Stress is a part of daily life for most people. Each day, you likely spend some time worrying, being anxious, or struggling with how to accomplish everything on your to-do list. For anyone in addiction recovery, stress can be more intense and harder to overcome. Instead of spending each day battling stress, build strategies into your day that help to minimize it. This can be an empowering component to creating a strong and healthy future for yourself.
Why Stress Can Derail Your Addiction Recovery
For an individual who may have poor coping skills and an increased likelihood to self-medicate and respond impulsively, stress presents a threat to recovery. In situations of persistent distress or intensely stressful events, such as the death of a loved one or relationship problems, there is a higher likelihood that those with an addiction will turn to substances as a way to manage their feelings. The more intense the stress is, the more likely that the response will be unpredictable and uncontrollable, according to some studies.
How a Person Without an Addiction Handles Stress
A good way to see the difference in your potential response to stress with an addiction is to see what happens when a person without an addiction encounters a challenging situation. When a stressful event occurs, the body responds by releasing hormones. Those hormones arm the body with the ability to fight or flee from the event. In the brain, chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released. These help to prepare the body for the reaction it needs to take to get you out of harm’s way.
There’s also an emotional response to stress due to those neurotransmitters. They help to increase communication between brain cells, which can create an emotional reaction, such as crying over the death of a pet or becoming aggressive enough to manage to fight.
Stress in a Person with Addiction Is Different
By comparison, a person with a substance use disorder has a different response. First, the brain’s chemistry is no longer the same. As a result, the neurotransmitters work in a different manner, often not communicating the right emotional response to the event. These changes are due to the use of chemicals found in alcohol and drugs. Over time, this chemical impact causes the natural stress response not to work properly.
In many cases, people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to reduce stress. A drink after work seems harmless to many, but can be the beginning of a change in the way the body recognizes and copes with stress. When stress occurs, the brain tells you to use those drugs or alcohol again to gain that feel-good experience you had when you were using.
Stress in Recovery Is Even More Unique
Once you enter recovery, your body’s chemical dependency on drugs or alcohol is controlled. The withdrawal impact and symptoms are less. However, when you encounter a situation you can’t easily cope with, you may still be tempted to reach out to the drugs that helped you feel better. This is where relapse can be a concern.
A component of your recovery will be learning how to right this situation. You’ll learn that treating your stress with drugs or alcohol leads to a negative outcome even if it seems like the best choice right in that moment. It’s important to recognize that you may always be more prone to stress and poor management of it.
How Can You Minimize Stress, Then?
Ultimately, it’s best to find ways to reduce stress so you don’t fall down that path. Stress is a part of daily life, but these tips can help you to reduce the impact it has on your recovery.
- Meditate. Meditation is an opportunity to allow your brain to rid itself of the pain and intrusive thoughts that may be encouraging you to reach towards drugs and alcohol.
- Exercise. Exercise is a proven way to help reduce stress hormones in the body. As a result, you’ll feel stronger and more capable of handling what the day throws at you. It also helps make you confident and encourages healthy sleep.
- Use talk therapy. Open up to friends and family or with your counselor about what’s happening. Simply discussing what’s happening can help you work through it.
- Find a way to laugh. No matter what it is that makes you happy, find a way to engage in that often. Laughing is enjoyable, but it also helps boost your immune system’s response to stress hormones.
- Try yoga or Pilates. Both methods are good for your body, but they also help to boost your confidence and reduce day-to-day stress.
- Connect with your sponsor. When you experience intensely stressful situations, recognize your specific need for additional support. For those in recovery, this simple step of saying, “This is a bad situation. I need to reach out to my sponsor,” can be empowering. Taking that step may help you to avoid the worst type of outcome.