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Managing Stress in Recovery

Heroes In Recovery
| October 1, 2018

By Alanna Hilbink

Life’s stressful as it is, and maintaining recovery can add even more stress. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. When the going gets hard, it’s helpful to remember what you can do to manage your stress in a healthy way. So when tough times come, what can you do? Take a look below for some ideas on managing stress and living your best life.

Understand Why Stress Is So Bad

Woman running in cityManaging stress begins with understanding why you need to manage it. Stress puts your health — and your sobriety — at risk. The American Psychological Association explains that stress beats us up physically: It gives us chronic muscle tension, headaches, high blood pressure and increased heart attack risk.1 And it’s not just our bodies that pay the toll. When we’re stressed, we face increased likelihood of panic attacks and anxiety and depression symptoms. If you’re starting your recovery journey, or even are well into it, stress adds more challenges. Psychology Today shares that stress can make us start using drugs, keep us using them and cause us to relapse.2

Phew, learning about the effects of stress is enough to cause stress! But you know what? It doesn’t have to. Once you understand the importance of managing stress, you can take steps to take care of yourself.

Learn Where Your Stress Comes From

You want to manage your stress and maintain your sobriety. Where do you start? First, learn your personal stress cues and triggers. You’ve probably already learned a lot about your drug use triggers, and it’s likely that a lot of these overlap with your stress triggers. Social pressure, the demands of family and work, your personal mental health — if these contributed to your drug use, they likely contribute to your stress levels as well.

You didn’t have to figure out recovery on your own, and you don’t have to figure out stress alone either. Talk with a professional who can help you take an objective look at where your stress is coming from. Once you learn what it is that stresses you out, you can take steps to prevent or manage these triggers.

Take Steps to Prevent Stress

When you know what causes you stress, you can work on preventing these challenges to your recovery. Is a family event going to be too overwhelming? Don’t go, and instead work out a way to visit with everyone at a calmer time or in a smaller-scale setting. Is a certain friendship more work than reward? You’re free to limit your interactions with that person. Does your job feel overwhelming? Talk with your boss about a more manageable workload or schedule.

Of course we can’t prevent all stress in our lives. Some areas of life will always be beyond our control. Other times it’s just going to be too much for the everyday coping skills we have in place. This is when it’s time to recognize that stress is a part of our lives, and changing how we think about it can go a long way toward helping us manage it.

Change Your Thinking to Manage Stress in Recovery

Before you start to think too negatively about the stress you’re experiencing, know that attitude can be everything when it comes to stress management. You probably learned a few techniques for positive thinking while you were in treatment or therapy. Now’s the time to brush off those techniques! The Mayo Clinic explains that thinking positively means less distress and depression and better coping skills during tough times.3 Positive thinking lets you put things in perspective and find some relaxation in the midst of stress.

So take a moment to yourself. Take a few deep breaths. And look at the situation from a refreshed point of view. It may not be as big of a problem as you thought. There may be a problem-solving approach you can take instead of feeling like you have no control over circumstances. Or you can take this moment to accept the current situation for what it is without letting it drag you down or put your recovery at risk. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and when they tip toward negative, cyclical or triggering, take a moment, reframe your thoughts and then take action.

Get Connected to Manage Stress in Recovery

While it’s great to look inward and focus on what and how you think when stressed, it’s just as important to get out of your head. Talk to other people to manage stress and maintain your recovery. You can talk about stress and stress triggers, or you can talk about anything and everything else. Go to a support group meeting, call up a therapist, chat with a friend or join a social outing. There’s always someone willing to listen! And an outlet may be just what you need to let off a little steam, find healthy distraction and make a real connection with others.

Manage Stress on the Move

Another great way to manage stress? Move! No, not where you live. Move your body! Exercise is a great stress buster. Find a rec team for your favorite sport or try a dance or fitness class — you get to double up on stress management by making this a social activity as well. Maybe meet friends for a walk in the park or go on a jog by yourself. Staying active involves doing whatever movement is fun and relaxing for you — and it’ll help you manage your stress, no matter what form it takes!

Look at Your Successes

Things can feel overwhelming. You feel like you can’t manage it all. But you know what? You can. How do you know? Because you’ve done it before. When you feel overwhelmed by the present, look at the past. Look at the obstacles you’ve leapt over or crashed through. You’re in recovery! You’ve done so much. You’ve been so strong. Now is the time to give yourself some credit. Recognize your strengths, and recognize when and where you may need someone to give you a little help. Recovery is yours. This life is yours. Manage your stress, make the most of life and enjoy every up and down that you are here, healthy and present for.


1Stress Effects on the Body.” American Psychological Association, Accessed June 19, 2018.

2 Heshmat, Shahram. “Stress and Addiction.” Psychology Today, May 10, 2017. 3. “Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress.” Mayo Clinic, February 18, 2017.

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