, and make choices that help you move forward.
8. Reflect on (and celebrate!) your progress.
It can be easy, but demoralizing, to look at the path ahead and see how far you need to go in life. We don’t even know what is on that path towards the future, but you can always look back and see how far you have come. If you are feeling demoralized and anxious in recovery, look at how much progress you have made and how much you have grown. This always helps to put life’s difficulties into perspective, and shows you just how much you can win at life!
Exercise is a powerful stress buster and mood booster. Make sure that you move your body in a way that feels good to you; for me that is Yoga and walking, for you it might be something else. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, and can help to give your mind a break from worrying about problems you may be facing. Exercise also helps you to sleep better which in turn helps with stress management.
10. Make time for self-care.
All of the above are ways to make sure that you take care of yourself, but there are a lot of other ways that you can ensure that you are practicing self care. This might mean taking the meds you need, getting in the shower every day, resting when you need to, ensuring you eat well, saying no when you need to, taking time for yourself to have a long soak in the bath, making time for meditation, prayer, reading, time with pets… the list can be endless. Whatever you need to do to make sure that you feel well, grounded and safe, do that, that is self care. If you are taking care of yourself, then the stresses life throws at you will be easier to manage.
What are your go to practices for stress management? Do you have any great tips to share?
Stressed in recovery? Workit Health can help.
Esther Nagle is an author, blogger and stress management coach for women in recovery. You can find her work at Balance and Breathe. Esther beat her own 20 year long battle with addiction and stress in 2014 when yoga teacher training guided her to a place of resilience and coping strategies that she had not experienced before. A single mother of 3 amazing boys, Esther loves to read, write, dance and walk when she is not working.