Stress and anxiety in any form are two big triggers for relapse among people living a sober life after active addiction. Though the sources of that stress may vary, it is important to learn how to manage those issues in sobriety in order to increase balance and decrease instability in long-term recovery. Through changes large and small, it is possible to lower overall levels of stress and learn how to manage acute stress with ease. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Prioritize self-care.
For many people, this tip alone is all that is necessary to lower stress and get anxiety under control. Make a concerted effort to prioritize daily lifestyle choices that promote health and wellness at every level, and then regularly check in with yourself throughout the day to identify anything that needs attention.
Additionally, throughout the day it is a good idea to check in with yourself, and do a physical and emotional inventory of how you are feeling. Are you hungry? Do you have pain? Are you tired? Are you feeling out of sorts? Track down the source of your discomfort or whatever is throwing you off and address it. Eat. Take a nap. Take some ibuprofen – whatever you have to do to get back on track, calm, and relaxed.
Some positive lifestyle changes that can help to lower stress include:
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly (a minimum of five days per week for at least 30 minutes)
- Eating healthfully (heavy on the vegetables, light on the saturated fats and sweets)
- Sleeping enough each night
- Cutting back on caffeine and sugar
- Meditating or choosing another “slow down” activity every day
- Getting regular checkups at the doctor and dentist
2. Practice self-acceptance.
Practicing acceptance does not mean accepting the status quo if it is harmful or in any way holding you back. Rather, it means choosing not to be judgmental of others or yourself, accepting who you are, accepting the choices of others, and making an effort to put your energy toward being grateful for what you have and changing the things that are physically or psychologically causing you harm.
This means that, for example, when you are in conversation with someone, rather than focusing on their appearance, trying to decipher their motive, or guess what they think of you, you simply listen to what they have to say. Or it can mean that, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you do not seek out perceived flaws or focus on things you wish were different but instead practice acceptance. You have agency, you are authentically you, and you have purpose. Your only job is to stay sober, find your purpose, and make a positive impact on yourself and those around you.
3. Focus on the positive.
When you make a concerted effort to focus your thoughts and attention on the positive parts of your life – the good relationships rather than the bad, the happy moments rather than sad or stressful moments, the here and now rather than worrying about the past or the future – you can improve your quality of life and lower your stress.
Not good at focusing on the good stuff? You are not alone. Many work actively to increase their positive focus by taking part in breath-focused activities like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.
4. Have a plan.
Someone cuts you off in traffic. You accidentally spill hot coffee on yourself. An unexpected bill arrives in the mail, or you lose a loved one. Stress comes in all forms and whether large or small, it can have a significant impact on your ability to remain focused on your recovery.
Though you cannot control the choices of others or what will happen, you can control whether or not you are already in a high state of stress and how you respond. By making a plan in advance, you can ensure that you have an actionable response in your back pocket at all times.
To do this, you can:
- Think about the things that cause you stress and write down those triggers.
- Create an individual plan to address each one. For example, if you struggle with high stress when in a certain place or when dealing with a specific person, work on minimizing your contact with that situation. Also, devise a Plan B to keep your interaction to a minimum should it be unavoidable.
- Work with a professional therapist to come up with strategies.
- After using a plan, assess and determine whether or not it was useful and make changes as needed.
Remember: If your stress level is low, you are more likely to be able to implement the plan you create and make it work for you.
5. Talk to a Professional.
When you are working on lowering your overall stress levels and learning new coping mechanisms as well as establishing yourself in recovery, it is important to work with a substance abuse treatment professional who has the experience and expertise to assist you. A therapist can not only help you to work on and heal from early life trauma and the trauma of addiction, but can also assist you in bettering your life and improving your emotional health.
Working with a professional also provides you with a cornerstone to your recovery, a person who can help you make positive choices for your life and identify potential triggers for relapse on the horizon. That help can be invaluable in early recovery.