Staying sober in the face of anxiety
By Lisa Westerson, LCSW, MSW
Life changes in recovery can bring anxiety
Changing your life is what makes addiction recovery rewarding and difficult. As you may have encountered, working your recovery will make you think about past relationships, behaviors, and choices. And if you are solid in your recovery, you know that you don’t want to repeat your past choices.
In this context, worry about your future recovery is a valid concern. You may ask yourself, “Am I up for this challenge?” We think so!
Read on to learn some practical strategies for coping with anxiety during addiction recovery. Then, we invite your questions and feedback in the comments section at the end. In fact, we will try to respond to all questions personally and promptly!
Tools to help you reduce anxiety
While you have made positive changes in your life, you may find that some of those changes are new sources of stress. You don’t want to “fail” at your new life, and that may put you in a high-risk situation. You are fighting for the new you.
Let’s use some tools now to help you reduce your anxiety.
TOOL 1: Ask for support.
Asking for help is always a good first step when you are struggling and questioning your sobriety. Ask yourself:
- Do you have a sponsor you can call?
- Do you have a friend who can help you with difficult situations?
- Are you attending your AA or NA meetings?
You are not alone in your recovery. Use your sober network. Others in recovery are there to help get you through the tough times when you have cravings and feel the most vulnerable.
TOOL 2: Be honest with yourself.
Recovery requires constant recommitment to living a sober life. It also requires being honest with yourself. So, what is causing you to feel the fear? Your question is an honest evaluation of where you may be now. In all honesty, you’ve made a positive choice to move your life forward. But now with added new stresses, life situations can make you want to use.
You may want to identify what exactly is causing you to feel on edge. How?
- Make a list of things that have been causing you stress.
- Review the list when you feel stress and anxiety.
- Share your list with someone in recovery so you can identify areas you may have missed.
THEN, take inventory in your current schedule.
- Do you need to do one less task?
- Do you need help with a project?
- Do you need to change the time of your meetings?
Reviewing your daily schedule may help find ways to plan your activities better and relieve situations which cause more stress.
TOOL 3: Engage in life enhancing sober activities.
You have been practicing sober skills. For example, you may have learned about relapse prevention and/or have fought off cravings. Additionally, you may have incorporated new activities into your sober lifestyle like healthy eating, exercise, or even sober socializing.
Now is the time to write down some of those skills and activities that you enjoy and make you feel less anxious and stressed. Once you have identified these activities, you may need to actively pursue them when you feel anxiety and stress starts to build. Scheduling down time for relaxation and self-renewal may be a critical component of your daily routine if you are experiencing high-risk situations where you want to use. This is the time to:
- talk a walk
- go to the gym
- go to the pool
- take a yoga class
- listen to music
This is also a great time to utilize mindfulness techniques, grounding exercises, and meditation.
TOOL 4: Take care of yourself.
Self-care is very important in maintaining a stable recovery. Make sure you eat well on days when you have multiple classes or tests. Make sure you get enough sleep. Drink enough water during your day. Reward yourself when you have accomplished an assignment or were able to get through a difficult craving so it didn’t become a larger urge.
Maintain small changes and ask for help
Recovery is about maintaining the small changes which lead to releasing tension, anxiety, and the urge to use. You do not have to do it alone, and seeking support is a great first step.