When you are in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you have to learn healthy ways to deal with stress or anxiety. You can no longer use your substance of choice as a way to escape from stress. Because extreme or chronic stress can trigger a relapse, it’s important to understand how stress affects your body and have good coping skills to deal with it.
What Is Stress?
According to an article in Medical News Today, stress occurs when you are not able to cope with specific events or demands that require a response or change. Some amount of stress is normal. It comes from personal relationships, work, financial pressures, or any number of situations that pose a perceived or real threat to one’s well-being. Although stress is a normal part of life, if there are too many stressors at one time or your body responds to stress too easily, it can become harmful to your physical, mental, and emotional health.
What Happens When Your Body Is Under Stress?
When your body perceives danger, it goes into the fight-or-flight mode, becoming flooded with hormones as it gets ready to confront the danger or escape from it. Large amounts of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol are produced that trigger physical reactions, including an increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure. Additional changes include the following:
- Breathing speeds up
- The state of alertness becomes heightened, and sleepiness decreases
- Muscle preparedness and tension increases
- Activity in the immune system decreases
- The digestive system slows down
It’s easy to see from this list that prolonged or intense states of stress create wear and tear on the body and leave us open to exhaustion, infection, illness–and relapse.
Stress in Addiction Recovery
A person in active addiction copes with stress by using drugs or alcohol. A big part of living clean and sober is learning new ways to handle stress in addiction recovery. Here are several ways to manage and reduce stress so you can stay clean, healthy, and happy.
- Pay attention to your body – Learn to recognize the responses your body has to stress, such as feeling depressed, being angered easily, having low energy, or not sleeping well.
- Practice mindfulness – Be more aware of the present moment and focus on it. Do not allow yourself to think or worry about the past or the future. Practice daily mindfulness meditation.
- Take time to relax – Take time for yourself to relax and have fun. Whether you spend the time alone or with your family and friends, doing things you enjoy is a great way to reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep – When you are dealing with stressful events, your body needs time to recover from them. Make sure you get enough sleep and rest when you feel you need it. Here are the National Sleep Foundation‘s updated recommendations for the proper sleep durations based on age:
- Teenagers (14-17) – 8 to 10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25) – 7 to 9 hours
- Adults (26-64) – 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults (65+) – 7 to 8 hours
- Eat a healthy diet – Eating a nutritionally balanced diet reduces stress and lowers your stress response system.
- Spend time in nature – Just 30 minutes a day of walking outside can help boost your mood, improve your health, and reduce stress. Even looking at pictures of nature scenes has a stress-reducing effect.
- Exercise – Find something physically challenging that you enjoy doing and work off the stress. Whether you choose working out in a gym, jogging, hiking, swimming, or one of the many other activities, your brain will produce an increased amount of dopamine and serotonin, hormones that reduce stress and naturally relax the body.
Help is Available
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is help available. Call and speak to a trained professional at English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We will answer your questions and guide you along the road to recovery so you can lead a clean and sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.