In today’s current climate, with the novel COVID-19 outbreak turned toilet paper buying frenzy, it can be difficult to breathe, relax and stay grounded. It can be difficult to maintain your day-to-day routine and stay completely on track in your recovery when you’re worrying about social distancing and compulsive hand washing. However, it’s very important for those in recovery to do all they can to stay calm, cool and collected during such trying times. Why? For many, increased stress and anxiety levels can act as relapse triggers. Thinking back to active addiction, we generally turned to drugs and alcohol when we were facing any kind of adverse emotion – any emotion at all, for that matter. If we were sad, we turned to chemical substances to cope; if we were happy, we celebrated with chemical substances. We looked for any and every excuse to drink and use drugs.
When trying to cope with stress, it’s very unlikely that we turned to healthy coping mechanisms while active in our addictions. Instead, we probably relied on our drug of choice to help calm our nerves and numb out the things we didn’t want to feel. Self-medicating anxiety is a slippery slope for addicts and alcoholics, and it often leads to a vicious cycle of using excessive amounts of chemical substances whenever anything uncomfortable crops up. For this reason, it’s essential that we have a solid plan in action when we start to feel anxious or stressed out. In this current day and age especially, handling our stress levels in an effective and productive manner is of the utmost importance.
Anxiety and Early Recovery
The truth is, those that are in recovery for alcoholism or drug addiction are more likely to simultaneously struggle with an anxiety-related disorder. In most cases, all pre-existing conditions will be identified during inpatient treatment and treated accordingly. We offer a dual diagnosis treatment program, specially formulated for those who have already been diagnosed with an underlying mental health condition. Those that have been exhibiting symptoms but haven’t yet been diagnosed will be carefully monitored by a psychiatrist while in inpatient treatment, and if an underlying mental health disorder is discovered, the patient will be treated as necessary. It isn’t uncommon for symptoms of anxiety to be masked by symptoms of drug abuse and alcoholism, and for the concerned individual to remain unaware that they’ve been suffering from an anxiety-related disorder until they get sober.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reported that around 15 million American adults suffer with some severity of anxiety disorder – roughly 7 percent of the total population. Of these 15 million, around 20 percent simultaneously struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Many individuals who struggle with anxiety will turn to alcohol as a way to temporarily combat symptoms. It’s important to remember that although symptoms of anxiety like irritability, restlessness, racing and unwanted thoughts, excessive worry, insomnia, trembling and heart palpitations may be alleviated in the short-term by alcohol, drinking to excess will ultimately make the existing symptoms worse. If you are struggling with a previously diagnosed anxiety disorder and you have been self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs, seeking professional help for your anxiety disorder and your substance abuse disorder is necessary. Dual diagnosis treatment options allow for comprehensive healing, while instilling healthy coping mechanisms and providing patients with the medication they need to effectively alleviate symptoms.
Grounding and Staying Calm Amidst Chaos
But what do you do if you’re already in addiction recovery, and you start to feel overwhelmed by anxiety – whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder or not? Try practicing the following tips in order to stay calm through even the most stressful situations.
- Focus on the here and the now. Ask yourself questions pertaining to the present moment. “Right now, am I okay?” “Right now, am I safe?” Anxiety is a problem directly linked to focusing on the future rather than on the present. If you stay stuck in “what if” you’ll drive yourself crazy! Do what you can to ground yourself by focusing on nothing but where you are in the present moment, and how you’re feeling in the now.
- Take a mental break whenever you might need one. There’s no shame in stepping away from things when you need a break, so long as you stay connected in the ways that you need to. While it is always recommended that those in early recovery avoid isolating themselves, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a break from people there’s no harm in relaxing alone for a few hours. Just make sure that your anxiety is in check, and that you reach out if you start to feel too overwhelmed.
- Journal your thoughts and refer to old entries whenever you’re feeling stressed. Writing your thoughts and feelings down will not only help you work through your emotions, but it will allow you to look back on your past experiences. If you’re feeling anxious, find an entry that you wrote when you were even more anxious, and remind yourself that you got through that hard time unscathed. In fact, you’ve gotten through all of your past experiences unscathed. Why would this time be any different?
- Call your sponsor (or another sober support) and talk things through. There are few tools more effective than seeking a second opinion. Call a trusted support and explain what you’re feeling and why. Ask for advice. In most instances, the person you call will be able to relate to your current situation, and will be able to talk you through it. Don’t be afraid to reach out! Chances are, the person you call will gain something from the conversation as well.
- Focus on your breathing. When we start to panic our breathing changes. We start to inhale for longer than we exhale, which can spike up stress levels even more. Try controlling your breathing in order to help calm your central nervous system – in for two, out for six. Practicing breathing exercises has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels.
- Turn to your own personal practice of spirituality. Engaging in spiritual practices does wonders to manage stress levels. No matter what it is you do – pray, meditate, take long walks on the beach, stargaze at midnight – do whatever helps you get connected to your higher power, and focus on faith rather than fear.
- Spend time outside – move your body. Being active will help move stress hormones through your body, helping you to calm down and allowing you to think critically and logically. Get outside and go on a run around the block, or do twenty jumping jacks. Helping all of your pent up nervous energy move freely through your body will do wonders to help you relax.
- If necessary, seek professional help. Remember that if symptoms of anxiety become unmanageable there’s absolutely no shame in seeking professional help. As previously mentioned, symptoms of an underlying anxiety-related disorder might not become obvious until several weeks or months into sobriety. If you are experiencing anxiety on a regular basis, reach out for professional assistance in overcoming symptoms.
One of the best ways to combat stress in recovery is to engage in positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is actually more than a tool – if you practice it enough, it will become a mindset. Remind yourself daily that everything is okay, and that if it isn’t okay you can easily take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. The mind is a powerful thing, and you can train it to work for you or work against you. Train your brain to work for you! For additional tips or for more information on anxiety and recovery, give us a call today.