Handling Stress in Recovery

November 2nd is National Stress Awareness Day. Many people refer to stress as today's silent killer because of its harmful, pervasive effects on our lives. What's more, stress can also make maintaining sobriety difficult. Therefore, learning how to handle stress is vital for maintaining recovery.

Life post-treatment will come with a slew of new challenges, and you will have to deal with these stressors in your newfound life of recovery. However, treatment should have taught you healthy ways to cope with stress. Now, as you are in recovery, you can put those coping mechanisms to the test. Reach out to NorthStar Transitions if you or someone you love is struggling to cope with stress post-treatment. 

What Is Stress 

We experience stress throughout our lives. Stress is a "physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter challenges in life." Our body releases a hormone called cortisol when we experience stress. This hormone causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, resulting in what we call a fight-or-flight response.

Stress typically has a negative connotation, but we can use stress to our advantage in some cases. For example, our fight-or-flight response can save us in times of danger. Additionally, stress can motivate us to accomplish tasks at school or work. Many individuals function better under pressure because they hone their stress response to their advantage. 

However, excessive stress can hinder our mental and physical health despite these potential advantages. That is why stress is sometimes called the silent killer, and it is crucial to have healthy coping methods. 

What Is Chronic Stress? 

Long-term or chronic stress may last for weeks, months, or longer. Three common causes of chronic stress, according to MedlinePlus, include: 

  • Routine stress from daily demands like work, school, or family
  • Stress from sudden changes like losing your job, getting divorced, or being diagnosed with an illness
  • Traumatic stress like when someone is in danger of extreme harm or death. Some examples of traumatic experiences that cause this stress include natural disasters, frightening events, or accidents. These events can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

How Stress Impacts Our Health 

In addition to discussing the causes of chronic stress, MedlinePlus also outlines the impact of stress on the body. 

For starters, there are two main kinds of stress: 

  1. Acute stress is short-term and goes away quickly. However, this stress motivates us to "manage dangerous situations" and occurs when we try something new, challenging, or exciting.
  2. Chronic stress lasts longer, as discussed above. Individuals with financial troubles, unhappy marriages, or problems at work often experience chronic stress. 

Unfortunately, chronic stress causes the body to remain on high alert. Being in a constant loop of adrenaline can wreak havoc on the body. Some health risks associated with chronic stress include: 

  • High blood pressure 
  • Heart disease 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Mental illnesses like depression or anxiety 
  • Skin problems 
  • Menstrual problems 

Additionally, Medline indicates several symptoms that signal too much stress. Those symptoms include: 

  • Diarrhea or constipation 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Frequent aches and pains
  • Headaches 
  • Lack of energy or trouble focusing 
  • Sexual problems 
  • Stiff jaw or neck 
  • Tiredness 
  • Difficult sleeping or sleeping too much 
  • Upset stomach 
  • Substance use to relax 
  • Changes in weight 

Because of the toll stress takes on the body, learning to manage stress is essential, even for individuals not in recovery. 

Managing Stress 

According to Mental Health America (MHA), you must first determine your tolerance for stressful situations to cope with stress. Some of their methods for managing stress include: 

  1. Develop smart habits by prioritizing sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and a work-life balance
  2. Learn to be realistic, accept situations you can not change, and say no when needed for your well-being
  3. Visualize and use your imagination to see solutions for stressful scenarios
  4. Meditation, even if only for 10-minutes, can effectively improve symptoms of stress by clearing your mind and keeping you calm
  5. Exercising improves not only your physical well-being but also has several positive effects on your emotional and mental well-being
  6. Hobbies serve as an excellent distractor from stress and cravings or triggers and are essential whether you are in recovery or not
  7. Share your struggles with others, as discussing stress with people you trust helps you get things off your chest and may give you helpful insights

These tips and tricks should help you manage stress more effectively. Some methods are beneficial for those in recovery.

Handling Stress in Recovery 

The methods listed above should help you handle stress in recovery. Incorporating such practices into your relapse prevention program is a great first step. As time goes on and you solidify your sobriety, you may begin to modify your plan slightly. Updating your relapse prevention plan can help you create new ways to handle stress in recovery.

If you are in recovery and are struggling to cope with stress, seek further help. Do not let stress be the thing that puts you at greater risk for relapse. 

Everyone struggles to manage stress from time to time. Individuals in recovery have the added stressors of trying to maintain sobriety while coping with the pressures of everyday life. Treatment should teach you the necessary tools for handling stress post-treatment. Then, recovery gives you the chance to put those tools to use. Chronic stress can have a number of harmful effects on your mental and physical well-being. Following the above tips and tricks can help you handle stress, avoid adverse effects, and maintain recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling to cope with stress while in recovery, call NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400 today. We have the tools to help. 

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