It’s uncomfortable, headache-inducing and can profoundly affect your brain and body. Stress – your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat, whether real or imagined – has become so widespread in society today that it is seemingly worn like a badge of courage.
“I’m so stressed” has not only become the go-to response when backing a negative mood, but it has also become the mask for deeper, more serious emotions and mental states.
Stress is a top precipitating emotion to substance use, substance abuse, addiction treatment failure and relapse. Stress, combined with poor coping skills, can lead to impulsive behaviors and maladaptive self-medication.
It’s important to acknowledge that stress is an inevitable component of life. While there is no way to completely avoid stressful situations and feelings of pressure, tension and worry, there are effective, natural ways to manage stress and lessen times of suffering.
When your stress-response system is sent into overdrive, you can evade consuming behaviors and paralyzing emotions by utilizing these stress management strategies:
1. Prioritize Sleep
When stress enters your life, one of the first things you should do is prioritize your sleep. Sleep deprivation is shown to negatively increase emotional reactivity because you’re not allowing your brain and body to fully rest and recharge. Even slight sleep deprivation can affect your memory, judgment, mood and overall health.
When you get plenty of restful sleep:
2. Eat Well
A popular method of coping with stress is ‘treating yourself’ to any number of sweet treats or unhealthy snacks. But this strategy is comparable to using drugs and alcohol to cope. Junk food can deliver immediate relief from stressful emotions, but consuming unhealthy food can ultimately make your stress worse by adding emotional thoughts (i.e. unhealthy body image) and poor physical feelings (i.e. feeling sick to your stomach).
A proper diet will give your mind and body the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy physical and emotional well-being.
3. Get Daily Exercise
Did you know that when your mind and body sit idle for too long (i.e. don’t exercise), your body fosters unused energy that can quickly and easily turn into physical tension? This tension can manifest into stress and anxiety.
Exercise is an extremely effective, natural cure for stress for multiple reasons. When you commit to walking, running, yoga, weight lifting or any other type of aerobic exercise:
4. Meditate and Practice Deep Breathing
For as little as 10 minutes a day, you can significantly reduce your stress and improve your health through the practice of mindful meditation and deep breathing.
Meditation helps you re-center yourself, zone everything out, put things in perspective and – when done in conjunction with deep breathing techniques – can help you flood your body with oxygen. This will lead to calming the parasympathetic nervous system and lowing your mind and body’s stress arousal.
Journaling is a way of processing your thoughts and emotions externally. Whether positive or negative, releasing energy onto a page is actually very liberating and beneficial.
Journaling can help you understand and dissect your stress, anxiety and fears. In turn, you may be more apt to identify your stress triggers. Over time, journaling can be your go-to source for clarity and calm.
6. Spend Time with Positive Friends and Family
People can easily be stress triggers. Who you spend your time with, take counsel from and invest your energy in plays an incredible role in how you feel emotionally.
Take some time to assess your social circle. If the relationships are toxic or certain individuals only bring out the worst in you, it may be best to separate yourself from these people. You can start slow to see how your mood and stress levels change, but when you block external, unnecessary stress from entering your life, your stress levels may decrease considerably.
7. Communicate with Your Higher Power
Learning to overcome difficult moments in life is the primary method by which we grow both emotionally and spiritually. When you’re stressed, something is off kilt in your life. By holding on to God’s hand during any unbalanced moment or period in life, and by communicating how you feel with Him, He can be a stabilizing force and provide you guidance.
Stress can easily and quickly lead individuals to using external mood regulators, such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Substances like alcohol and opioids deliver mixed euphoric and depressive effects that artificially boost your mood and eliminate stressful feelings for a short period of time.
Self-medicating with and leaning on these substances to cope with stress will only lead to a dependence and force you to use drugs or alcohol to feel normal. Overtime, a full-blown addiction can occur.
For addicts seeking to achieve sobriety, stress management in addiction recovery is key. Because withdrawal must be trudged through, and because sobriety can walk hand-in-hand with intense cravings, addiction recovery helps addicts:
When you can acknowledge that stress and anxiety are inescapable parts of life, you can begin to employ natural antidotes to stress that can successfully lower your heart rate, calm your thoughts, control your breathing and help you re-center yourself without the use of toxic, addiction-causing external mood regulators.
Do you already contend with an addiction because of your stress and anxiety?
Stress and addiction can steal the beauty and joy from your days and make life feel forlorn at times. But you can kick your addiction and regain control over your stressful, anxious emotions.
At Covenant Hills, we will walk with you every step of the way and help you forge the future you were always meant to lead.
Learn more about our individualized, Christian-based co-occurring drug and alcohol treatment programs, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.