Intense stress can cause people to seek drugs or alcohol as ways to self-soothe. A big part of recovery is learning to manage stress and other difficult emotions sober. This can take time and practice, and that’s okay.
First, remember that using drugs or alcohol does nothing good for stress levels. When your emotions are heightened, it can feel like the last thing you want to be is sober; it’s really challenging to face those emotions head-on. However, using any substance chronically will increase your stress response, make it near impossible to manage your feelings, and often lead to more stressful life events.
Staying sober makes managing stress much more doable. There are some concrete ways to ground yourself. In a moment of overwhelming stress, you can start by doing breathing exercises.
Square breathing is when you breathe in for a slow count of four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for a slow count of four, then hold for another four seconds. Alternate nostril breathing is when you hold your right nostril, breathe in through your left, hold your left nostril, breathe out through your right, and then repeat the process in the other direction. Breathing exercises calm your nervous system in the moment, so that you can decide how to move forward in a more grounded way.
Other techniques can help you manage stress long-term, so that you are more equipped to deal with whatever comes your way. Regularly meditating promotes calm, changes parts of the brain involved in emotional regulation, and many other benefits. Staying connected to your support system means that in times of stress, they can be there for you. Taking care of yourself when you’re not particularly stress can have ripple effects across your life, and make you better able to manage when stress does arise.
Life can be hard sometimes, but it gets even harder when you don’t face those challenges head-on. Taking small steps towards grounding yourself, even in times when you aren’t stressed, is good practice and will help build really useful coping skills.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you find healthy ways to cope with stress, so that you can stay sober through whatever life brings. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.