Dealing with anxiety can be challenging, especially if you’re in recovery.
I recall those moments in early sobriety where I felt paralyzed by it: stiff shoulders and headaches, feeling anxious about being around so many new people, and dreading holding hands with others at the end of meetings because my palms were so clammy. It felt like no one understood what I was going through, and that it would never end.
This type of anxiety is more common than you might think. Characterized by persistent worry, sweating, restlessness, trouble concentrating, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, headaches, tension, and feeling edgy. Nearly a quarter of those visiting a doctor may have generalized anxiety disorder. And it is even more common for those in recovery.
There are a number of risk factors for general anxiety disorder, such as being female, stressful life events, or being divorced. It is also thought that genetics and brain chemistry may both play a part. Being a female in a life-changing situation — substance use disorder recovery – I certainly met the criteria. Everything about recovery was new: I had no idea how to navigate this new life without alcohol and drugs. Much of the past decade was a blur. Being newly sober felt like being in a completely different culture and I didn’t speak the language.
Recovery is about learning how to live life not just without the use of drugs and alcohol, but also how to deal with the range emotions and feelings we’ve been suppressing for years. It also teaches us how to navigate challenging times. The same is true of anxiety: we have to learn how to live with feeling anxious without trying to avoid it.
Over the last six and a half years in recovery I’ve found the following strategies to be helpful in coping with anxiety without drugs or alcohol:
1. Know that the only way out is through.
Our feelings and emotions are our bodies way of telling us something. Observe those feelings, ask yourself what you’re fearful of, see if there is a way to overcome those fears.
2. Write it down.
I find that writing about my state of mind is a great way to order my thoughts. I also use writing to plan my day. Having a plan calms my anxiety.
Meditation calms my mind, soothes my senses, and grounds me.
A great way to deal with anxiety is by using the breath to connect with your body. We often forget to breathe, or breathe shallowly, when we’re anxious. Yoga is perfect to recalibrate our bodies and give it the oxygen it needs.
Speaking to a therapist has been invaluable in my recovery. I am able to talk through my fears, order my thoughts, sieve through what’d troubling me, and formulate a plan of action. I think of it as physical therapy for the mind!
6. Speak to your doctor.
Together you can formulate an action plan. That could mean medication, or regularly checking in with your doctor to ensure you’re adequately looking after your mental health.
Moving is crucial to processing stress hormones that the body produces in response to anxiety. The benefits include a boost in feel good chemicals, and a prolonged state of relaxation — the perfect solution for anxiety!
Essential oils, such as lavender, have been shown to interrupt the body’s stress response, alleviate anxiety, reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and promote relaxation. Try diffusing lavender or adding a couple of drops to your hands and then placing them in front of your nose and breathe deeply for 30 seconds.
9. Herbal tea.
Tulsi, otherwise known as Holy Basil, is known for its calming properties on the nervous system. You can either take a herbal supplement or sip the tea when you’re feeling anxious.
10. Spend time with animals.
However, you choose to deal with your anxiety, know that you’re not alone in dealing with it. Continued practice of these simple self-care strategies will improve symptoms to make life more manageable.
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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including The Fix, Recovery.org, Ravishly, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE.