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How to Deal With Stress in Addiction Recovery

There are certain things you can count on as you go through life sober, and one of them is that you will feel stressed from time to time. Sooner or later things happen in life that challenge your feeling of serenity and leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The question isn’t if you will experience stress in sobriety, it’s when. Learning the necessary coping skills to deal with stress is one of the most important tools of recovery.

Whether you are experiencing something minor like a flat tire or something major like losing your job or going through a breakup, what’s really important isn’t so much what’s going on as your reaction to it. You can make minor upsets much worse if you react with panic or anxiety. Major losses can be extremely painful, but they don’t have to be crippling. You just need to know how to deal with stress.

How You’ve Dealt With Stress Until Now

Your pattern until now has been to do whatever you had to do to avoid facing stressful situations. You didn’t want to feel uncomfortable feelings and would do just about anything to avoid them. In the past, if you were faced with a stressful situation, you might have had a drink or two or popped some sort of pill. You have probably been even worse at coping with long-term stress and you numbed your feelings in whatever way you could.

It’s no wonder that now that you are sober, you have absolutely no idea how to deal with stress. If you feel overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, you may experience the urge to pick up a drink or a drug, because it’s the only solution that has worked for you up to now.

The Stress Response

Stress is a normal response to anything that upsets your normal day to day life. The stress response is really a reaction to perceived danger, typically with either fight or flight. In other words, threatening events make you want to either defend yourself or run away.

When you are in real danger, feelings of stress are actually beneficial. Your body’s reaction to stress prepares you to deal with danger by increasing alertness and energy. But you may be experiencing symptoms of stress and anxiety when there is no actual threat or danger in your life.

There are certain signs and symptoms of stress that are easy to notice. Your heart races, you may feel very tense and your palms may become sweaty. You grit your teeth, pace or have difficulty breathing. Your muscles probably feel very tense, and you may develop intense headaches or have trouble concentrating. When stress goes on for a long period of time, you may become depressed or have mood swings.

Learning New Coping Skills

If you’re not able to cope with stress, life becomes a burden to be endured rather than something to be experienced and enjoyed. In early sobriety, feelings of fear or anxiety may be especially overpowering. For you to be able to stay sober long-term, you need to learn new coping skills so that any stressful event won’t trigger a relapse.

Spend some quiet time each day practicing relaxation techniques. With practice, you can learn to focus on your breathing and turn your attention within, away from the stress and chaos that might be surrounding you.

Make an effort to become more active physically. Consider going for a walk or bike ride each day or take a fitness class such as Zumba. You may be surprised how much the practice of physical exercise will help you to deal with stress.

Talk to others about what you are feeling. Whether you confide in your sponsor, family members or friends either inside or outside recovery circles, the important thing is to let someone know that you are feeling stressed and that your sobriety may be in danger.

Learning to cope with stress in your sobriety won’t happen instantly. New situations will constantly present themselves, but as long as you don’t pick up a drink or a drug, you will get better at dealing with stress one day at a time.

Posted on April 13, 2015 and modified on May 19, 2019

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