During the recovery process, many people struggle to manage their stress levels. Addiction is a traumatic experience, and recovery often comes with significant—and stressful—challenges. Managing stress is an important part of a healthy, successful recovery from addiction.

April is Stress Awareness Month, and our team at Windward Way is ready to help our clients understand how stress affects their recovery. We’re going to discuss how stress management is used as a part of the recovery process and share tips to help manage stress day-to-day.

How Trauma Creates Stress

Stress is a natural reaction to a traumatic experience or series of experiences. Traumatic stress can be severe and greatly impact your life and recovery, but even mild stress can be detrimental to your health and recovery.

When you experience a traumatic event—whether a one-time event or an ongoing situation—your nervous system goes into survival mode. This reaction is a biological response designed to help you fight or flee from a distressing situation. During this response, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can negatively affect the body.

Trauma and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Those who have experienced traumatic events are often at a greater risk for substance abuse. Those who abuse substances are at a heightened risk for trauma. Additionally, research shows that people who live with addiction may be worse-equipped to handle stress and traumatic events than their non-addicted peers.

How Stress Affects the Body and Mind

As mentioned above, stress is not just a mental issue—stress also causes physical reactions in the body that can lead to damage over time.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in reaction to a stressful event, but it also plays a role in regulating many bodily functions. High levels of cortisol are also linked to anxiety and depression.

Increased cortisol production can affect many systems of the body, including the:

  • Central nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory system
  • Digestive system
  • Reproductive system
  • Endocrine system
  • Muscular system
  • Immune system

Because cortisol is often released in response to a threat, it can increase blood pressure, your heart rate, blood glucose levels, respiration, and muscle tension. While these reactions serve a purpose in times of actual physical danger, they can cause significant health problems when they remain active for long periods of time—such as while working towards recovery after substance abuse.

The Importance of Managing Stress to Prevent Relapse

During your recovery from addiction, you strive to prevent relapses and continue to heal. Stress, however, can be incredibly triggering. Because of the way stress affects the body and the interplay between trauma and addiction, stress can trigger a relapse.

There is no shame in admitting that you are facing a stressful situation during recovery. Undoing the damage of addiction and relearning new ways to cope with stress and trauma is a part of the process, and it can feel messy at times. Learning to manage stress is key in your recovery, though, which is why stress management is a focus of addiction treatment.

When facing stressful situations, people, or events, a relapse can feel like a way to reduce stress and remove yourself. Unfortunately, relapse isn’t a long-term solution to the stress you experience, and relapsing will lead to more stress in the future.

For this reason, it is very important to develop healthy stress management methods and learn to recognize situations that can lead to stress.

Tips to Manage Stress

Managing stress is an ongoing practice but developing healthy coping habits can help you address stress and prevent it from damaging your progress. Here are some ways you can defeat stress and encourage a healthier approach to life during your recovery and long after.

Take Time to Rest

We face stress at many points in our day. Traffic, work, relationships, financial needs, and other facets of our lives can cause stress. It’s important to schedule time for yourself where you can step away from the stressors of daily life and relax. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones, enjoying a hobby, taking a nap, or simply enjoying a favorite game or show, taking a break from stress can leave your better equipped to tackle it later.

Practice Positivity

It can be easy for negative thoughts to crop up since many people learn the habit of negativity in response to stress. Instead of believing a negative thought, take a moment to acknowledge it and rework it into a positive thought. It’s not hard to get caught up in an endless loop of negativity, but these thoughts can be stopped, and you can start shifting your focus towards positivity.

Get Moving

Exercise is linked to a number of stress-relieving benefits. Regular workouts can strengthen your cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and muscles. It also can increase flexibility, release tension, and decrease chronic stiffness and pain. Exercise also produces endorphins, which can give you a mood boost. Other benefits of exercise include better sleep, reduced fatigue, and better concentration.

It may even help prevent relapses, according to a study on the use of exercise as an addiction treatment.

Start a Journal

Seeing your thoughts on paper can be helpful for many people to address their stress. Writing down how you’re feeling in response to specific situations, conversations, and other things you experience can help you understand what causes stress in your life and help you remember what you’ve learned in counseling.

Get Help with Your Recovery

If you’re seeking a way to start your own journey to recovery from addiction, Windward Way is here for you. Our Costa Mesa addiction treatment facility offers a variety of drug and alcohol treatment options, so you can find the one that best suits your life and your needs. Don’t let addiction stand in your way anymore. Our compassionate team is ready to help you overcome addiction—starting today.

Learn more about your treatment options now. Contact our offices by calling (844) 252-5930.