Stress is a common cause of developing an addiction, but it is also a major trigger for relapse. Whether it comes from everyday worries, finances, family dysfunction or the demands of work or school, effectively coping with stress is crucial for a successful recovery.

An important focus of any high-quality treatment program is helping clients learn how to manage stress and develop the necessary skills for coping with stressful, high-risk situations. Learning to manage stress not only helps prevent relapse but can also dramatically improve your overall quality of life.

The body’s response to stress

Stress is a concept many, if not all of us, are aware of. When you experience a stressful event or are repeatedly exposed to a stressor of some kind, your brain and body respond in a way that is natural — but this has consequences.

When you’re under stress, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension. Once the first wave of adrenaline subsides, the body then releases cortisol, another stress hormone to keep the body alert. When the perceived threat passes, the parasympathetic nervous system dampens the stress response. Cortisol levels fall, breathing and heart rate return to normal and muscles relax.

Depending on the kind of stressful event you experience, your body may remain in a state of stress for extended periods of time; this can cause significant health complications and be quite damaging to your overall process of addiction recovery.

Acute vs. chronic stress

Acute stress is short-lived, and in some cases, it’s beneficial because it increases motivation and helps sharpen your focus so that you can act to resolve the stressful situation. Examples of acute stress include an impending deadline or an event like a car accident. Once the deadline is met or the danger of injury has passed, the acute stress response ends.

Chronic stress is long-term stress that may result from an unresolved problem, such as an experience of trauma, or an ongoing situation, like financial difficulties or dysfunctional home life. Chronic stress leaves the body in a perpetual “fight or flight” mode and can lead to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease, not to mention unhealthy coping mechanisms to ease some of the stress.

Relaxing coping methods for stress

Combatting both acute and chronic stress is surprisingly simple and can be achieved through a range of techniques and therapies that promote relaxation and reduce stress hormone levels. When you’re in recovery, it’s important to take advantage of these techniques in order to protect your mental health and reduce any risk of relapse as a result of stress.

Here are some research-based ways to reduce your body’s response to acute and chronic stress and improve your overall health.

1. Exercise

Exercise reduces stress hormone levels on the spot and stimulates the release of endorphins and natural painkillers to improve your mood and promote feelings of well-being. Exercise not only reduces your body’s stress response but also increases your overall tolerance for stress, improving the way your body responds to it long-term.

2. Learn breathing exercises

According to the American Institute of Stress, deep breathing exercises induce the body’s relaxation response to lower heart rate and blood pressure and relax muscle tension. Deep breathing works to reduce the body’s stress response and leave you feeling calmer. By taking a moment to take some deep breaths, you can intentionally calm yourself down in moments of tension.

3. Practice yoga

Yoga combines intentional breathing with movement to promote strength, balance and flexibility of mind, body and spirit. Yoga is a powerful tool to combat stress as it reduces the impact of the body’s stress response; not to mention that regular practice helps condition the body to respond better to stress. Yoga is an increasingly popular and effective therapy used in treatment programs to help clients gain self-awareness,  increase spirituality and promote overall health.

4. Practice meditation

Daily meditation improves self-awareness and facilitates mindful responses to stressors. It’s an effective way to build stress management skills and reduce negative emotions for better mental health and a higher sense of well-being. Meditation and mindfulness, by helping you perceive the present moment without judgment will, in the end, reduce stress over the things that are out of your control.

5. Prioritize healthy living

Your lifestyle choices have a big impact on your mood and making a few important changes can help reduce stress and give you the motivation and energy to cope with it and other triggers. Getting enough sleep every night (at least seven hours), planning and preparing healthy, nutritious meals, drinking plenty of water and exercising routinely are the best baseline on which to build a healthy lifestyle.

6. Listen to music

Music has a profound effect on both physiology and emotions. — faster beats promote alertness and concentration, while slower music quiets the mind and relaxes the muscles. Music that clocks in around 60 beats per second have been shown to synchronize with the brain, resulting in the alpha brainwave activity that characterizes a relaxed state. Consider building a playlist for yourself to listen to when you’re feeling stressed to help promote a more relaxed state of mind.

Stress, relaxation and relapse prevention

An anxious mind often seeks ways to calm itself, sometimes regardless of the impact of the coping mechanisms. This is why relapse is often a result of a recovering mind suffering from too much-unmanaged stress. In order to prevent relapse, it’s best to put into practice effective coping mechanisms to help you manage stress in your life — acute or chronic.

If you’re concerned about stress management or relapse, reach out to Silvermist Recovery to get the help you need by calling 724-268-4858 to learn more.