Life is stressful, isn’t it? Sometimes we find ourselves face to face with a ton of demands, and all we want to do is crawl under a rock—and never come out. Too much stress can cause us to lose our grip on what is important. Avoiding stress in recovery is even more challenging. When you are in recovery, losing your grip can be very detrimental. That’s why mental health treatment programs are so important.
According to The American Institute of Stress (AIS), one in five Americans experience symptoms of extreme stress (shaking, heart palpitations, depression), and they even say extreme stress can shrink your brain—leading to possible future psychiatric troubles. In fact, stress during addiction recovery can make or break the process. Do any of the following symptoms sound like you?
- Mood swings
- Cry for no reason
- Feel tired and lethargic
- Battle digestive issues
- Irritable and easily angered
- Feel a sense of doom or sadness
If you are feeling overloaded or dealing with any of the above symptoms, it is time to re-evaluate how you manage the stress in your life. Keep reading for seven great tips to help you avoid stress and maintain your health.
Sleep is important. When you were a kid, you likely had a bedtime—and for good reason! Sleep helps rejuvenate the brain and get it ready for the next day. Being well-rested helps us learn better and have better problem-solving skills. Our focus and decision-making is increased, as well.
Lack of sleep results in struggles in the aforementioned-areas. When you struggle to learn or focus, your body becomes stressed. It can lead to mood swings, agitation, and sadness.
According to the NIH, adults need 7–8 hours of quality sleep to maintain a healthy brain. And, in turn, helps to reduce stress levels.
Healthy foods = stress reduction. Sounds simple, right? So often, we get sidetracked by unhealthy foods like fried chicken, loaded French fries, greasy burgers, and milkshakes. And let’s not forget the wonderfully convenient fast food drive-thru full of cheap menus of fat and grease.
None of these will help you reduce stress. In fact, whatever you do, try to avoid high-fat, fried foods and foods that contain a lot of sugar, as these can increase your stress.
Your healthy diet should consist of the following:
- Foods rich in (good) carbohydrates – tend to increase the serotonin levels in our brains which act as a nifty built-in calming serum.
- Fiber – this keeps us full and will curb the desire to snack in between meals.
- Fruits and Vegetables – this is a given. These goodies are packed with vitamins and nutrients that are vital for your health. Many are rich in antioxidants which increase the health of our immune system. Vitamin C – especially found in citrus fruits –is an antioxidant that helps battle stress.
Reduce Caffeine and Nicotine Intake
Nicotine can send our bodies into a vicious cycle. It is known to increase anxiety and stress-like symptoms. However, most smokers say they use the nicotine to calm down when feeling stressed or anxious.
Caffeine can also lead to stress and anxiety-like symptoms. In fact, too much caffeine can lead to the jitters, heart palpitations, sweating, nervousness, etc.
Reducing your intake of each of these can reduce the symptoms you feel.
Time Management: Learn to Say “NO”
Life is busy. The demands you face to get through a typical day can be trying and stressful. However, if you manage your time wisely, then your days can play out more smoothly. Here are a few tips:
- Keep a calendar (whether on your phone or an old-school physical agenda) to track the things on your to-do list.
- Prioritize the items on your to-do list.
- Always, always, always leave wiggle room. Nothing is certain, and schedules will change and emergencies will arise. Plan for them!
- Learn to say, “NO!” When your schedule is full, do not take on anything additional. It is OK to say no. Really. Pinky swear.
- Treat personal time as seriously as work, school, and other items on your to-do list. You need to take time for yourself. If it is on your schedule, you will be likely to get to it.
Sure, exercise is important for our overall health. We know that, right? But do you know why? Exercise produces chemicals in the brain called endorphins. These little guys almost act as a natural painkiller, binding to neuron receptors and giving us a naturally, elated feeling.
Another reason exercise is so good at reducing stress is that it helps us sleep better and, as we learned above, getting a good night’s sleep is a good thing.
Find a form of exercise that you like and stick with it—running, walking, biking, team sports, etc. Just do it!
Meditation or Other Breathing Techniques
Monitoring your breathing and being aware of your breathing can slow your body down and allow you to find your balance. The great thing about it is that it can be done anywhere—in any stressful situation you may find yourself in.
Do some research to discover all the great breathing techniques, then practice them so you are prepared to use them.
Find Something You Enjoy
What if you had just one thing to look forward to every day that made you smile? Choose something that you love to do, schedule it in your calendar, and then do it EVERY day. The options are unlimited—drawing, writing, playing piano, running, knitting, wood-working, anything!
Stress and Addiction Recovery
Knowing that you have something beautiful to look forward to in the afternoon while you are dealing with a stressful meeting in the morning can help you get through your day a bit easier. We all need a bright light at the end of a seemingly dark tunnel. Besides, learning to take pleasure in this small activity may help increase your gratitude in other areas of your life.
Stress can be a big bully, but your recovery is much too important to allow yourself to fall victim to it. Be aware of the tools that can help you and put them into place—then you will come out on top!
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.