Is Stress Killing Your Recovery? 10 Ways to Make Stress Work for You

April 3, 2018
Person stressed out about relapsing.Too much stress in recovery can be a trigger. When you feel like you are always anxious, worried, scared, or panicked, and you are unable to manage those emotions healthfully, it can make you feel like your only means of escape is to drink or get high.

Getting rid of all stress is not beneficial to your recovery, either. Like everything in recovery, moderation is key: enough stress to get you up off the couch, moving, and taking care of yourself but not so much that you are at risk for relapse.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Anxiety may signify that you are at risk. If you are feeling anxious, it may mean you are in danger. At its core, anxiety is a biological response that indicates that we need to slow down and think things through. If you feel anxious about making a decision, it’s a sign that the decision is an important one, and you need to consider your options and their consequences carefully.
  2. Stress may indicate that you need a break. If your stress is coming from feeling overwhelmed, it can mean it is time to take a break. Giving yourself a little vacation from the stressors of life can be rejuvenating, pull you back from the brink of relapse, and give you the energy you need to come back and continue.
  3. Fear can keep you safe. If you are walking along the edge of a cliff, fear can help you pay attention to each step and avoid falling. Similarly, if you are scared of doing certain things in recovery, it may help you to take precautions that keep you sober.
  4. Stress can motivate you to accomplish your goals. With no stress at all, you may not be inclined to do much of anything. Stress about bills motivates you to work. Stress about health causes you to exercise or see the doctor. Stress about relapse means you do what you have to do to stay sober.
  5. Anxiety can help you to figure out whom to get close to in recovery. If you are nervous about connecting with new people as you build new relationships in recovery, the fear and anxiety can help you to choose carefully whom you do reach out to you and the ways in which you connect. In this way, you can better protect yourself emotionally and avoid getting caught up with people who may make it harder for you to stay sober.
  6. Physical and mental relaxation.Stress can make you actively pursue relaxation. Sometimes we need to be reminded to slow down and take it easy, and stress can be the reminder we need. When you feel overwhelmed in recovery, rather than relapse, you can work to hone your natural inclination so you slow down or make lifestyle changes that better support you – like by getting a massage, going to bed early, or doing yoga or another gentle exercise.
  7. Stress can help you overcome your fears. If your anxiety and stress stem from fear of the unknown, fear of trying something new, or fear of success or responsibility, then those feelings can help you to overcome those emotional challenges through therapy and treatment. They can spur you on to connect with the treatment that will provide you with meaningful growth and healing in recovery.
  8. Anxiety can help you to make more positive choices in the future. If your anxiety stems from being late to work, forgetting a commitment you made to a friend, “phoning it in” on your therapy homework or step work, or lying to someone, then you can learn from this. You can choose to make choices in the future that ensure you don’t experience that level of stress again for those reasons.
  9. Stress can be channeled into excitement and even joy. There is a great deal of adrenaline that accompanies stress and anxiety. If it is easier for you to channel it into excitement and positive energy than to shut it down and find a place of calm, then go for it. Turn the physical agitation into physical action that moves you closer to get good things accomplished for yourself in recovery.
  10. Stress can help you identify the things that are most important to you. If you are stressed out because you have too many things going on or if you are experiencing stress due to certain choices you are making that are not serving you, it can be an indication that it is time to consider what your priorities are and make some new choices.
How do you manage stress in recovery? What treatment and therapeutic services are most effective in helping you to avoid relapse and grow stronger instead?
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