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Four Powerful Ways to Reduce Stress and Help Prevent Relapse following Addiction Treatment

It’s one thing to stay clean and sober while you’re in an addiction treatment program, especially if it’s a residential program in which you have no access to alcohol or drugs. However, once you leave drug rehab, you’re back in the real world – with all its demands, temptations, and stressors. After all the hard work you put in to your rehab, the last thing you want to do is relapse.

There are several factors that will help you maintain your sobriety after addiction treatment. Two of the most important factors are having a good aftercare program and sticking with it, and developing a strong support network. A third crucial factor, which we’ll talk about here, is being able to manage and reduce your stress.

Stress is Inevitable

Unfortunately, stress is an inevitable part of life. The only people who don’t have to stress are the ones who are six feet under! As an addict in recovery you’re especially vulnerable to the effects of stress in your life. If you don’t monitor your stress closely and learn how to deal with it quickly and effectively, it can easily be a trigger for using or drinking again.

Initially, getting into a regular habit of yoga or meditation, for example, may seem like an impossible goal. But it’s far less work than going back into an addiction treatment program. Sharon’s story is a great example of finally staying sober by managing her stress:

I’ve struggled with alcoholism for over 20 years. I had been in rehab three times in the past, including a month-long stint at an expensive residential program that my parents paid for. But I always ended up relapsing within the first 6 to 8 months following my alcohol treatment.

My inability to stay sober always left me feeling like a failure. It also seriously impacted many of my relationships with family and friends. They felt I didn’t care and didn’t take my recovery seriously enough. I was serious, but the alcohol always won in the end despite my best efforts.

After my fourth time in alcohol rehab I was determined to stay sober once and for all. I worked closely with my addiction counselor. In our sessions I finally began to see the real problem. It was my complete inability to handle stress that always caused me to start drinking again. Stressful situations made me really anxious, and alcohol was the only thing that helped numb the anxiety.

My counselor encouraged me to start a regular exercise program. He also suggested that I begin meditating daily. I was skeptical, as I’d never liked working out and I thought meditation was for monks. But I didn’t want to fail again so I decided to give his suggestions a try.

I started running 4 times a week. It was really hard at first, as I’d been pretty sedentary for many years. After the first three months, however, I was able to run 4 miles a day non-stop. I found that I actually really enjoyed my runs. The fresh air was invigorating and I was sleeping like a baby! I also had more energy than ever before. Running also helped me lose 15 pounds, which was a great boost for my self-esteem.

Meditating was a bit more challenging. It was a struggle to sit quietly for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. I couldn’t turn off the constant “chatter” in my head, which was often very negative. But I reluctantly stuck with it. I set aside time first thing each morning when I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted. After several months of meditating regularly, I felt grounded and calm – which was very new to me. Stressful situations no longer made me anxious.

I have now been sober for over 5 years. I really have to attribute my sobriety to the regular meditation and exercise. Both have greatly helped me both reduce and manage the stress – and its effects – in my life. I also look and feel better than ever, and I’m even getting ready to compete in my second marathon!

Like Sharon, you’ve worked far too hard to get clean and sober to let stress cause you to relapse. Following are several ways you can alleviate and manage stress in your life. Each of these stress management techniques work very well. However, they are the most effective if you do them regularly, rather than only when you feel stressed.

1 – Regular Aerobic Exercise

Engaging in some form of aerobic exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per day, several days per week, is hands down one of the best ways to reduce stress and help keep it under control. Aerobic exercise is any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for an extended period of time. Examples of this type of exercise include jogging or running, cycling (on a regular bike or stationery bike), swimming laps, and walking at a brisk pace.

Aerobic exercise causes your brain to release feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins help boost your mood and enhance your overall sense of well-being. The better you feel, the less vulnerable you are to relapsing.

Regular exercise also helps you sleep better. When you’re tired, you’re much more vulnerable to the effects of stress – and the temptation to use. Other benefits of regular exercise include increased self-confidence and a greater overall sense that you are in control of your life. Self-confidence and feeling more in control are especially powerful weapons to have in your recovery arsenal.

2 – Yoga

Eastern cultures have known the vast benefits of yoga for centuries. Practicing yoga on a regular basis is a great way to reduce and manage the stress in your life. It’s relatively easy to do, and you can do it without any special equipment or clothing. You can do it alone in the comfort of your own home or in a group as part of a yoga class.
Some people do yoga primarily for the physical benefits, which include an increase in flexibility, muscle tone, and strength; decreased blood pressure; a stronger immune system; higher energy levels; and improved circulation, respiration, digestion, and sleep. Yoga can also help with fat loss and weight management.

Many people, however, practice yoga because it also helps both the mind and the spirit. They find that yoga helps them feel calmer and more centered. It can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, two things that can easily trigger a relapse. Yoga also helps improve memory and concentration. Since slow, controlled breathing is one of the core elements of yoga, it greatly enhances your ability to relax.

3 – Meditation

Like yoga, the many wonderful benefits of meditating on a regular basis have been recognized in Eastern societies for hundreds of years. It is at the heart of many Eastern religions. In recent years it has become increasingly popular in Western cultures as well. Renowned heart surgeon, best-selling author, and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz reportedly meditates regularly, as do other celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Oprah Winfrey.

Meditation essentially involves getting very comfortable and relaxed, and then quieting your mind for several minutes or more. As you quiet your mind, you focus on just one thing such as your breathing, a word or sound (often referred to as a “mantra”), or an object. Meditation is simple in theory, but most people find that it does take practice to be able to shut out their mental chatter for even just a few minutes. The more regularly you meditate, the easier it will become and the more benefits you will experience. Most people start with just a few minutes each day – preferably at a regularly scheduled time in a very quiet place – and then work their way up to 20 minutes or more.

Like yoga, meditation has physical, mental, and spiritual benefits – all very important if you’re in recovery following addiction treatment. It helps alleviate stress, increases your ability to concentrate and focus, and is an excellent way to keep you feeling relaxed, in control, and grounded. It also has been shown to help with anger, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and depression. Physical benefits include a stronger immune system, faster healing, improved sleep, and lower blood pressure to name a few.

4 – Qi Gong and Tai Chi

Two other excellent stress reduction practices are Qi Gong and Tai Chi. Similar in many ways, both practices originated in ancient China and date back thousands of years. Tai Chi is a type of martial art and Qi Gong is a Chinese healing exercise. The latter is typically associated with traditional Chinese medicine.

Both Tai Chi and Qi Gong focus on the body’s “qi” or “chi” – which is the vital energy or life force within you. They typically involve the use of slow, gentle movements (although Tai Chi may be done quickly). They help increase relaxation, alleviate and reduce stress, and enhance posture, flexibility, and balance. Tai Chi and Qi Gong also help improve the functioning of your immune system while providing many other health benefits as well.

If you’re serious about your recovery, learning either Tai Chi or Qi Gong would definitely help prevent future relapse following your addiction treatment. They are powerful mind-body practices that will make you feel mentally stronger and more in control of your life.

There are many other things you can do to help manage and reduce stress after your addiction treatment. However, the things listed above are some of the most effective methods you’ll find. Choose at least one that appeals to you and start doing it on a regular basis. Not only will any one of them help prevent a relapse, it will also provide an array of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits as well.