How To Tackle Stress in Recovery

Ack! Life is stressful, and it feels different in recovery. You know substances only make things worse, so what to do? Some pointers on handling it like a champ

March 21, 2023
Lifting weights to tackle stress

Sometimes in recovery, time seems to slow to a crawl; other times, everything happens all at once. You are essentially playing catch-up on your life: new routines, new goals, new emotions, new friends and new tools to learn to help you handle it all, sober. It can be exhilarating, and it can be stressful.

Were things simpler before? Well, let’s try an exercise. Take a moment to reflect on what your active addiction was like. (Or if you’re stressed about a loved one in recovery, think of them.)

Active addiction can be numbing, sure, but it’s also a constant stream of stress, an endless succession of days waking up with dread.

There is the stress of getting your substance when you feel the need, of course. There is the fear and stress that someone will find out you have a substance use problem. They might try to interrupt the one thing an addiction aims to protect: the addiction itself.

Then there is the fear of repercussions and consequences from your use. There could be legal trouble. There could be the danger of harming your professional life. You could irrevocably damage the relationships you still hold dear.

Now that you have that inescapable drip-drip-drip of the bad old days in mind, compare that to the stressors that come with recovery. A bit different, right? Not so omnipresent.

This exercise is not meant to diminish the stress of recovery. But you can see that you did manage stress — lots of stress — in active addiction, possibly for a long time. So you can certainly do it now. After all, now you have the advantage of a life in recovery you’ve worked hard to achieve.

Because it is life, recovery has its stressful moments. But they need not be derailing or devastating, nor do you need substances to get through them. There are more than a few ways to alleviate stress in recovery, and learning them can help you maintain a low-stress life throughout your recovery journey. Leaving the stress of addiction in the rearview is one of the great reliefs of sobriety.

Recovery Is a Whole New World! (So, Recovery Can Be Stressful)

The “bad” news is that stress is a normal part of recovery. This is true in both early and long-term recovery. However, stress that overwhelms you and disrupts your everyday life is abnormal — but treatable.

It is also crucial to remember that choosing recovery is one of the most significant life changes you may ever make. With change comes stress; that’s just human nature. But this change may feel magnified if you’re dealing with a substance abuse disorder, because you most likely tried pretty hard to protect your addiction for years.

Lastly, remember that some stress is normal for everyone. Simply being aware of this can help you manage stress and recognize if your stress has tipped from that normal level to a more disruptive one.

No Wrong Way: Managing Stress in Recovery

There are many ways to handle stress in recovery. The first step is just recognizing stress and understanding that you can take it on. But more specifically:

These are merely a few suggestions for stress reduction in recovery; there are many other options. The key is to find what works best for you. And when you do, to practice it consistently.

Live the Dream: Keeping It Low-Stress in Recovery

There is a popular acronym for stress out there. Have you seen this one? S.T.R.E.S.S.: Someone Trying To Repair Every Situation, Solo. If you’ve got supportive loved ones, counselors or a sober network, you never have to go solo in your recovery, and that’s true during the stressful parts too. You’ll always have someone to lean on.

Once you choose some stress relief methods, you should incorporate these into your recovery routine. Consistency is your friend. Learn a tool, and you’ll know how to use it when you need it.

Hopefully, you’re a little less on edge after reading this. As they say, this too shall pass. You’ve beaten addiction, you’ve come a long way, you’ve worked damn hard, and you can face down whatever it is that’s flustering you now, too.

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