stress management in recovery

Stress Management in Recovery

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Tips for Managing Stress in Recovery

Stress is a major contributor to both the initiation and continuation of alcohol and drug addiction.  It is also a major cause for relapse back into substance abuse.  In order to fully heal, resolve the root causes of addiction and prevent relapse, it is crucial to learn new, healthier ways to manage stress.

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What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s normal reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses to bring us back into balance. Stress can have a positive effect, keeping us alert, motivated, and adaptable.

How Does Stress Affect Health?

The human body is designed to be able to experience and react to stress. However, when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between stressors the person can become overworked and tension can build.  This kind of chronic unrelenting stress can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress disturbs the body’s natural balance and can negatively affect your body, your mood and your behavior.

Common effects of stress on health include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Stress also becomes harmful when people turn to substances and compulsive behaviors as a means to cope. Stress is a common trigger for every type of addiction and the more stress a person is under, the more likely they will seek to escape it. Substances and behaviors people commonly misuse in an attempt to cope with stress include:

  • Food
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Drugs
  • Shopping

Rather than actually resolving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these behaviors simply distract a person from their stress temporarily.  They actually keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems, trapping the distressed person in a vicious cycle.

The Importance of Properly Managing Stress in Addiction Recovery

The process of recovery itself comes with its own stressors.  You are likely to experience:

  • Family and relationship conflicts
  • Financial worries
  • Looking for or starting a new job or resuming an old one
  • Health concerns

Medical specialists believe that stress is the leading cause of relapse back into drug abuse. Research shows that the brains of drug abusers are actually more sensitive to stress, which may prompt them to try to relieve their stress by returning to drugs.

Tips for Stress Management

The good news is that people can learn to manage their stress and lead happier healthier lives!  Here are a few tips to help you manage stress in life’s most difficult moments.

Focus on your Breath

Deep breathing calms the nervous system and helps you come back to a place of calm. A few deep breaths in a stressful moment can help you to calm yourself down and step out of the stress of the moment.

Cultivate Gratitude

It is virtually impossible to feel stressed and upset while feeling grateful. Try to take a moment every day to focus on something or someone you are grateful for and then notice how you feel.

Connect to nature

Spending time in nature is a powerful way to bring the mind and body into balance. Walking in a park, working in a garden, being near water, or hiking in nature all have a grounding and healing impact, and will leave you feeling more at ease.

Get enough sleep

Life feels much harder to deal with when you don’t get enough sleep.  Try to create a relaxing evening routine and go to bed at the same time everyday to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep.


Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s own natural feel good hormones Exercise also helps you to sleep better which in turn helps with stress management.

Talk to Someone

Whether in therapy, at a meeting or with family, talking to someone about your worries can help you to put things into perspective, find solutions and remember that you are not alone.

Let go of what you can’t control

Realizing that your own behavior is the only thing you can control in life reduces a lot of unnecessary stress. You cant control what happens on the outside, but you can control how you respond to it, and make choices that keep you moving forward.

Make time for self-care

Self-care can include any of the above, or something else.  Anything that makes you feel safe, grounded and cared for is self-care. If you are taking care of yourself, then the stresses life throws at you will be easier to manage.