Managing Stress, Maintaining Sobriety

April 12, 2017

Being in recovery from the use of substances can be a wonderful feeling. While recovery is a positive thing, obstacles that can negatively affect one’s recovery are ever-present. In order to maintain sobriety, one must learn ways of effectively managing one’s stress.

Stress in anyone’s life is unavoidable. Sources of stress can involve family, career, health, finances, or personal interactions.  People in recovery often have the additional stressor of guilt and shame for things they may have done while in their active addiction. Without mindfully practicing stress management strategies, stress could make a recovering individual more prone to relapse. Stress management strategies can help an individual feel more in control rather than having the individual feel out of kilter.

One way of handling stress is to create a healthy, structured routine.  Having an enjoyable hobby can be essential. It helps to channel energy that previously was used to support an addictive habit. Hobbies serve as a positive distraction from the stressors of life.  Practicing good physical health habits can also reduce stress.  Having a healthy diet helps to repair the body and can enhance mood.  Sleep is also critical - it is recommended that we obtain at least 7 hours of restful sleep. Meditation for 10 minutes or more a day helps to quiet the mind and helps one to focus on the here and the now.  Finally, reliance on a healthy support system can be a lifeline to managing stressful feelings. 

Individuals in recovery can also lessen stress by managing their triggers. Triggers can be any situation or stressor that creates a thought, feeling or action to use substances. They can come from internal and external factors. External triggers can be people, places or things associated with a recovering person’s old lifestyle. Internal triggers could be pain, fatigue, low self esteem, panic or negative thinking. Triggers are different for every recovering individual. Therefore, it is important for each recovering person to know their triggers and limit their stressors.

It is important to recognize stress. There are 4 main stress symptom categories:

THOUGHTS: These can include but are not limited to self criticism, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, forgetfulness, dwelling about the past or only living for the future, ruminating and fear of failure.
FEELINGS: Anxiety, irritability, fear, moodiness, and anger may be experienced.
BEHAVIORS: Unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating, being impulsive, poor social interactions, withdrawal or not taking care of oneself can be signals for stress.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS: Sleep disturbances, tight muscles, headaches, fatigue, cold or sweaty hands, back or neck problems, stomach distress, colds, rapid breathing, pounding heart, trembling and dry mouth may accompany high stress situations.

Whenever a person in recovery experiences stress, it is very important to use the skills learned in conjunction with a personal relapse prevention plan.  Using these supports can effectively manage stress and avoid relapse behaviors.

David W. Schlegel
Psychotherapist, New Vitae Wellness and Recovery
Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor

"My brother has lived at Quakertown House for decades and has really good relationships with the staff there - as do I.  His social workers have become like family to my brother."

- Elliot G. (family member)