It’s common for people with substance use disorders to rely on alcohol or drugs as a way to reduce stress, which means that an important part of the recovery process involves learning healthier stress management techniques.
Everyone’s a little different in regards to their personal preferences, but these ideas are a great place to start.
1. Rethink Your Priorities
The easiest way to reduce stress is to simply avoid it in the first place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to accomplish, look for tasks that can easily be eliminated. For example, you might consider cutting back on social obligations that don’t bring you joy or relaxing your cleaning standards so you’re not spending all your free time on housework.
If your budget allows it, outsourcing everyday tasks can be another way to reduce stress. For example, you might offer to pay a talented college student to tutor your son instead of trying to remember your own high school algebra lessons.
2. Practice Good Time Management
Often, stress is associated with poor time management. Forgetting appointments, underestimating how long necessary chores will take, or procrastinating and waiting to start key tasks until the last minute is guaranteed to create stress.
Using a planner to keep track of therapy appointments, 12-Step group meetings, work deadlines, and social commitments will make sure you’re managing your time effectively. Choose a planner that allows for daily entries as well as a to-do list for the week. At the end of each week, review what you’ve accomplished and make note of any tasks that took longer than expected or any ideas you want to try to make the following week run more smoothly.
3. Take Regular Breaks
Forcing yourself to power through the day with no time for rest and relaxation is a recipe for burnout. Short breaks help “reset” your brain and improve your ability to focus on the task at hand. Go for a short walk outside, do some yoga stretches, or complete a few deep breathing exercises.
Longer breaks can be used as reward for completing a task that is especially difficult or time consuming. Your break can be any self-care activity you enjoy, whether it’s a making time for a hot bath, relaxing with a good book, or engaging in a favorite hobby.
4. Don’t Skimp on Sleep
Sleep deprivation can zap your energy, leaving you irritable and suffering from a mental fog that makes it hard to accomplish anything. Even when it seems like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, you need to make sleep a priority.
Insomnia is a common complaint in early sobriety, since drug and alcohol withdrawal often leads to physical symptoms that interfere with your ability to get the rest you need. Review our Sleeplessness in Recovery and Early Sobriety article to learn more about how to re-establish good sleep habits.
5. Cut Out Caffeine
Too much caffeine is never a good idea in recovery, but this stimulant can cause additional problems when you’re feeling stressed by heightening the jittery and anxious feeling associated with the body’s stress response.
Instead of coffee or soda, try sipping water flavored with fresh fruits or veggies. The Infused Waters blog has a wide variety of easy recipes to try. This will have the added bonus of making sure you stay hydrated, which boosts energy levels naturally.
6. Laugh Your Cares Away
Laughter is a natural way to relieve stress. A good laugh can increase blood flow and trigger the production of endorphins, which reduces tension and improves your mood. A Mayo Clinic article explains the benefits of laughter in greater detail.
Watch a funny movie, listen to a quick routine by your favorite comic on YouTube, or have a chat with a friend who loves to crack jokes. Even if the laughter feels forced at first, you’ll soon feel your stress slipping away.
7. Write in a Journal
Journaling your thoughts helps you gain a new perspective, which is why journaling is often used as a therapeutic tool in addiction recovery. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, it’s well worth the effort to keep up the journaling habit after leaving residential treatment.
Writing in your journal can relieve stress by letting you get your racing thoughts down on paper. When you write about your problems, you may be better able to brainstorm solutions or realize that tasks that once seemed insurmountable aren’t as difficult as you originally thought. Review our Journaling for Emotional Awareness article for more tips.
8. Know When to Ask for Help
If you’re feeling so overwhelmed that it’s causing cravings for drugs and alcohol, you should discuss this issue in greater detail with the members of your treatment team. They may be able to suggest new coping strategies or additional supports that can help you manage your stress without fear of relapse.
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, extended care is a vital part of the addiction treatment process. Our clinical team is committed to providing you with the resources you need to successfully transition from the structured environment of residential treatment to independent sober living.
Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Having the inner strength and self-awareness to recognize when you’re struggling will serve you well as you work through the different challenges associated with build a sober life for yourself.