Addiction recovery calls for a great deal of emotional, mental, and physical energy. The last thing you need is stress sitting on your shoulder, zapping away whatever energy you have left.
The Connection Between Addiction Recovery and Stress
Stress can have extremely negative consequences for your health. Stress is the body’s natural response to any kind of change or dangerous situation, whether rational or not. When our bodies are in fight or flight mode, the heart rate increases, our muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises (WebMD). This physical response is meant to be only for acute (non-chronic) situations, but that is often how people find themselves unintentionally going about life—which is not how our bodies were intended to work.
As a result, stress is a significant risk factor in the development of many harmful illnesses and conditions—including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, autoimmune disorders, and even the common cold (Psychology Today). It is not a coincidence that chronic substance and alcohol abuse have a similar list of increased risk factors.
Additionally, stress can become a dangerous breeding ground for triggering situations that could lead to falling back into old, unhealthy coping mechanisms and eventually relapsing back into addiction. Stress also often sparks other factors (like loneliness, anger, fatigue, “all or nothing thinking,” failure, and despair) that can increase the likelihood of relapse.
If you are in addiction recovery right now, you cannot change the decisions you made in your past. However, you are still in control of your present and future. Protect your sobriety by taking action and developing some healing habits to deal with your stress.
Symptoms of Stress
The first step in combating stress is to identify its presence in your life. This might sound elemental but, unfortunately, stress can become so consistent and far-reaching that we take it for granted as an unchangeable aspect of our day. So, look over these symptoms and take notice if anything sounds familiar.
- Weakened immune system
- Tense posture, grinding of teeth, clenched jaw, muscle spasms, and knots
- Shallow breathing, hyperventilating
- Racing pulse and heart rate
- Restlessness, fatigue, and insomnia
- Headaches and migraines
- Acne and imbalance of hormones
- Cravings for unhealthy foods
- Nausea, queasiness
- Mood swings
- Inability to focus
- Increased anxiety and/or depression
- Low self-esteem
- High self-criticism
- Low sex drive
Sources of Stress
The second step to combating stress is trying to identify what is causing it. There is not always an easy answer, but reflecting on potential sources can be helpful in learning how to prevent or resolve it. Since stress is a natural, fight or flight response, sometimes stress can be helpful in getting our mind’s attention and alerting us to something that we have been ignoring in ourselves.
- Work Stress: Whether you are a student, an employee, a boss, a parent, or a combination of these things, stressful demands will be placed upon you and you have to choose how to respond. Sometimes this can be in response to a challenge or failure in the workplace, packed schedules, deadlines, or a new boss.
- Social Stress: This could look like being caught between two friends in a fight, a break-up, meeting new people.
- Unidentifiable or Unexplained Stress: Sometimes there isn’t any specific identifiable cause of your stress. This kind of stress likely would fall under the umbrella of generalized anxiety, which is a type of mental illness.
Tips for Combating Stress
Ultimately, stress, in general, is inevitable—when it is in moderation and is dealt with in a productive way, then it can even be beneficial! In those kinds of scenarios, it can be a motivator, a sign that you care, or a wake-up call.
The way that you respond to stress is the key to how stress will either help or hurt you. Check out the following suggestions for ways to cope with your stress that are healthy and helpful.
- Deep breathing and meditation
- Exercise, especially cardio and yoga
- Regular sleeping habits
- Self-expression and processing
- Healthy, well-balanced nutrition
- Time-management skills
- Setting boundaries between yourself and others
- Practicing regular self-love and self-care
Reshaping Your Mindset
Especially in contemporary Western societies, even unhealthy levels of stress are often normalized or even idolized as signs of success. But it does not have to be that way. Try to reshape your mindset to prioritize your health, general well-being, and personal values over what society imposes upon us to be important.