Stress—that feeling of tension, anxiety, and more—is problematic for most everyone. Our jobs or schoolwork are demanding. Our families are demanding. And our days are filled with small annoyances—traffic, construction, bills, errands, lost keys, email, expired milk—that can add up to significant amounts of stress.
Stress and Substance Use Disorder
For those struggling with substance abuse, stress can be even more problematic. Stress can be a contributing factor to the initial substance abuse, and it can lead to relapse during the recovery period. It is imperative that those seeking to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol also focus on overcoming the negative aspects of stress.
There’s Nothing Cute About Acute Stress
When we talk about stress, we’re often talking about what the American Psychological Association calls acute stress. This type of stress is caused by the seemingly infinite number of issues that impact our lives, however briefly, on a day-to-day basis. For someone trying to overcome addiction cravings, this type of stress offers ongoing, varied challenges.
Acute stress may manifest in several different ways, some of which you may recognize as your own stress responses. Maybe stress causes stomach and digestive issues for you. Perhaps you feel your back and shoulders tightening up or your jaw clench or your head start to ache. You might get dizzy, experience an increase in blood pressure, or even experience chest pain or heart palpitations. On the emotional side, you might feel irritable, depressed, or anxious. Any or all of those symptoms may tempt someone to seek relief through drugs or alcohol.
Episodic Acute Stress Isn’t Like an Episode of Your Favorite Show
Does it seem like your life is always chaotic? Nothing is organized, everything is rushed, and the pressure is relentless? Episodic acute stress is an amplified version of acute stress, and it can lead to a long list of negative outcomes including migraine headaches, a weakened immune system, heart disease and hypertension, muscle and joint pain, an inability to simply relax or to get restful sleep, and a seemingly endless cycle of worries and fears. These issues, like those listed above, may offer particularly difficult challenges for a person working through addiction issues.
Chronic Stress Can Be a Killer—Literally
Chronic stress is stress caused by problems that seem too big to overcome, including trauma or abuse, impossible demands, war, poverty, illness, grief, and more. When experiencing chronic stress, a person may come to believe that a terrible situation will simply never improve. This horrible feeling may well contribute to dire results including an increased risk of severe depression, an increased propensity for violent outbursts, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer.
And, of course, chronic stress doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Ongoing struggles with acute stress only make things worse.
How to Cope with Stress and Keep Your Recovery on Track
Just thinking about the different kinds of stress in our lives can be stressful, but dealing with stress effectively and consistently is possible. Here are some things that have been shown to help:
- Exercise: Exercise is a well-known stress reducer—and that exercise can take a number of forms from running to yoga. Find an exercise you enjoy and stick with it.
- Healthy eating: A diet featuring whole foods and supplying significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help alleviate physical symptoms associated with stress.
- Sleep: While ongoing stress can make it difficult to rest, sleep is a key part of any stress management approach. Getting the sleep you need at night makes it more likely you will effectively cope with stress during the day. A sleep schedule can help, as can reducing caffeine intake during the day and screen time immediately before bed.
- Meditation/mindfulness: Sleep isn’t the only stress reducing activity you do with your eyes closed. Meditation and mindfulness help us reset our attention and break out of the thought cycles that contribute to stress. Often these practices involve breathing techniques that can help calm the nerves.
- Therapy: Sometimes we need help to move past old habits that are holding back our ability to cope with stress. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help sort through the issues underlying the stress we feel and help identify effective ways to handle those issues going forward.
- Turning to your support system: While it may be tempting to withdraw during times of stress, it’s important—especially while working to maintain sobriety—to lean on those who can support you when you struggle.
Relief Is Possible
Given the prevalence of stress in our lives, it would be completely understandable if reading that list was, in and of itself, a source of stress. But if we’re patient with ourselves and willing to prioritize the things that may reduce our overall stress level, relief is possible. And if you’re struggling to overcome cravings for drugs or alcohol, that relief isn’t just possible—it’s imperative. Being kind to oneself is a great first step to incorporating the behaviors that reduce your overall stress level.
Don’t Stress About Contacting Us for Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery’s drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, we’re prepared to help you or a loved one cope with the stress that can stand in the way of your recovery. Sometimes admitting that help is needed can be the most stressful issue of all—but it shouldn’t be that way. Take a deep breath, then reach out to us. We’ll minimize the stress while providing the tools that can make sobriety sustainable no matter what stressors pop up in your life.