17 Ways to Relieve Stress and Decrease the Risk of Relapse in Recovery

Stress is a killer in recovery. From one second to the next, we can go from feeling just fine to feeling like the only recourse is to have a drink or get high. It does not have to be a huge event for us to take that leap, especially in early recovery. In fact, it is often the little things – someone looking at us the wrong way or making a sarcastic comment – that can get under our skin and make it hard to focus on anything else. Without the tools to manage that stress healthfully, it makes sense that we might feel that our only way to handle those uncomfortable feelings is to resort to our old “go-to” moves, like drinking and using drugs.

It is for this reason that drug and alcohol addiction treatment is heavily focused on providing exposure to a wide range of stress relief and stress management tools. The more options you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to find something that works for you and employ it in a time of need.

Instant relief options – things you can do to handle acute stress – are great to have in your arsenal, but it is also a good idea to lay the groundwork for lower stress levels overall with some foundational stress relief choices. Here are a few of both options to get you started.

Instant Relief

  1. Close your eyes and breathe. When you close your eyes, you cut down on a lot of the incoming stimuli, helping yourself to turn your attention inward. While there, try to shut down your thoughts and focus on nothing but your breath. Doing so can immediately help to lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and give you the time and space you need to calm down.
  2. Do a body scan. Stop where you are and starting at your feet and moving all the way up to the top of your head, check in with how you are feeling. Do your knees ache? Are you hungry? Do you have back pains or a scrape that is bothering you? Are you tired or just out of sorts? Are your clothes uncomfortable? Notice anything that isn’t as it should be, and make changes as needed.
  3. Read books that inspire you. Whether you love historical paranormal space romances or recovery quote books, keep one or two on your phone or in your bag so you can pull them out as needed.
  4. Watch standup comedy. There are tons of standup comedy shows on Netflix, comedy clubs in every town, and great specials to catch on TV, not to mention a range of videos on YouTube if you’re interested in checking out bits and clips from different comedians.
  5. Unplug. Turn off your phone. Turn off the TV. Walk away from the computer. Allow yourself to focus on this present moment rather than online stressors.
  6. Put on headphones. Music is a great healer, and you can take a break from any stressor by putting on your headphones and cueing up your favorite playlist.
  7. Draw, take pictures, or make art. Whatever your favorite artistic endeavor, you can find stress relief in taking some time to do nothing but focus on your art. In some situations, you may even be able to find inspiration for your art from the stressor itself. In others, you may prefer to create a separate universe.
  8. Take a shower. Though this isn’t a solution for every situation, of course, if you are at home, it can be a good idea to literally wash away the stress, soak muscles in hot water, and clean the slate, so to speak.
  9. Take a nap. Again, only an option in certain situations, but a quick power nap is a great way to regroup, refresh, and start over.
  10. Go to a movie by yourself. Changing your perspective and altering your surroundings is an effective way to help you disengage from a stressor, alter your universe, and enjoy yourself at the same time

Lay the Foundation

  1. Eat healthfully. A diet based on lots of fresh produce, lean proteins, and whole grains can improve your energy, boost your mood, and help you to sleep better – all of which helps you to keep overall stress levels low.
  2. Get good sleep regularly. When you get in the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day no matter what is on your schedule, your body is ready to sleep at bedtime and ready to go in the morning. Your quality of sleep is more restorative as well, which can help you handle the little stressors far more easily.
  3. Stay hydrated. A simple thing like not getting enough water throughout the day can really take a toll on your energy and your ability to manage stress. Always have a bottle of water on hand.
  4. Workout. Regular cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercises can help you to sleep better, metabolize the nutrients and vitamins in food more efficiently, and improve your confidence and ability to manage whatever comes your way.
  5. Develop positive, healthy relationships. Having good people around you who support you in your pursuits, including recovery, can make every part of your day less stressful. Plus, they provide you with the help you need when you are struggling and feeling as if you don’t know which way to turn.
  6. Consider having a pet. Animal-assisted therapies are well known for their ability to help people in recovery to feel more grounded, connected, and confident. If you cannot have a pet of your own, consider this alternative therapy option or volunteer at an animal shelter to get some one-on-one time with furry friends.
  7. Volunteer. If animals aren’t your thing, give your time and attention to another cause that is meaningful to you. Giving back can help you feel closer to your community and give you a chance to put your stressors in perspective.

How do you destress in recovery?

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