The first Wednesday in November (so, today!) is International Stress Awareness Day. We’ve had a lot to stress about lately. But 2014 data shows that even at “normal” times, 77% of people regularly experiences physical symptoms related to stress. 73% habitually experience psychological symptoms of stress. Addiction and stress are closely linked, making stress reduction an important aspect of recovery.
There is a ton of overlap in areas of the brain associated with modulating stress and those involved with reward-seeking behavior. The brain’s reward circuit plays a significant role in addiction—which means that stress and addiction are tied at the neurological level.
A big part of recovery is learning to cope with difficult emotions like stress without using substances. In treatment and/or therapy, you learn stress reduction skills that you can practice. Practicing inevitably makes you better; the more time you spend working on these skills in sobriety, the more naturally they will come.
You will learn what calms you when you’re highly stressed, but there are some general tips. Prioritize your self-care. On a basic level, this means making sure you get enough sleep, eat the nutrients you need, get physical activity, and generally take care of your body.
Often it is also about making time; set aside a regular block that is just for you. Some activities you can do in this time—and just generally to help stress—are gratitude journaling, listening to music, getting out into nature, exercising, connecting with friends.
Maintaining positive and affirming relationships is crucial for lowering your stress levels; humans are motivated by and crave connection. Prioritize your relationships. Communicate your needs to the people in your life, and listen when they communicate theirs. Friends, family, and community members can be excellent sources of support when you are struggling in sobriety.
If you are in a moment of acute stress or panic, focusing on your breathing is helpful. It sounds simple, but it sends a very important physiological message to your body that you are okay. Try square breathing: inhale through your nose for a slow count of four, hold for 4, exhale through your mouth for a slow count of four, again hold for 4. Repeat this as many times as you need until your body starts to calm.
Progressive muscle relaxation is particularly good for combating the cumulative effects of stress on the body. Tense a muscle group for a period of time—while remembering to breathe—and then relax them. Do this in any part of your body you feel tension. For instance, if your shoulders are tense, you might intentionally bring them up to your ears and then let them fall.
Stress Awareness Day is a reminder of the toll stress can have on our brains and bodies. But it also reminds us that we are not helpless in the face of stress—that there are a ton of healthy ways to cope. In active addiction, it’s almost impossible to use those healthy coping skills. Recovery allows us to manage stress and improve our quality of life.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. Our staff will help you learn and practice the coping skills you need to thrive in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.