The world, we think you would likely agree, is a complex place—and a place that can amp up our stress levels in any number of ways. Often, the stress we experience manifests as anxiety—that feeling of worry that we just can’t seem to shake.
For some, anxiety rises to the level of a mental health disorder, and in those cases, treatment is in order. That treatment might involve medication, talk therapy, or both (many studies suggest that a combination of the two is the best way to support mental health).
In other cases, anxiety is more of an intermittent issue. But even in those cases, the experience of anxiety can be quite disruptive—and a threat to a person’s sobriety. Anxiety is powerfully unpleasant—even debilitating—and in a person’s eagerness to shut the feeling off, they may well be tempted to turn back to drugs or alcohol.
If you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder who experiences anxiety—whether intermittently as a result of the many stressors in life or in the form of a mental health disorder—there are several strategies that can help you weather an anxiety attack without giving up your hard-won sobriety.
Let’s consider a few.
Calming Strategy #1: Boxing Out Anxiety with Box Breathing
In basketball, one player is said to be “boxing out” another when they position themselves so that their opponent cannot effectively compete for a rebound. Basically, you prevent the other player from getting an advantage over you. When it comes to dealing with anxiety, you definitely want to keep those rushing feelings of distress from getting an advantage over you. One strategy for boxing out anxiety is called box breathing.
- Box breathing is an exceptionally simple technique that works by helping to regulate your autonomic nervous system. The process induces a feeling of calm and relaxation, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety while boosting your mood. And again, it could hardly be simpler:
- Take a breath in while counting to four (don’t rush)
- Hold your breath in while counting to four
- Breathe out while counting to four
- Hold your breath out while counting to four
- Complete the cycle a total of four times
That’s it. Even if you are skeptical, the great thing about box breathing is giving it a try takes just a few moments—and when you are done you can decide for yourself if you are feeling better than you were before the exercise.
Calming Strategy #2: Leave Anxiety Down for the Count by Counting Down
Focusing on each of your senses while counting down has plenty of upside for your mental well-being. Like box breathing, the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise is deceptively simple—and quite effective. When anxiety threatens to overwhelm you, this exercise can help you reset and calm down. Here is the process:
- Name five things you can see right now (consider naming them out loud)
- Name four things you can touch in your immediate environment
- Name three things you can hear in this moment
- Name two things you can smell near you
- Name one thing you can taste in the present moment
The specifics of what you name are not terribly important. The exercise is all about refocusing your attention so that your anxious mind has a moment to recapture a sense of calm.
Calming Strategy #3: Keep Mindfulness Practice in Mind
The two exercises we have described above are great options in those moments when anxiety seems likely to derail your day (or your ability to sleep at night). Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a practice that deepens over time and can give you the tools you need to maintain a sense of peace in situations that might have caused anxiety in the past.
The foundational practice when it comes to mindfulness involves sitting quietly and bringing your attention to your breath. In that sense, it is not wholly different from the other techniques we have considered. But again, the benefits of mindfulness come from regular practice. It is less of a rescue technique than box breathing or the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise.
Don’t Be Anxious About Where to Turn for Help
If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, you may well be feeling intense anxiety around the question of where to turn for help. Let us offer an answer: Wooded Glen Recovery Center.
At our Indiana facility in Henryville, we provide personalized, evidence-based care that will help you regain your sobriety while also addressing co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety. And we will provide ongoing support so that you can set out on your recovery journey with confidence. When you are ready to get started on the road back to sobriety, we have the roadmap.