Stress is part of life, be it stress about work, stress about friends, stress about family, stress about your local soccer team basing their entire offensive strategy on the counterattack at the expense of a solid defense (okay that one’s not important).
When you enter recovery, stress doesn’t automatically go away. The difference now is that you must face your stress instead of bottling it inside. Luckily, people in recovery have experienced stress for as long as people in recovery have existed, so there are plenty of ways to get through stressful times without turning back to drinking or using. In this article, we’ll discuss strategies for getting through stressful times and staying sober.
Stress and Addiction
In the midst of my addiction, stress would lead me to drink. Granted, happy times also led me to drink, as did sad times, as did mediocre times, but the point still stands. Self-medicating helped us avoid feeling our feelings, so it’s easy to figure out why stress and addiction are often intertwined.
The Link Between Stress and Addiction
There’s more than anecdotal evidence to back up the relationship between stress and addiction, there’s science. Research has shown that childhood trauma (physical/sexual abuse, neglect, family dysfunction) is associated with a higher risk of addiction. On top of that, adults dealing with harassment, employment problems, and unhappy marriages report higher rates of addiction.
There are two main reasons for this. One is self-medication, i.e., people use drugs/alcohol to get temporary relief from stress and tension. The other main reason is that high emotional stress is associated with loss of impulse control and loss of the ability to delay gratification. Chronic stress decreases the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain associated with impulse control and stress regulation, making you much more prone to give in to impulses. I don’t think I need to explain how the loss of impulse control is related to addiction.
6 Ways for Managing Stress in Addiction Recovery
Since this is a recovery blog titled “Handling Stress in Recovery” (along with the fact that the opening paragraphs explicitly mentioned the fact that there are ways to handle stress in recovery, as did the title of this section) it shouldn’t be surprising that there are ways people in recovery can handle stress in a healthy manner.
Healthy ways to handle stress in recovery include:
You probably guessed this was going to be one of the recommendations. There’s a reason “meetings makers make it” is a cliched term. Not only are meetings a great place to listen to the experience, strength, and hope of other addicts and alcoholics, they are a great place to be listened to. Simply sharing what you’re going through with other people whose brains are wired the same as yours can be a great relief.
Portland Area Intergroup – Meetings in the Portland Metro Area
Oregon AA – Meetings throughout the state
Vancouver Area Intergroup – For those just north of the Columbia River
Call Your Sponsor
Related to meetings, your sponsor can be a great resource. Sponsors are people with more time than you, who can give you advice from personal experience on how to walk through challenging situations in recovery.
When we say “meditation”, we don’t mean sitting in the lotus position somewhere in Bhutan (though you can do that if you want to and can afford the travel expenses). Any activity where you can focus on one thought, object, or activity can be considered meditation. You can meditate immediately after waking up while exercising, while doing yoga, while out in the woods, or even while sitting in the lotus position in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Related to meditation, grounding exercises can help you when you’re spiraling out of control due to stress. Most grounding exercises involve stopping what you’re doing and focusing your mind on something near you.
Here is a list of grounding exercises you can do.
Sports and Exercise
Not only is exercise healthy for you physically, but it’s also a fantastic way to release energy and gain some healthy endorphins. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do; it can be a cardio exercise like running, swimming, or biking, it can be weight workouts, it can be a nice long walk or hike; simply getting your body moving can get you out of your own head and make you feel better physically. For me, going on a long run is basically meditation, which is why I start every weekday with an early morning run before work.
Luckily, there are lots of options for workouts in the Portland metro area, including:
- Portland Running Company – Running Routes
- Yelp – Highest Rated Gyms in Portland
- The Recovery Gym – A gym that partners with the Alano Club to provide fitness classes and facilities exclusively to people in recovery.
- Rose City Futsal – Indoor soccer center with leagues for all ages.
- Portland Adult Sports Leagues – resource to find adult sports leagues in Portland
- Bike routes in Portland, OR
- Thrillist – Best Hikes Within 2 Hours of Portland
- 30 Best Yoga Studios in Portland
Get Necessary Sleep
It seems like an obvious answer, but it can be a problem for people going through stressful times. Sleep is critical for health and can make you both feel better and think more clearly. Make sure you are getting a proper amount of sleep (between 7=8 hours)
Creative Outlets in Recovery
There’s a reason art therapy is a commonly used tool in mental health/addiction. A creative outlet can give you a temporary distraction let you channel your emotions into art, music or writing. Examples of creative outlets include:
Paint or draw anything, whether it’s a visual representation of your emotions, a famous building, some almighty mountains, some fluffy clouds, or some happy little trees. Whatever comes to mind, it can help you take your mind away from your stress.
Music is a fantastic creative outlet, be it piano, guitar, singing, sitars or balalaikas. You don’t have to be a brilliant musician to use it as a healthy outlet.
You can do journaling, creative writing, write a play, or even write an epic poem about a Greek man who goes on a 10-year-long odyssey. Putting your thoughts down on paper can be a great stress relief.
Joining an adult acting/improv class can be a good creative outlet. What better way to forget about your problems than to play a fictional character for a set amount of time?
Oregon Trail Recovery Can Help
Oregon Trail Recovery can give you a good foothold in sobriety and help you learn healthy ways to handle stress. Our programs not only give you access to trained counselors and housing, they also help you build a sober community around yourself and help you learn to live life sober and free.