It’s 12 am, and you can’t sleep. Your mind is racing with thoughts about the past day, week, year. It’s impossible to relax.
Stress and anxiety are hard to deal with for anyone, but they’re especially hard if you’re used to coping in the moment with drugs or alcohol. If you’ve been through detox and you’re in recovery, it's moments like these that could derail your desire to be clean. Unfortunately, while the anxiety and stress might disappear for a moment, one more pill, hit, or shot could easily set you back on the path to addiction.
This is why it’s so important to have good tools on hand to deal with those tough moments. Here are a few all-natural, healthy ways to cope when you’re feeling stressed out.
1. Meet up with friends.
You know about deep breathing exercises and meditation. But did you know that quality time with good friends and family might be the most important source of stress reduction? You don’t have to have tons of friends to get the positive effects, either. In fact, a 2011 study showed that best friends actually serve as a buffer against the typical effects of a negative experience.
Conversely, participants who didn’t have a best friend to rely on experienced a “significant increase in cortisol [the stress hormone]” and a “decrease in self worth.” Join Meetup Groups, join a faith-based community, or start volunteering, and find start building friendships! If you’re lucky enough to have family members that double as friends, invest in those relationships, too.
2. Listen to a podcast.
Are you surprised we didn’t say “listen to music”? Part of the reason we suggest a good podcast is because—unlike music—podcasts will keep your mind from wandering and most likely won’t “trigger” you. Anyone who’s heard a throwback song can attest to the memories, emotions, and thoughts that can come flooding back. Educational, funny, or interesting podcasts can calm down an overactive mind and bring you back down to earth. A self-help podcast may also serve like a stand-in therapist when you can’t see one in person. Check out The Overwhelmed Brain or The Anxiety Coaches podcasts to start.
If you’re in the mood for a good music session, try out music you haven’t heard before. You’ll avoid the possibility of negative triggers, and you might find a new band you love!
3. Go for a run. (Or walk.)
The benefits of exercise extend far beyond your physical body. Countless studies have shown a correlation between regular physical exercise and a lowered sense of anxiety and stress. In fact, even books have been written about the subject! Of course, this is simply one tool you can use to decrease stress, and it might not be the complete answer.
Try out some different exercises, find one you enjoy, and try doing it 3+ times a week to find out how it affects you. Oh—don’t discount the positive effects of simply moving more throughout the day. If a structured exercise program sounds daunting, get started by walking more, stretching more, parking far away from a store, and taking stairs over elevators when you’re given a choice.
4. Get out in nature.
If you’re in the middle of a concrete jungle, it’s time to escape for some much-needed greenery. A stroll through the park could actually improve your focus and memory, according to recent research by the University of Michigan.
In this particular study, subjects walked through an arboretum before a test, and boosted memory and attention by 20%. Other subjects were sent down a busy street in town, and zero cognitive benefit emerged. This was a small sample, but other studies have also shown that nature has benefits on our psyche. Pro tip: why not pair nature with exercise—a run through the woods, or kayaking on the bay.
5. Start an engaging hobby.
As we stated in #2, sometimes your brain just needs a break. And that break may not come with something less engaging, such as listening to a song or going for a walk. Sometimes, you need to focus on something else, at least temporarily, to deal with an issue more effectively.
When you work on an engaging hobby, you’ll gain confidence and lower stress. Thinking about trying to play guitar? Start painting? Cooking? All of those hobbies will help you hone in on a sense of focus, purpose, and you’ll be forced to live in the moment—not in the past or future, where stress frequently emerges. Need some ideas? Here are 6 productive hobbies from Lifehacker to get you started.
6. Plan a short vacation.
Sometimes, when you can’t do anything about your current situation, it’s beneficial to plan something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a vacation to the Bahamas for a week, either. Even a weekend away can release stress and lift anxiety enough for you to breathe better. At the very least, the planning process will keep you engaged much like a hobby would. If you tend to get stressed while planning a vacation, bring a low-key friend to help, or reach out to a travel agent.
7. Learn to meditate.
This is one of the first things most people will tell you to do if you’re stressed out. But what if you’ve tried before and failed? Well, first of all, it doesn’t work for everyone. If you feel a greater sense of relief while running than you do while in yoga, then don’t force yourself to do yoga!
But if you want to start learning how to meditate effectively, find a quiet environment and sit comfortably. Start small—think 10 seconds, not 5 minutes of head-clearing time. You might find that you need calming music or white noise in the background at first, or perhaps a guided meditation to get started. This is a time-honored and frequently studied method of managing stress that many people find to be effective.
8. Start journaling or coloring.
Journaling is one of the oldest tricks in the book for managing stress. Writing helps you sort out your thoughts and force you to slow down your brain (hey, you can’t write that fast!). According to the University of Rochester, journaling can also help you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns, and can even help you track your daily symptoms so you can discover stress triggers.
Oh, and if you’re not already aboard the adult coloring trend, it might be time! This recently popularized pastime of your childhood actually activates different areas of our brain, according to psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala. When you put those crayons, markers, or gel pens to paper, you’ll keep your brain engaged and boost your imagination. Get started today with a Mandala stress relieving coloring book!
9. Go to sleep.
Have you ever seen the way a toddler acts before naptime? Anything—even a cracker dropped on the floor—can set them off into a crabby tantrum or a torrent of tears.
We might be tired of hearing about sleep deprivation, but there’s a reason sleep is so frequently covered in media and studied by scientists. We need it not only to grow and function, but we also need it for emotional health. In other words, a lack of sleep may actually directly result in depression, anxiety, or other emotional ailments.
In addition, another study revealed that sleep deprived research participants experienced impaired judgment, and found it harder to control emotional responses (read: shorter fuse, anyone)? Get your zzz’s in tonight, and you might find yourself smiling and relaxed tomorrow.
Once you find the healthy ways to deal with stress that work for you, you might see a huge improvement! Even if you don’t see an improvement right away, it’s worth the effort to try. Who knows—you might find a new amazing hobby or sport you never thought you’d enjoy! Are you in recovery? How do you deal with anxiety and stress? Share with us in the comments!
If you’re in the process of trying to kick an addiction, you’ll likely need extra support throughout the process. There are so many benefits to rehab at Pat Moore Foundation. Our amazing staff will guide you through the entire detoxing process, and you’ll be safe and comfortable on our gorgeous campus. Get in touch with us today to learn more, or see if your insurance is accepted!