Anxiety and addiction seem to go hand in hand. Many people who have anxiety use drinking or mood altering substances as a coping mechanism. For example, someone with social anxiety could start drinking at parties to feel more comfortable being around other people. Or someone who has performance anxiety might take mood altering substances to get through their performance on stage. Using alcohol or mood altering substances as coping mechanisms for anxiety can lead to addiction and in turn, the anxiety will worsen. Often, once the individual with addiction is sober, the anxiety returns and oftentimes, with a vengeance. This is the vicious cycle that anxiety and addiction play together. They both co-exist, sometimes we don’t really know what started first, and once you are trying to recover, dealing with anxiety attacks are extremely challenging to your recovery and might lead you to just fall into the path of addiction again as a quick relief, but the cycle will keep on going until you tackle it head-on.
The tricky thing about anxiety is that it can be unpredictable, especially when you are trying to stay sober. You could be standing in line at a grocery store one day and it hits you like a ton of bricks. Sweating, dizziness, trouble breathing, jelly legs so bad that you might be tempted to leave your cart and run out of the checkout line! It may feel really foreign to start reducing the anxiety without drinking or taking mood altering substances to calm it down, but once you start tackling it the natural way, you will start feeling like you are more in control than ever before. Read on to discover 5 tools to help you cope with anxiety during sobriety.
1) Start a Journal: If you haven’t already done so, journaling is a true anxiety hero. Often, we will find that we have so many things on our minds, that we need a safe outlet and we don’t always feel comfortable talking about our feelings with someone else. Write things out in a journal. At the end of every day, you should jot down how you feel, what is troubling you, how anxious you felt that day, what you ate, how much you slept the night before. Basically, just jot down how your day went, with a focus on your anxiety level and your activities that day. It will help you discover patterns where your anxiety is heightened, or you may even bring out something unconsciously that you didn’t know was troubling you before. For example, you may start to see that you are writing a lot about financial troubles, or how you get anxiety in social situations or in crowds. Write freely, and then in a week, review your journal entries and see if you can spot a pattern.
2) Physical Activity: Yoga and basically any sort of exercise that you enjoy will help tremendously with reducing overall anxiety. It has a calming effect on the body and brain after it’s done. You don’t have to workout for long, only 30 minutes per day can have a profound impact on your daily anxiety levels and being able to cope with panic attacks and generalized anxiety in a much easier way. When your body is used to exercising, anxiety is way more manageable. If you’re not into intense exercise, yoga is a great alternative. It’s an easy way to move your body with a focus on meditation and proper focus and concentration to maintain poses. You can definitely reset your anxious thoughts and focus on positive affirmations during the practise. Afterwards you will feel so much better!
3) Hydrate and eat healthy: Anxiety can often be worse when we are thirsty and hungry. Make sure to always bring healthy snacks along with you when you are out running errands and bring a big bottle of water that you can drink during the course of the day. Making sure you are never starving or parched will prevent unwanted feelings of anxiety. It might not cure it, but it will definitely help. Also keep in mind that sugary food and drinks can exacerbate anxiety so you will want to stick to a healthy diet consisting of balanced proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy carbs. Sugar and anxiety do not mix!
4) Learn to say “no”: Anxiety often crops up when we feel a lack of control in our lives. We do not feel good when we feel like we have to say yes to everything and run ourselves ragged with demands from family, friends, in-laws, kids, whoever. We need to set healthy boundaries in our lives. In order to do so, think about everyone that is in your life and how they make you feel. If you feel like they don’t accept you for who you are, they are always negative towards you or towards life, they have not really helped in your path to sobriety or they make unnecessary demands on you, you need to politely put up some protective walls. Learn to say no without feeling guilty and without having to explain yourself, just say “no thanks, I am not up for that today, but I will do the carpool next week” or “I can’t make this event, but I will definitely make it when my schedule frees up!” Do not feel guilty about it. Enjoy your life and take time for YOU.
5) Talk to a therapist: Anxiety loves it when you push it away and pretend it doesn’t exist. It has a way of making sure you know it is not going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner you accept the anxiety as part of you, the sooner you will find it easier to manage the symptoms, and the less often the attacks will crop up. Talking to a therapist is an excellent way of releasing all your anxious thoughts and feelings to a professional that will teach you some great coping techniques to manage the anxiety. Talking about what makes you anxious to a therapist will help you identify patterns and even some deep-rooted fears and hang-ups that you never thought you had or that you buried deep in your memories.
These are 5 powerful tools to combat anxiety during your sobriety. If you work through these, you will feel more in control of your feelings of anxiousness. It is very important to understand what is happening in your body and to not cover it up by drinking or taking mood altering substances. Living with uncomfortable sensations is part of life and we have to face difficult things in order to get stronger. Anxiety might never leave you completely, but you will be able to manage it way better in the future if you start working on it today.