It is usual for individuals caught up in addiction to perceive an above normal level of stress in their life. In fact, one of the main reasons why many turn to alcohol and drugs initially is an attempt to deal with this stress. In this situation, substance abuse becomes a coping mechanism – albeit an ineffective strategy. This is problematic as it means when the individual become sober, he or she no longer has a tool for dealing with stress. It is therefore vital that they are able to fight alcohol or drugs with something more effective.
What is Stress?
Stress has an undeserved bad reputation. Humans could not have survive if it were not for this psychological response. Stress triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, which was vital for our human ancestors to escape danger. One way to define stress is that it is a challenge to a person’s well-being – this means that it can be very subjective. The event that triggers stress is known as a ‘stressor’; however, what acts as a stressor in one person might not for another – for example, introverts can struggle to be around other people.
The problem is not so much stress in and of itself, but the way that individuals react to it. One person might react to the pressure of an exam by studying harder, whereas somebody else might fall apart. This difference in the ability to handle stress is all down to the coping strategies each individual uses to deal with it.
The Source of Stress in Early Recovery
Making a major life change will always be stressful, so breaking free of addiction would be a particularly difficult challenge. The person may have been using mind-altering chemicals to help him or her cope, so sober reality could feel overwhelming. There could be a great deal of wreckage to deal with due to past behaviour, and there may be practical concerns such as financial problems or relationship problems.
Many fall into addiction at a young age, meaning they may not have had the opportunity to develop effective coping strategies for dealing with stress – in other words, they are emotionally immature. The way to gain these coping tools is to deal with life on a daily basis, but is the whole point of substance abuse not to escape normal life? It makes sense, then, that addicted individuals are less able to manage stress than the average person is.
How to Master Stress in Early Recovery
Those unable to manage stress in early recovery are far more likely to relapse. The good news is, though, that it will be possible to pick up the tools needed for dealing with the challenges of sober life. One of the great benefits of entering a rehab programme, for example, is that it means addicted individuals can practice these skills in a controlled environment. This means that by the time he or she returns home, they should feel comfortable using them.
Some of the most effective ways to deal with stress in early recovery include:
- working with a therapist to develop new strategies for dealing with life
- getting support from a recovery fellowship
- learning a stress-busting technique like meditation
- talking honestly to friends and family about the stresses of early recovery
- keeping a daily journal
- spending time in nature
- regular exercising
- having interesting hobbies
- spending time helping others
- reading inspirational books
- spending time with those who are well-established in recovery
- developing emotional sobriety
- following a spiritual practice
- learning to focus on the bigger picture.