Stress is something everyone struggles with, but people in recovery need to be particularly aware of how stress impacts them. For instance, it can be a major trigger for a drug or alcohol relapse. Having ways of dealing with stress in sobriety before it gets out of hand is critical to the recovery process.

How Rehab Helps with Stress Management

One of the major reasons that recovering addicts benefit from a long-term recovery program, whether inpatient or outpatient, is that programming is designed to help them identify and overcome triggers, such as stress. Individual therapy provides a space to talk through unique stressors the client faces. Group therapy is a space where recovering addicts may hear stories of relatable stressors that others face and how they deal with them. Once you accept that stress is inevitable and hiding from it is futile, you can start working on facing stress in a productive and effective way. Work with your therapists, group facilitators, and peers on developing the tools and skills for relapse prevention.

10 Tips for Stress Management in Recovery

  1. Deep Breaths – Your sympathetic nervous system is that “fight or flight” response that kicks in when a perceived threat is recognized. One of the things that happen as a result of this response is your breathing rate picks up. While this primal response may have been beneficial when our ancestors were being chased by saber-toothed tigers, it is rarely helpful in dealing with modern-day stressors like losing your job. Learn to respond to this physiological response by taking long, deep breaths that signal to your brain that everything is okay and allows you to deal with your current situation in a level-headed manner. 
  2. Practice Gratitude – Bruce Lipton, a pre-med professor and leader in biology, scientifically explains how our thoughts and beliefs affect our physical existence and well-being. So don’t focus on the negativity in your life, rather the things you have to be grateful for. When you focus on the beauty in your life, you start to notice how much beauty there is. Great a gratitude journal and write down at least one this every day that you are grateful for. Or simply look in the mirror each morning and recite to yourself what you are grateful for.
  3. Embrace Nature – Nature can be surprisingly grounding and therapeutic. Go for a hike, do some gardening, take a walk through a park, or spend time by lakes, rivers, and oceans. Observe what is around you and breathe in the fresh air. Studies show that exposure to the color can significantly lower heart rate; lower perceived exertion, lower mood disturbance. Essentially, going outside can enhance positive emotions (as well as cognition) and lessen negative emotions.
  4. Prioritize Sleep – Sleep deprivation can quickly begin to impact brain function such as balance, decision-making skills, and mood regulation. Dealing with stress while sleep-deprived would become that much more difficult, especially for someone in sobriety. Try turning off the television, practice counting sheep, or talk with your doctor about natural sleep aids like melatonin. Get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night to ensure your body is well-rested. If you don’t sleep well one night, plan to go to sleep a little earlier the next night, or take a 20-minute nap.
  5. Identify a Confidant – Whether it be a therapist, friend, family member, or coworker, having someone to talk it out with can dramatically improve stress levels. Don’t hold in your emotions and think that things will magically get better. Talking through your thoughts can help you work through them, even if the other person is literally just listening.
  6. Establish Goals – Life and sobriety can be stressful when it feels like you have a million things to do and nothing is getting done. A great way to manage this is to set clear, concise, and attainable goals. Set short-term and long-term goals, and create an action plan for reaching those goals. You will love how it feels when you start checking things off your list.
  7. Serenity Prayer – This prayer used in Alcoholics Anonymous is good to keep in mind whether or not you are working the 12 step program. Accept that certain things are out of your control and focus on what you can control. Trying to change things out of your control is a recipe for stress. 
  8. Celebrate the Good – Earlier we brushed over the benefits of positive thoughts. Why not celebrate the good and make a big deal about positive things in your life. You don’t have to wait until your birthday or a wedding to throw a celebration. Go out to dinner with your family when you hit a sobriety milestone or land a new job. Maybe it’s even something smaller like building a new dresser. All of the smiling and laughter of a celebration can produce feel-good hormones like dopamine, and mitigate feelings of stress or anxiety.
  9. Stay Active – Physical activity triggers the production of endorphins, a naturally occurring chemical that creates feelings of pleasure and pain relief. Endorphins can help eliminate tension caused by stress, in addition to improving your overall well-being. So, get a gym membership, go for a run, or take a virtual yoga class right from your living room.
  10. Practice Self Care – Getting sleep and eating well is not self-care, that is simply providing yourself with basic human needs. Self-care is going to the salon or barber, enjoying a night out at your favorite restaurant, or taking an hour-long bubble bath with a good book in hand. Schedule out time in your schedule to treat yourself to a little stress-relieving self care.

Stress Awareness Month

April has been nationally recognized as stress awareness month since 1992. In a time of an international pandemic, managing stress is more difficult than ever. We know that those who are working to achieve or maintain sobriety are more susceptible to a relapse due to the added stress they are facing. We hope that these tips help you and your family during this trying time.