Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life. Everyone experiences situations, emotions, and thoughts that cause stress responses. Sometimes the stress factors are small or mild, such as being rushed and stuck in traffic. For others, the stress is more severe and lasts longer.
While it is true that everyone experiences the burden of stress, there are different ways to respond to the onset. Some people are able let go of the stressful situation immediately, or find healthy ways to handle their stress, such as with regular exercise. Others, however, may feel overwhelmed, stuck, and defeated by the stress in their lives. For some, this can lead to substance abuse and eventually addiction.
Down the line, however, after the person receives treatment and is on the road to recovery, stressors can leave them feeling like they’re always on thin ice. This makes the possibility of relapse directly tied to stress and stressful situations in a person’s life.
The Connection Between Body and Mind
How stress works is a complex phenomenon and affects almost every primary system in the body. When a person is in a stressful situation, their body releases a series of hormone responses originally intended to help the body and mind react to danger.
While this physiological mechanism is important and serves a purpose, it can take a devastating toll on a person’s body when their stress levels are intensified over extended periods of time. Studies have shown that this habitual-stress, when tied to addictive behavior, has a high propensity for sparking a relapse back into substance abuse.
Linking Stress and Substance Abuse
The connection between stress and addiction has been well-studied. Not only is there a definable link in adults, studies have also shown how early childhood stress and trauma can result in psychiatric disorders, intensified stress responses, and neurobiological functioning.
These underlying factors that influence addictive behavior and substance abuse disorders make it all the more clear why stress-reduction practices as an adult are essential to recovery and the process of healing.
9 Helpful Tips to Reduce Stress
#1 Find a Professional Treatment Center: If you think you have a substance abuse problem, it is best to seek professional help right away. A treatment center can evaluate you, and, if necessary, recommend an appropriate plan for recovery. Substance addiction rehabilitation programs might include inpatient or outpatient care, individual or group therapy, and other steps toward recovery.
#2 Address Co-occurring Disorders: Stress is often intertwined with other conditions, including but not limited to PTSD, anxiety, and depression. This would be a topic to address with your professional treatment center who can assess the situation and follow-up with recommendations. Different types of therapies—mainstream and otherwise— are worth considering alongside treatment for substance abuse and addiction. A licensed professional may also be able to recommend medications as part of a treatment plan.
#3 Take Caution with Substance Use: People enduring high stress are at higher risk of developing substance abuse and addictive behaviors. By being aware of this stressors, it may be better for one’s overall health and well-being to refrain from consuming alcohol or other substances without a proper support system in place to address the stressful circumstances.
#4 Learn Coping Skills: Although stress may be unavoidable, a person can still learn a number of beneficial ways to cope with stressful situations without depending on substance use. Some examples of helpful tools might include learning how to problem-solve and make decisions in the midst of tense emotions or environments. Having a range of employment skills may also provide the tools needed to change jobs, seek a higher quality of life, and feel like you’re progressing in life.
#5 Seeking Support for Your Relationships: Sometimes relationships can be a big part of life-stress. Whether it’s with a partner, parent, child, or friend, some relationships can create significant stress. Seeking out family or couples therapy aims to build relational strength and trust while reducing conflict and its associated stress.
#6 Yoga Practice: Practicing yoga is a great way to reduce the kinds of stressors that can contribute to substance abuse and addiction. While yoga does facilitate a physical workout, which helps you to feel more at home in and comfortable with your body, yoga also emphasizes mindfulness and attention that help you become aware of your thoughts and emotions. The practice has now become an accepted and sometimes central part of many recovery and treatment centers.
#7 Meditation: Stress management can also be facilitated by having a meditation or mindfulness practice. Some types of practices might involve quieting your mind of all thoughts and focusing only on being “present” in the moment, while others may provide an affirmative phrase or mantra to focus on. Meditation practices can also involve an emphasis on breathing and attention to the breath, while other practitioners prefer to focus on the repetition of a chant, prayer, or positive affirmation.
#8 Taking Care of Personal Hygiene: The process of caring for your body and personal hygiene are often overlooked as ways to manage and reduce stress. Of course, regular exercise helps increase your endorphin levels, which can provide an overall sense of positivity and well-being. Eating a nutritious diet, too, will give your body the nutrients and energy that it needs to create a baseline for an overall better and stronger physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Keeping your living space and personal appearance clean can also contribute to a sense of care and value of oneself and life. Once a person can take day-to-day care of themselves, they are on their way to extending that sphere of care further outwards.
#9 Cultivating an Atmosphere of Joy: Finally, a person who can manage their expectations is a person who is in charge of their own personal happiness. This can look like simply taking the time to relax and enjoy themselves. Enjoyable activities might include: playing a musical instrument; exploring nature; volunteering with an animal reserve or shelter; playing with one’s children; gardening and yard-tending; cooking and baking for fun and for others; and art and crafting.