Recovery is a process that carries many intense emotions, most of them, more intense than ever, this is because during addiction they were hidden away. One of these strong feelings is anxiety. Early sobriety -the first year after quitting- tends to trigger anxiety and depression, especially if you’ve already suffered from these disorders before. In my case, both anxiety and depression became something to battle along with my alcohol addiction recovery.
Alcohol is often a mechanism to cope with painful emotions, such as anxiety, and though it may feel like a solution, all you’re doing is suppressing it, and when it finally surfaces it’s much worse. Therefore, when you eliminate that coping mechanism, you are left to deal with those feelings on your own, making it tempting to turn to alcohol (or any substance) again.
Anxiety is a mental disorder and it isn’t pleasant in any case, but there are many ways in which you can deal with anxiety once you’re living sober.
- Reach out for help
As you probably know by now, recovery is a long, hard process, and asking for help when things get difficult is essential in this process. Tell your family or close friends about your feelings of anxiety, if you’re in a group program, tell your fellow members about it. Sometimes just talking it out can help you feel better, plus, you may get advice and different perspectives on the issue, which can be very helpful too.
Seeing a therapist is a great way to overcome anxiety. A professional can help you understand and pinpoint the source of your anxiety and work on your deepest worries. They will be supportive and help you find ways to adjust your lifestyle that can help with your feelings of anxiety, such as stress-management and relaxation techniques, exercise and diet.
- Practice mindful meditation
Meditation seems to be a good relief for anxiety and there are many simple ways you can do it if you’re not familiar with this practice. Simply sit by yourself in silence, close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Breathe from your diaphragm or your belly, and concentrate on your slow, deep breaths. Try breathing for a count of 4, holding for a count of three and then exhaling for a count of 4. Breathing deeply and slowly can help you decrease your blood pressure, relax your muscles and calm you down.
Another great and very easy meditation technique is visualization. Again, sit silently, close your eyes and start picturing your favorite place -the sounds, the smells, the feelings-, or imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing environment.
One of the best tips for dealing with anxiety is to exercise regularly. Working out can relieve symptoms of anxiety and increase your feelings of well-being both during exercising and hours after, since it releases brain chemicals that counteract anxiety and low mood. It is recommended to do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, try starting out with low-impact physical activities such as walking around for short periods of time every day, or if you’re feeling in shape you can join a sports team or go to the gym. As a personal recommendation, giving yoga a try can be very helpful, since the soothing atmosphere of the environment and the chance to be quiet and focused on yourself and your body can help you be peaceful.
- Make some changes to your diet
Believe it or not, what you eat has a huge impact on your levels of anxiety. There are some anxiety-triggering foods and drinks you should eliminate from your diet such as coffee, sugar and starch. Make the effort of replacing these anxiety provokers for healthier things such as tea and low-carb nuts, and you will see a reduction in your stress levels.
There are also mood-enhancing foods you should include in your diet. Those high in antioxidants, such as blueberries and açai berries, can help raise mood levels and reduce stress. Foods high in vitamin D, B and E, such as salmon and eggs, are also helpful, as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts and flax seeds. Having a healthy, balanced diet and getting the right nutrients for your body can go a long way towards stabilizing your mood.
In addition, herbs like rosemary, chamomile, peppermint and valerian are great to help you be serene. Make it part of your routine to drink them in tea and it may help you stay calmer during the day.
- Distract yourself with something you love
Feelings of anxiety are often very temporary and can pass within a short period of time. When you feel anxiety building up, engage in a hobby or an activity you love such as reading, singing, going for a run, playing an instrument, cooking, and craft-making. This is a way of escaping anxiety, similar to what you used to do when you turned to alcohol or drugs, only healthier and with long-term benefits.
These 5 tips can help alleviate some of the symptoms of long-term anxiety. Nevertheless, as you know, recovery can be long and difficult, so be patient and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work immediately. Try these tips and maybe some more and it won’t be long until you start feeling your anxiety symptoms have reduced and you’re able to handle them better.
Do you have any other tips on dealing with anxiety during recovery? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.