Stress is something that is simply a part of life. Whether that stress stems from pressures at school or work, tension in relationships, financial strain, or any of the many other factors that can arise as part of everyday life, you cannot avoid stress entirely. Sometimes stress can be helpful, particularly when it motivates you to address what is concerning you or when you channel it into productivity. Much of the time, however, it can be more of a barrier than a positive force. This is especially the case when it comes to stress and addiction.
How Are Stress and Addiction Related?
According to a 2008 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, stress and addiction are intertwined. Substance use can often be employed as a way of self-medicating and distracting from life stressors. This is especially the case when traumatic events occur, such as losing a loved one or being subjected to abuse. These types of events can also increase the risk of developing a mental health condition, which in turn elevates the chances of developing a substance use disorder.
Stress is also associated with a decrease in impulse control, which is closely tied to addiction. Addiction is rooted in the reward center of the brain that balances impulse control and reward-seeking behavior. When this delicate process is disrupted, the reward center can become hijacked. This leads to an increased reliance on substances and decreased inhibition in pursuit of those substances. Stress can act at the physiologic level to pull you into addiction, either for the first time or during a relapse.
There is, unfortunately, no way to completely eliminate stress; it is something to learn to coexist with. There are a variety of strategies to mitigate the stress you feel throughout the day. Implementing these strategies can keep stress from building up to the point of affecting your mental health and threatening your recovery.
At the very foundation of stress management is basic self-care. This means taking care of your body in the most basic sense by eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising. These things are so simple, yet are often the first to fall to the wayside during times of stress. It is too easy to grab some fast food or even skip a meal when you are caught up with copious amounts of work. Sleeping can feel optional when there are so many obligations to balance. Exercising can feel like the last of your concerns when there are so many other pressing demands.
This tendency to push aside your needs to avoid stress can actually exacerbate that stress. Going hungry or sleepless to keep up with work or relationships will make it that much harder to be effective in your goals, thereby creating more stress. This is also the type of state that makes you susceptible to relapse. Stress and addiction both thrive in this type of environment. Taking the time to meet your basic needs will energize you and help you feel more in control. Self-care is not negotiable; you owe it to yourself, no matter your circumstances.
Prioritize Your Needs
There are many ways to ensure you are prioritizing your needs. One way is to prepare your meals ahead of time. This involves planning a weekly menu, making a shopping list and acquiring ingredients, and preparing and portioning out the food ahead of time to store in the refrigerator or freezer. A strategy like this ensures you have a healthy option to grab, even as you are running out the door in the morning or coming home late. It can feel daunting to start, so beginning with simple recipes and only preparing a few meals ahead of time can help you ease in.
Giving yourself a set bedtime can take some of the guesswork out of when you will sleep. While it will not always be possible to adhere to it, a bedtime can help you set a boundary between work and rest. Building an evening routine with relaxing activities, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book, will allow you to incorporate a winding-down period into your night to make getting to sleep easier.
In addition to scheduling your bedtime, scheduling exercise is also helpful. This doesn’t have to be intense exercise; even a daily walk can help. Finding a workout partner can help keep you accountable and incorporate positive social interaction into your day.
Utilize Stress-Reduction Techniques
Apart from caring for your basic needs, you can reduce stress by practicing mindfulness and relaxation. Some people benefit from meditation and yoga, for which there are numerous free resources online. A simple practice to try is progressive muscle relaxation. This is a technique designed to move awareness from your mind to your body and help relieve tension. You start at your head and make your way down to your feet, tensing and relaxing each part of your body in order. Another method of relaxation can take the form of journaling and letting your thoughts out without judgment.
While building stress-reducing techniques into your day can always be beneficial, sometimes it is not enough. If you are experiencing chronic, unrelenting stress, or if you are recovering from a traumatic event either recently or in your childhood, you might need extra support. Working with a professional can help you find effective strategies that keep you healthy, safe, and sober. Stress and addiction do not have to define your life.
If you are starting to notice that your stress is becoming unmanageable and that it is negatively affecting your recovery, it is time to seek help. During periods of high stress, it is important to have extra support to help you keep focused on your goals and prevent a relapse. Fortunately, Family-Centered Services offers a variety of resources to help you and your family. Our individual and family therapy can help you work through stressors in your life and develop effective coping strategies. Sober accountability can help you keep your goals at the forefront of your mind. Call us at (509) 991-5822 to learn about these and other services that can support your recovery.