While we all deal with stress, people in recovery from substance use need healthy coping skills to help them get through stressful situations. Unhealthy stress responses can cause problems in anyone’s life. However, for people in recovery, learning new coping skills to handle stress can serve as an essential part of the recovery process. From quick techniques to use in the moment to long-term behavior changes, managing stress requires a commitment to learning new strategies and skills.
Stress and Recovery
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes, stress poses a serious challenge to people in recovery. Stressors in their research ranged from disagreements with coworkers to life-changing events like divorce. Across all stressors, though, people responded with a 20% increased chance of relapse.
Since coping skills to manage stress play such a key role in staying sober, people in recovery need to learn techniques to keep stress under control. The SMART Recovery program advocates having a “toolkit” with skills the person can use any time they need them. This toolkit might include different things for each person and work best when choosing tools they feel confident using.
Why Do We Need Coping Strategies to Deal With Stress?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends that anyone experiencing out-of-control stress talk to a professional about whether they may need help. Stress has physical and mental health consequences, including suppressing the immune system and causing cardiovascular problems.
Not only people in recovery struggle with stress management. However, people in recovery have all the same stressors as other people, along with the hard work of maintaining sobriety. Also, because stress affects the likelihood of substance use disorders, people in recovery may carry extra burdens that add additional stress to their lives.
Coping Strategies to Try
A healthy coping strategy may be anything a person does that lessens their feelings of stress in a safe, constructive way. Finding the right tools for each person may require testing to discover which tools work best. For example, some people might find immediate relief from a mindfulness activity, while others might find they get the most help from taking a brisk walk.
Coping strategies include:
- Deep breathing or breathwork
- Practicing mindful awareness
- Keeping a gratitude journal every day
- Cooking a healthy meal
- Going for a walk or playing a sport
- Spending time in nature or green spaces
- Playing with a pet
- Doing art or playing music
- Making time for a daily journal
- Repeating coping statements
- Getting enough sleep
- Talking to a friend or professional
- Self-care such as a hot bath
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Saying “no” when necessary
All of these techniques can help anyone struggling with stress. Substance use, though, acts as an unhealthy stress relief technique. People in recovery need to pay extra attention to their positive coping skills to resist using old, negative ones.
Long-Term Coping Skills for Stress
While everyone needs techniques they can use immediately, people who want to control stress in their lives can also learn strategies that help people think about and experience stress differently. Most residential and outpatient treatment programs for substance use disorder use some of these methods, and so do many mental health professionals with their clients.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness means remaining aware and paying attention to things happening around you and inside you. To observe emotions and experiences in a mindful way, a person practices non-judgment, accepting them as they are. This distance between a person and an emotional response can help people respond with less stress, reports the NIDA. Also, by focusing on the world outside the self, people can learn to be less “stuck” in their own thoughts and more able to see events realistically.
- Therapy: Professionals use many different types of therapy with their clients, but almost all of them aim to decrease the person’s overall stress and improve quality of life. Many people can benefit from therapy, not only people with mental health diagnoses. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people to observe their irrational thoughts and replace them with more reasonable, productive ones. People can lessen their negative, harmful thinking errors and think more calmly by learning to replace these negative thoughts. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) teaches people to accept all feelings and experiences, including unpleasant ones, and commit to responding only to the thoughts a person considers as moving them in the direction of their values and not responding to unhelpful thoughts.
Many other methods of therapy exist, and many professionals have training in more than one. People in recovery should always feel free to seek out someone who offers a therapy method that works for them.
Stress has a negative impact on anyone’s life, but it can be especially dangerous for a person in recovery. Fortunately, people have access to many positive, healthy coping strategies they can use to deal with stress. For long-term stress relief and help with building healthy coping skills, the Lakehouse Recovery Center professionals can provide guidance via our 100% virtual recovery platform. With our unique services reaching across California, we can provide the highest levels of treatment and support. Specializing in outpatient treatment for those in recovery from substance use, Lakehouse Recovery teaches the coping skills proven to be most effective for helping people stay sober. Call today to learn about the skills you can learn for coping with stress at (877) 762-3707. Reach out and discover help and support in your recovery process. Visit us online to find out about the treatments mentioned above and many other options you can find at Lakehouse Recovery Center.