Submitted by Mel Billings
We live in a high-pressured nation where approximately 33% of people claim to live with extreme stress. For those in recovery from addiction, these figures can creep even higher as stress associated with recovery is realized. Alongside the physical and psychological effects of withdrawal, there may be great pressure from friends and family to achieve recovery – all of which can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and self-loathing. It’s important to learn stress management techniques in order to keep calm and stay on the road to recovery.
Understand your recovery program
Recovery in itself is a stressful process. It is both physically and mentally demanding and may mean spending time away from loved ones in a residential unit. But if you aren’t aware what is involved in your recovery program, then you might find yourself becoming more stressed and overwhelmed by the process. For this reason it is important to speak to your rehabilitation team before the program starts and find out what it entails, how long it will last, what sort of symptoms you are likely to experience, and how best to move forward. Understanding the process will make you feel more in control and, therefore, calmer.
The food that you put in your body can have a big impact on your mood so it’s important to maintain a healthy diet during recovery and avoid the false highs of caffeine and sugary substances, which may provide an initial boost but quickly leave you feeling flat and jittery. Instead opt for green leafy vegetables such as spinach, which contain minerals that increase the production of calming brain chemicals. Complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal and brown rice/pasta are also great for providing long-lasting energy and keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Probiotics found in yogurt can ease tension, which sometimes starts in the gut – also known as the ‘second brain’. And always remember to keep hydrated by drinking water and herbal tea – nothing gets you feeling cranky and stressed like becoming dehydrated.
Similarly, exercise is a great, natural mood enhancer and can really help beat stress. When we exercise, blood pumps around the body more quickly and the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine are increased. This leaves us feeling calmer and happier. Many rehabilitation centers factor at least some exercise into their recovery programs for this reason.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques have been proven to reduce stress in many different ways. On a practical level, the breathing techniques associated with meditation often act as a way of reducing stress and improving stress management skills. It can also have a direct impact on brain function with studies indicating that it actively decreases gray matter in the areas of the brain linked to stress and anxiety. On a more emotional level, it gives the individual the opportunity to build self awareness by looking within themselves, addressing their demons, and identifying their true self, which can be invaluable for a person in recovery wanting to move forward. Because meditation is so easy to learn and can be done anywhere, it is a tool that can be used both during and after recovery to help beat stress in all walks of life.
Have a support network
They say a problem shared is a problem halved and in the case of people in recovery this couldn’t be truer. Bottling up your feelings and concerns will only heighten your fear and anxiety. But asking for help and surrounding yourself with like-minded people can make a big difference to your mood and your recovery in general. This is where support groups can be particularly useful – here you can talk about your innermost feelings in a non-judgemental environment and potentially help others on their journey, too. People in recovery can experience low self-esteem, thus, surrounding yourself with love and support is an important reminder that you are a worthy person.