For those in addiction recovery, handling stress and anxiety without their substance of choice can be challenging. Stress can cause a number of physical symptoms, health problems, and left unchecked, can lead to relapse. Luckily, there are a number of healthy, productive ways to deal with stress that don’t involve alcohol, drugs, or harmful behaviors. Here are some tips for how to manage stress in recovery that won’t leave you wanting to numb out:
Wreck some things
Sometimes stress can feel so overwhelming that you just want to break something to clear your head. Well luckily, New York City has two destruction rooms where customers can pay to smash electronics and other household items (with protective gear on, of course) in an effort to reduce stress and have fun. Check out The Wrecking Club or The Rage Cage in Midtown Manhattan. Both rooms allow customers to plug in music on speakers for a customized experience and allow for solo sessions, as well as larger groups.
For a less intense yet still tactile experience, find a squishy stress ball to squeeze or a pillow to bash (safely) against your bed or another surface. Tactile activities are a great way to physically channel stress from within the body and can offer temporary relief.
Sweat it out
Believe it or not, breaking a sweat has been shown to have tremendous benefits for reducing stress and helping to calm an overactive mind. Whether you prefer sweating it out through cardio exercise or something sedentary, like relaxing in a sauna or a steam rooms, the benefits of sweating cannot be denied. Some notable benefits of getting your sweat on include: boosting endorphins (which act as natural painkillers), detoxifying the body, preventing colds and other illnesses, and keeping your skin and hair healthy.
Check out your local Equinox for it’s steam room or the famed Russian and Turkish baths in the East Village, for the ultimate heated experience with its multiple saunas and steam rooms. For added calm and a distraction-free experience, leave your phone in the locker room and focus on your breathing and the sensation of the heat.
Turn it over
Sometimes the simplest solutions for stress are the most effective. If you’ve got something on your mind and you just can’t shake it, talk it out with a trusted friend, mentor, sponsor, or counselor. Usually what we find stressful can be put in perspective by someone who isn’t so close to the situation. Often times, simply sharing about a problem out loud reduces its stress-inducing properties, and many people report feeling the physical stress of a problem at hand lifted almost immediately once talked about out loud with a trusted confidant.
The psychic weight of stress is not yours to bear alone and it’s always OK to ask for help. If you can’t get a hold of anyone, try journaling or free-writing (writing continuously with no breaks). Entertain the fears that might encircle what you’re stressed or anxious about. Writing is a great way to track repetitive thoughts or concerns. If you feel comfortable with what you’ve written, share it with someone you trust.
Be mindful of phone usage
While phones may be a fact of life and an unavoidable distraction in the digital age, minimizing screen time can have a transformative effect for those experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. A mini-digital detox from your phone and laptop can greatly alleviate stress. Try keeping your phone on silent or airplane mode for a few minutes before you get out of bed or limiting how much time you spend on reading the news or scrolling through social media.
If ditching your phone turns out to be difficult at first, divert from social media or abrasive news reports, and instead try watching a funny or relaxing video or using one of the many free meditation apps out there. Everything we pay attention to takes a piece of our mental energy. What do you want to be spending your time and energy on? Although clicking through the cyber waves may temporarily distract you from the stress you may be feeling, it is only an ephemeral fix.
Even a few deep breaths before you get out of bed or head out the door can do wonders for a stressed-out mind. There are so many benefits to your physical and mental health from taking mindful breaths, which include but are not limited to: calming down the nervous system, greater clarity, better blood circulation, increased confidence, and an enhanced ability to learn, concentrate, and be creative.
One of our favorite breathing techniques comes from Dr. Andrew Weil, with his 4-7-8 breathing exercise that greatly reduces stress and lowers heart rates with only a few simple cycles.
Take a nap
Try as we might to power through a stressful day, sometimes the only solution is to lay down for a few minutes and just take a nap. Naps are by far underrated for their healing and restorative properties. If you’re pressed for time, a short 20-30 minute nap can refresh your mind and help you attain clarity. If you have some more time, a 90-minute nap will allow you to enter REM sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but for people in recovery from addiction, ignoring stress can lead to self-medicating and relapse. Stress is nothing to be embarrassed about, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk it out, sweat it out, write it out–whatever you do, know that you are not defined by your stress, and there is courage in admitting you need a time-out.
— Marina R. for Avenues New York, 2019