You’ve felt it.
In fact, you might be feeling it right now. Are your shoulders tight? Stomach upset? Having trouble concentrating? Did you toss and turn last night instead of sleeping?
Any and all of those can be a clear sign of stress, and hardly anyone can completely avoid those feelings of anxiety and tension that characterize it. We have demanding jobs or class loads. Our relationships—romantic, with friends, with coworkers or classmates, or with family members–might be challenging. And don’t get us started on all the day-to-day stressors—missing keys, bills to pay, nothing in the refrigerator for dinner, unending construction on the roads, spam email in our inbox and junk mail in our mailbox…the list is seemingly endless. And as a result, the stress might seem unending.
Stress can be an even bigger problem for someone with a substance abuse disorder. It might even lead to the initial substance abuse or to relapse during recovery. How can we overcome the negative aspects of stress so that our sobriety isn’t under attack?
Acute Stress Isn’t Cute
The American Psychological Association calls the kind of stress we encounter every day “acute stress.” If you are working to reduce addiction-related cravings, this ongoing, often unavoidable stress offers plenty of challenges.
Remember those questions from earlier about the stomach aches, insomnia, and the like? Those sorts of stress responses are good indicators that you are experiencing acute stress. Maybe your jaw is clenched or your shoulders have tightened up. Maybe your blood pressure rises. You might even feel pain in your chest or heart palpitations. Perhaps you simply feel irritable or anxious all of the time.
No matter what your stress responses might be, they may tempt you to look for relief through drug or alcohol use. It is important to find healthier, sustainable ways to handle the stress in our lives.
Episodic Acute Stress Is Never Someone’s Favorite Episode
Episodic acute stress is the amped-up cousin of acute stress. It results from the feeling that life is always in chaos and moving too fast. Migraines, heart disease, pain in the muscles and joints, a weakening of the immune system, and more may indicate that you are battling episodic acute stress. Like the issues listed above, these problems may present particularly challenging moments to someone who is in recovery from a substance abuse disorder.
If It’s Chronic, It Can Kill You
If your problems seem simply too enormous to grapple with or overcome, you may be experiencing chronic stress. This kind of stress arises when it seems as though a terrible situation will never, ever get better. It can be caused by abuse or other traumas, impossible or conflicting demands, poverty, serious illness, grief, violence, and more. Those experiencing chronic stress may fall into a severe depression and may be at significantly increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. As with acute and episodic acute stress, chronic stress can make it difficult to resist the temptation to find relief through the use of drugs or alcohol.
Coping Strategies for Managing Stress and Maintaining Your Recovery
Stress may seem wholly unavoidable, but there are a number of lifestyle choices that can help us manage the impact of stress on our lives:
- Exercising Regularly: No matter what kind of exercise you do, getting yourself into a regular routine is a great stress-reducer. Whether you take up running or yoga or swimming or something else entirely, the activity will help relieve stress.
- Eating Right: A diet centered on whole foods and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can reduce symptoms of stress.
- Sleeping on a Schedule: Sure, stress can make it hard to sleep. But that’s all the more reason to find ways to get the rest you need. A sleep schedule is a great tool for consistently getting a good night’s sleep. You should also stay away from caffeine and all your screens in the hours just before bedtime.
- Get Mindful: Is your brain always buzzing with thoughts about everything you have to do or about negative experiences from your past? Meditation and mindfulness can aid in breaking the thought patterns that lead to stress. The breathing techniques that are often involved can serve as a stress-reliever as well.
- Head to Therapy: A cognitive behavioral therapist can help you overcome old habits which may be limiting your ability to cope with stress. A fresh look at the issues underpinning our stress can help us move forward.
- Trust your support system: Avoid the temptation to withdraw from your family and friends when you are stressing. Lean on those who will support you—especially when your sobriety is at stake.
Just thinking about stress for the time it has taken to read this article might have been stressful! But finding effective ways to reduce the stress in your life is absolutely essential if you are going to defeat the cravings for problematic substances that arise when times are tough. Be kind to yourself and patient with yourself as you search out the people and behaviors that can provide some relief from the stress you are experiencing.
Contacting Us for Help Should Not Be a Source of Stress
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we know all about stress—and all about ways to help you or a loved one cope with it. We will make sure you have the resources to keep your recovery on track even when the stress of daily life comes calling. Don’t feel stressed about asking for help. After all, helping you recover and sustain that recovery is why we are here.