Stress and addiction go hand-in-hand. Studies show that common symptoms of stress—including a loss of impulse control, the inability to inhibit inappropriate behavior, the delay of gratification, and impaired memory—are well known to support addictive behaviors. And for recovering addicts, stress can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Our gut reaction is to avoid stress, but that’s not always possible or practical in every situation. By actively engaging with your stress, you’ll find that coping gets easier with practice, and you’ll be more resilient and capable of handling stress better in future.
In order to manage your stress, you have to first identify where it’s coming from. But sometimes we’re so caught up in the world around us that we forget to make time for reflection. So how can you tell if you’re stressed?
Listen to What Your Mind Is Telling You
Stress can change the way you think and shift the focus of your attention.
Rumination, preoccupation with events or encounters, a lack of concentration, forgetfulness, self-criticism, moodiness, anxiety and depression can all be the result of stress.
What can you do to combat mental stress?
- Take up a relaxing hobby like painting or gardening. Make time in your schedule for activities that bring you peace of mind.
- Express your thoughts in an artistic way.
- Play a fun game, or start a puzzle.
Listen to What Your Body Is Telling You
Your thoughts and emotions aren’t the only casualties of chronic stress. In fact, stress can take a toll on your physical wellbeing. Headaches, difficulty sleeping, stomach upset, lethargy and constantly feeling under the weather can be indicators that you need better ways to cope with your stress.
What can you do to combat the effects of stress on your body?
- Switching to a healthier diet can yield immediate results. It’s amazing how good you can feel by cutting out sugary, salty snacks and replacing them with natural, nutritious food.
- Exercise is proven to combat depression, increase energy and improve self-esteem. Start your morning with a quick run instead of hitting the snooze button.
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. When your sleep improves, you’ll find that your mood and your overall health improve along with it.
Listen to What Your Behavior Is Telling You
As we mentioned, stress has been linked to impulsivity and can drastically impact your mood and how you interact with your environment. An increase in stress can lead to repetitive or self-harming behaviors like clenching your jaw or chain smoking. But your stress can affect others too. Irritability is a common symptom of stress, and can make it hard to get along with those around you—even people that you love and care about.
What can you do to combat the effects of stress on your behavior?
- Practice controlled breathing exercises next time you’re in a tense social situation.
- Try muscle relaxation techniques and concentrate on your body.
- Feel like making an impulsive decision? Make a mental list of 10 pros and 10 cons before acting on your urges.
Understanding the Reasons for Your Stress
You can’t treat stress without treating the underlying causes for your stress, which aren’t always apparent. Getting to the bottom of what’s causing you pain isn’t easy by any standards. For a lot of recovering addicts, it takes a great deal of honesty, self-reflection and outside help to understand what fuels our emotions, our behaviors and our addictions.
If you want to truly understand your stress—what’s causing it, how it’s affecting you and how you can combat it—you have to start by opening up. Don’t keep your emotions bottled. Work through your feelings by keeping a journal, sketch book or video log and put your thoughts to words or pictures.
And while self-reflection is important, remember that our own biases can obscure the truth. Counseling and therapy can be powerful tools for getting outside of yourself and thinking in new, constructive ways.
If you’re having difficulty managing your stress, don’t wait for the effects to escalate before threating it—reach out to your supports at home and at Prelude for help today.