We all have one thing or the other that seem to stress us out. It could be health worries, boss troubles at work, finances, family and relationship conflicts, and finding or starting a new job amongst many stressors we encounter on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, stress is an unavoidable part of life. At times, it serves a useful purpose. Stress can motivate you to get work done, or run the last mile of a marathon. But if you find it difficult to handle your stress and it becomes long-term, it can seriously interfere with your job, family life, health and even lead to a relapse in your addiction recovery process.
It is important to learn to identify your stress triggers and find effective ways to manage stress to avoid it affecting your life negatively. In this post, we explain stress in its entirety, stress triggers/causes, and how to manage stress especially in your journey to addiction recovery.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Most people understand stress as a reaction to excess pressure that may come from life events, work or a feeling of being out of control. Stress can be described as the distress that is caused as a result of demands placed on physical or mental energy. Stress often affects behavior, so that means stress in one person is also likely to put stress on those around them, whether family, friends or colleagues.
Stress can be individualized. What one person finds stressful may not be stressful for another person. Therefore, it is inappropriate to judge others based on your standards of stressfulness. For example, some people find too much work stressful while some find it stressful not to have enough to do.
CAUSES OF STRESS
Stress can arise from a number of triggers including life events, work and behavior of others.
Stress as a result of life events
Some people get stressed as a result of changes in personal circumstances which are most atimes unplanned and unpleasant. Some causes of stress due to life events include;
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
- Addition of a new member to the family
Stress at work
This is the most common cause of stress in the United States. Forty percent of U.S workers admit to experiencing stress. Stress at work can be as a result of the following;
- Being unhappy in your job
- Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
- Working long hours
- Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
- Working under dangerous conditions
- Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
- Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
- Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive
Certain situations can also lead to people feeling stressed, although the degree of stress will depend, amongst other things, on that individual’s coping strategies. The environment can make one stressed: for example, noise, crowds, poor lighting, pollution or other external factors over which we have no control can cause us to feel anxious and irritable.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
Because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. Here’s how to know you are stressed and need to manage it.
Physical Symptoms: Low energy, headaches, upset stomach (including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea), aches, pains, tense muscles, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, loss of sexual desire and/or ability, nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
Emotional Symptoms: Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody, feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind, low self-esteem, depressed and avoiding others.
Cognitive Symptoms: Constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, disorganization, inability to focus, poor judgment, being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side.
Behavioral Symptoms: Changes in appetite (either not eating or eating too much), procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.
HOW TO MANAGE STRESS
Stress can be effectively managed in many different ways. The best stress management plans usually include a mix of stress relievers that address stress physically and psychologically. Generally, there are some steps in managing stress;
The first step is to recognize when you are stressed. There are signs and symptoms which help you know when you are stress. We had discussed this earlier. However, not everyone will experience them all every time they are stressed. It is helpful to be aware of your stress signs so that you know when you are becoming stressed and you can do something about it.
The next step is to identify your stress triggers- events or people that cause you to be stressed. Doing this can help you understand what is causing your stress and then you can start addressing them.
Here are a few tips to help you manage stress
- Be prepared to say ‘no’. It’s okay to say ‘no’ from time to time. This is a great way to stay away from excess stress.
- Do not take on more than you can handle. Yes! It’s okay to prove yourself to your boss. But, it’s safer to know your limits. You don’t have to solve every problem in the world. Nor do you have to stick with a situation until it makes you ill.
- Be prepared to make changes in life. To remove yourself from stressful situations may need you to make some changes in your life—which may, in itself, be intrinsically stressful. However, it is worth thinking about whether you are prepared to do this if you cannot avoid or manage stress by any other means.
- Look after yourself. Look into your life and make some healthy changes maybe to your diet, amount of time you sleep, exercise, adding some fun time and so on.
- Keep a stress diary. It can be helpful to keep a ‘stress diary’. Each day for a few weeks, keep track of the things you have done, people you have met, and how you have felt. This will help you to identify situations that have caused you to feel stressed.
STRESS MANAGEMENT IN ADDICTION RECOVERY
Stress is a common trigger for every type of addiction; the more stress you’re under, the more likely you’ll seek an escape from it. Whether that means of escape is drugs, alcohol, food, unhealthy sexual behavior, gambling or something else, or multiple things.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), medical specialists believe that stress is the leading cause of relapse back into drug abuse as well as smoking. However this can be prevented by effectively managing stress during addiction recovery.
Here are five healthy and practical ways to manage stress during addiction recovery.
- Exercise regularly
Exercising daily can reduce stress, improve mood and enhance physical and mental health. A 2012 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry stated that exercise may help prevent relapse in people seeking treatment for drug abuse.
As little as a 30 minutes’ walk or 5 minutes run every day contributes to reducing anger and frustration. Habitual exercise is a highly recommended and effective tool in stress management and can boost your mood.
- Eat healthy
This doesn’t mean eating less but eating more nutritious meals. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals as well as all other macro and micro nutrients should be incorporated in your diet.
Healthy eating increases your productivity by way of proper bodily function, enhances your mood by regulating your blood sugar and lowering your risk for depression, and stabilizes your weight. All of these reasons and more make healthy eating an exceptional stress management tool.
- Improve your sleep routine
Sometimes, the best solution to a flood of negativity and frustration is to “sleep on it.” Providing your body with the proper amount of sleep has a wide variety of benefits. From pain management and lower risk of injury to emotional regulation, weight control, clarity of thought, and more.
According to the National Sleep Foundation here is how your sleep routine should be:
- Ages 14-17: 8-10 hours
- Ages 18-25: 7-9 hours
- Ages 26-64: 7-9 hours
- Ages 65+: 7-8 hours
- Write down your thoughts
Writing about your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help you deal with stress. People in recovery can keep a journal to express their emotions related to tribulations, interactions and events. A study by the University of Texas found that students who wrote about their stressful or traumatic experiences for four days in a row experienced reduced stress for months afterward.
So just write it down no matter how terrible you think it is.
- Take mental breaks
It’s okay to take regular mental breaks. It is very important to rest the mind. Without periodic rest, the brain and body may not recover from stress. Taking time to avoid situations that induce stress at work or home can be mentally and emotionally beneficial to people in recovery.
- Develop a positive attitude to life
Life is not always smooth. Unplanned and unpleasant event could happen and its in your place to learn to deal with it constructively. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones can improve mental health. It is important to put stress in perspective and maintain a positive attitude during difficult times. If you’re someone who obsesses over perfection, finding ways to overcome this problematic mindset can help alleviate stress.
- Seek help when necessary
Completing rehab does not guarantee full recovery and no relaspe, so it is important to seek assistance after treatment. Talk to someone about whatever you are dealing with. Counseling and aftercare services can help individuals recognize and avoid triggers that can lead to drug or alcohol use. Family and friends can provide emotional support, encouragement and a sense of belonging to people in recovery.
There is a way to be less affected by stress. By practicing a on a regular basis one or two stress management technique, you can eliminate some of the stress you feel right now and make yourself more resilient in the face of stress in the future.
There are several different things you can try, ranging from a daily morning walk to an evening journaling practice to just making more time for friends. The trick is to find something that fits with your lifestyle and personality, so it’s easier to stick with.
We would love to hear from you. How do you manage stress in your journey to addiction recovery? Share with us in the comment section below.