Understanding Stress as a Relapse TriggerLindsay
While a return to drinking or drug use could happen in response to any type of stimulus, stress is one of the most prevalent relapse triggers. Even after you have sworn off your substance of use and made a fresh start, the pressure can feel overwhelming in times of tension, causing cravings that are challenging to resist. What makes stress such a powerful trigger for relapse, and how can you fend it off when it occurs?
The Link Between Stress and Relapses
In the face of tremendous pressure, many people turn to drug use as a crutch. Once you become accustomed to the idea of drinking or drugs as a coping mechanism, it may seem ingrained in your brain. When a stressful situation comes coupled with a reminder of your active addiction – such as a person, situation or even a depiction of someone using drugs on TV – your cravings can go into overdrive and cause you to fall back into unhealthy patterns of behavior.
Even when you’ve admitted that substance use causes far more problems than it “solves,” the habit of reaching for drugs or a drink in response to stress may have deeply embedded itself in your subconscious mind. Once you are pursuing your sobriety, you’ll need to find new ways to deal with tension.
Learning How to Cope With Stress Effectively
A relapse to drinking or drug use is not a failure; rather, it’s a natural part of the healing process for many people. However, once you’re in recovery, it’s smart to do whatever you can to try to avoid setbacks. Though you can’t necessarily eliminate every stressful situation from your life, you can take proactive steps to manage your reaction to stress and how you respond under pressure.
If you developed a habit of compulsively reaching for alcohol or drugs in response to life’s problems, you will need to retrain your brain in recovery to learn how to manage stress in a healthier way. Specific changes to your lifestyle and relationships can help you make significant inroads here. Consider trying the following.
- Practice mindfulness: While meditation is one tried-and-true way to develop a habit of mindfulness, anything that creates more awareness in your daily life is a beneficial habit. Concentrate on being fully present in each moment, bringing your attention to each sensation as you experience it.
- Write it out: Keeping a journal can benefit you in numerous ways. Perhaps most importantly, it can allow you to identify specific patterns that lead to drug or alcohol cravings.
- Take a deep breath: If your knee-jerk reaction to a challenging moment is to contact your dealer or head to a bar, give yourself a few minutes to step away and collect your thoughts. Evaluate the situation and pinpoint the source of your anxiety. Once you’ve calmed down, you may see things in a new light.
- Consciously relax: You’ll need to find new hobbies as part of your recovery process. Channeling your energy into something enjoyable – like yoga, gardening, photography or doing a crossword puzzle – will make you slow down and narrow your focus to the task at hand.
- Set boundaries: If you know certain people, places or events trigger your anxiety, take steps to limit your interactions with them. A therapist can help you learn to identify these and learn constructive coping mechanisms.
- Eat nutritious foods: Your selections at the grocery store can go a long way toward cutting down on your stress levels. Nutrition plays a role in both your physical and mental well-being, and many foods are all-natural mood enhancers. Next time you’re feeling the strain, reach for a soothing cup of herbal tea or indulge in a piece of avocado toast.
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