Stress Management in Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

The Importance of Stress Management in Recovery

Table of Contents

Signs That Stress May Be a Problem in Recovery

We look at the importance of stress management in recovery to help you stay sober for life. Many people initially turn to drugs and alcohol in order to manage underlying emotional problems. Treating low moods or undiagnosed mental health conditions with drugs and alcohol is often referred to as self-medication. Self-medication can lead individuals to quickly become dependent upon substances for their peace of mind. The result for most is addiction, which can have even more disastrous consequences for a person’s mental health. Addiction and self-medication is a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape from without the help of a quality addiction treatment program.

In the initial days of addiction treatment, abstaining from drugs and alcohol can present painful withdrawal symptoms, but even beyond that, many people feel helpless without their usual self-medication tools. When people get sober, they are left to face their demons and emotional problems without the ability to numb the pain. In order to achieve long term recovery, it is absolutely essential to develop new skills and coping strategies to handle stress and other emotional disturbances. This is why most treatment centers emphasize that recovery is about far more than abstinence.

Signs That Stress May Be a Problem

Stress is one of the primary reasons people relapse after recovering from a substance use disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms and effects of stress in recovery include:

  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches, neck or back pain, and muscle tension
  • Sleep problems, ranging from insomnia to oversleeping
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Short temper
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and illnesses
  • Rapid heart rate and chest pains

Methods of Managing Stress in Sobriety

Dealing with stress involves a combination of removing obvious triggers and engaging in a healthy lifestyle that will help you to be more resilient. Following a stress management plan will not only reduce the chances of relapse, it will make your life better overall. Keep in kind that ultimately, by abstaining from alcohol and other mind-altering substances, you are already removing stress factors from your life, as addictive substances are a major source of stress, anxiety and depression. Other tips for dealing with unwanted stress are listed below.

Exercise Regularly

Studies have shown that regular exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, increases a person’s resiliency to stress. That means that simply going for a run is a great way not only to train your legs and heart, but your emotions! Exercising won’t necessarily remove stress factors from your life, but it can help you to lessen the severity of your reactions to them.

Keep a Journal

Jotting down your thoughts is a helpful way of relieving stress. Keeping a private journal can offer a source of catharsis, allowing you to express any pent up feelings of rage and anxiety in a safe space. Journaling is also an effective way of working out solutions to problems. Sometimes the very act of articulating how you feel helps you come to a better understanding of why you feel that way. Self-reflection produces greater feelings of calm and is also an excellent problem-solving tool.

Eat Nutritiously

Having a poor diet can lead to inflammation in your body. Recent research has shown that stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems often arise due to bodily inflammation. By eating healthy meals, you can ensure that inflammation doesn’t lead to increased stress. Eating healthy meals also provides you with more energy and focus to meet the challenges of the day. Consider inviting a friend out to eat, which will make the activity a social one.

Keep to a Schedule

While it might feel better in some ways to not be tied down by a schedule, sometimes keeping to a schedule is helpful for meeting inevitable challenges. Having a schedule ensures that you will do what you need to do each day to handle any difficulties with work, school or family. Sleeping at consistent times is also an evidence-based method of eliminating stress.

Practice Meditation

Meditation, a practice that goes back thousands of years, has been shown to produce feelings of calm and relaxation. Taking a breather and pausing throughout the day can help you step back from your problems and see them in more perspective. Meditation has more than just short term effects, however. Research shows that it is beneficial in the long term, helping the brain handle stress and anxiety. It also leads to decreased brain degeneration and is correlated with lower rates of Alzheimers.

Stress and Anxiety in Recovery: Get Help from a Treatment Center

If you feel overwhelmed by stress, the most important action you can take is reaching out for help. Talking to a therapist, or going to an outpatient mental health treatment in Los Angeles can help you work on solutions to your problems and relieve your mental burdens. Addiction treatment centers also help people develop stronger sober social support systems. 

Ultimately, the resources and social support people receive at treatment centers not only reduce their chances of relapse and help them develop healthy coping strategies for stress, but they make life richer and more enjoyable. In the end, leading a healthy and meaningful life is the best tool for dealing with stress.

Read Further

Relapse: Recovery After A Drug Relapse

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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