Recovering from substance abuse is a long and often difficult journey, and most of us often experience strong levels of anxiety and depression as we recovery. Whether because of mood-disorders which first pushed substance use or as a side-effect of substance abuse, feelings of anxiety and worry or constant agitation are a normal and expected part of recovery. Normally, most would seek out a doctor and eventually prescription solutions like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. However, if you’re in recovery, you likely want to avoid drugs, even prescription medication, wherever possible.
While you may not be able to avoid prescription treatment if you have a strong anxiety disorder, there are many ways you can work to treat and alleviate anxiety without drugs. This is especially true when you’re suffering from short-term anxiety caused by recovery and withdrawal – because your symptoms will go away on their own if you manage them correctly.
These 7 ways to alleviate anxiety without drugs will get you on the right track.
1. Track Your Nutrition
Substance use disorders heavily contribute to poor dietary choices as well as poor nutritional absorption. Most substances including alcohol and large doses of prescription drugs damage the gastrointestinal tract, reducing your ability to absorb nutrients from the good food you do eat. As a result, up to 70% of all recovering addicts suffer from nutrient deficiency, which directly contributes to mood disorders like anxiety. Working to improve your nutrition and tracking your nutritional intake will give you a better baseline for improving your diet and reducing mental side-effects. In many cases, if you’re attending rehab, your treatment center may offer nutrition therapy as part of your recovery. If not, you may want to consider consulting a dietician or nutritionist instead. However, simply eating more balanced meals and ensuring you’re getting a large amount of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet can work to correct nutritional deficiencies over time.
It may be cliché, but exercise actually helps with stress and anxiety. The most commonly known reason is that exercise releases endorphins like serotonin and dopamine into the body, causing relaxation, a slight sensation of satisfaction, and even pleasure. This also works to alleviate cravings, because you’re giving your body a small, natural hit of the same substances that you’re likely craving in synthetic form. The second is that exercise forces you to focus on what you’re doing, clearing your mind, and simply not think about things that are stressing you out. That’s important, considering some experts suggest that the average human spends 50% of all waking hours worrying. It will help you to de-stress and feel better. Finally, even light exercise like walking helps to promote blood flow and oxygenation, which will help you feel better, give you more energy, and will reduce fatigue related stress and anxiety. Does this mean you have to hit the gym every day? No, it doesn’t. Feel free to pick a light exercise you enjoy and remember that dancing, tennis, and gardening all count as exercise.
3. Actively Manage Stress
Everyone experiences a certain amount of stress. Some people are just better at managing it than others. Actively managing your stress will help you to alleviate anxiety, because it removes causes of worry. And, because stress is one of the most common causes of relapse, it will help you to stay clean and sober. For this reason, many rehab programs work to actively integrate stress management tools like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and simply time to relax. On your own, you can do the same, taking time to attend breathing and mindfulness classes, or simply making time to relax every day.
4. Change Things You’re Anxious About
Chances are that you’re stressing about the same things every day. Whether that’s family, your job, traffic, budget, or anything else doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you can likely take some steps to alleviate the cause of anxiety. For example, if you get anxious about getting ready to go in the morning, you can alleviate some of that anxiety by preparing your clothes and things the night before. If you’re anxious about traffic, you can cycle or try to take public transport if possible. Importantly, you can’t alleviate all stress by being proactive, simply because you will stress and be anxious over nothing when in recovery or if you have a disorder, but you can work to actively identify things that cause you to be anxious and work to fix them. Most people are anxious about debt, interactions with others, social obligations, wait periods, and rushing.
5. Don’t Take on Too Much
Getting clean and sober can give you a false sense of invincibility. You made it over the hard part, it’s time to take on the world and catch up. But, that mentality can set you up for failure by overwhelming you. You are in recovery after however long a period of having abused your body and you do need to give yourself time and care. Take care of your health, don’t exhaust yourself, and try to set up your goals as small and manageable steps, and don’t be afraid to say no to obligations. Overwhelming yourself with too much to do will cause strong anxiety and will make you more likely to relapse.
6. Join a Group
Finding someone to talk to is one of the best things you can do to reduce anxiety and boost your motivation. While you may initially feel more anxiety about going to a group like AA or SMART recovery, you will eventually be able to use it as an outlet. Recovery groups give you the opportunity to spend time with others who have had similar experiences, to talk about problems and cravings without judgement, and to find friends and sober buddies you can spend time with. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all group. If you don’t feel comfortable after attending 5-10 meetings, try to go somewhere else. Just make sure you give the group enough time when you start to make a good decision.
7. Try Journaling
Writing things down is an easy way to cope with them and to give them scope. Many psychologists recommend journaling to not only catalogue your thoughts and processes, but also to allow you to fully flesh out what you are worrying about, so that you can understand why it stresses you. Creating a daily journal is one solution, but you can also try simply keeping a log of things you’re anxious about and why. You may also want to take it a step further and try to come up with solutions – but that isn’t necessary to experience the stress-relieving benefits writing things down.
Anxiety is extremely common, especially among individuals with recovery. With several factors contributing to mood disorders including imbalances in the brain because of substance abuse, cravings, poor nutrition and health, and likely withdrawal from friends and family, it’s actually more unusual to not be anxious.
However, if your anxiety is persistent, even with treatment and management, it is important that you seek out professional help through your doctor. You may have an anxiety disorder and you may need therapy which will help you to build stronger coping mechanisms. If you’re concerned about being given prescription drugs, you can discuss your options and preferences with your therapist or you may contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today for more information. We are here to help and happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors.