Experiencing stress is normal, but for those in recovery, stress and anxiety can make the process more difficult. The relationship between stress and addiction is well-documented, and for individuals pursuing sobriety, stress can make long-term recovery more challenging and increase the risk of relapse.
Learning about the connection between stress, addiction, and recovery, as well as how you can effectively manage your stress, can help you face recovery directly and avoid unnecessary tension that may hinder your progress.
Stress and Addiction
Studies show that individuals who are exposed to stress are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol in their lifetime. The physical, mental, and emotional effects of stress can be difficult to endure. Short-term symptoms of stress may include excessive sweating, racing heartbeat, and headaches, while long-term stress can cause problems like insomnia, indecision, back pain, and high blood pressure. Distracting yourself from the source of your stress may provide temporary relief, but individuals who use drugs or alcohol in response to stress are often more prone to addiction.
Suffering from chronic stress can result in elevated hormone levels that can drive individuals to self-medicate. When stress hormones and the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which increases as a response to stress, are not properly regulated by the body and/or are not mitigated when the source of stress is removed, individuals develop an increased risk of acquiring a substance abuse disorder in their pursuit of relief.
The use of alcohol or drugs to cope with stress results in a harmful cycle as drug use can also result in excessive amounts of CRF in the brain. By self-medicating, individuals may make themselves more vulnerable and sensitive to future stressors, perpetuating the cycle further.
Stress, Recovery, and Relapse
In recovery, many individuals inevitably experience stress due to symptoms of withdrawal, peer pressure, and fear of failure. Pursuing recovery not only means abstaining from using substances but also trying to rebuild your life, and the difficulty of these joint tasks can cause anxiety and fear. Experiencing stress in recovery can trigger a relapse, making it imperative for individuals to recognize and combat stressors when possible.
Experiencing stress during recovery can also result in mental and physical issues, making it difficult to focus on achieving sobriety. When you are worn down from stressors, high hormone levels, and the long-term effects of stress, recovery can be more challenging to pursue.
When working toward recovering from a substance use disorder, individuals experiencing overwhelming stress tend to have increased cravings and anxiety, which can result in relapse. Research regarding the relationship between stress and relapse is still incomplete. However, early studies suggest that reducing stress, improving stress coping skills, and identifying any stress-related risk factors could help limit the risk that recovering individuals have of relapsing.
Stress Management Tips for Sobriety
For those in recovery, finding ways to maintain sobriety and resist relapse is a common goal. While it is important to remember that relapse never correlates to failure, reducing the factors that could result in relapse can help you feel more secure and stable on your recovery journey. Managing stress can be a critical element of this initiative. Stress is a part of life, but learning how to combat stressors and cope with stress as it occurs can help reduce the negative impacts stress can have on the mind and body.
If you do not know how to reduce or cope with stress on your own, consider reaching out to loved ones you trust, mental health counselors, sponsors, or other informed people you rely on. Gaining insight from people who have experienced similar situations, have expertise on the subject, and want you to succeed will provide you with support, tools, and resources to help reduce your stress and allow you to pursue recovery more easily.
There are several productive habits and stress management practices you can adopt to improve your outlook and overall wellness for general stress. Integrating healthy habits into your daily routine can keep you grounded and safe. To keep yourself healthy and reduce the risk of succumbing to stress and its effects, the following habits can help you stay on track:
- Drink plenty of water every day
- Eat balanced meals and limit junk food
- Practice physical activity regularly
- Get enough rest and try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- Follow the instructions and guidance of any doctors, therapists, or other licensed professionals who are working with you
- Spend time outside when appropriate
- Engage in enjoyable hobbies, especially creative ones
- Seek additional professional help if you feel overwhelmed or out of control
In addition to these routine habits, you can also adopt specific practices and techniques for managing your stress. Some of the practices may not appeal to you, but giving them a try and seeing what helps can make a difference. Stress management techniques can include:
- Mindfulness exercises
- Volunteering or helping others in whatever ways you can
- Sharing your thoughts and concerns with people you trust
- To-do list prioritization and reorganization
- Art or music therapy
Managing stress can be difficult if you don’t know the right coping skills for you. Stress causes unmanageability, which can lead to relapse. Experiencing high levels of stress can cause serious mental and physical damage. The impact of stress can be incredibly detrimental to those pursuing sobriety. Studies suggest that reducing stress and adopting effective coping skills can help recovering individuals prevent relapse. At Sober Life, we understand how crucial stress management is to your recovery journey. Our licensed clinicians can show you how stress impacts your path to sobriety, as well as how you can most effectively combat it through practical coping skills. We can help you reduce the stressors in your life that often lead to relapse and facilitate a productive recovery process. If you need new ways to cope with stress during your recovery from a substance use disorder, contact us at Sober Life by calling (619) 542-9542 to learn more.