road leading through woods on way to recovery

Named the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organization, stress is experienced by nearly 80% of Americans daily. Affecting the workplace, relationships, and health, stress has implications that reach far and wide for the average individual. 

However, for those suffering from addiction, stress can be one of the strongest predictors of drug use, craving, and relapse. Often viewed as a response to stress and emotional discomfort, substance abuse can be even more difficult to overcome in the presence of stress. 

Recovery means sitting in physical and emotional discomfort and not using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for negative feelings. Instead of picking up drugs or alcohol to get through rough patches, people who are successful in their recovery learn to use other, more healthy strategies.

Today let’s look at 5 tricks that you can use to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in recovery.

Recovery Trick #1: Make time for meditation

Existing in many forms, meditation is a mind/body integration practice that helps reduce stress and anxiety and improves your ability to cope with stress. 

Traditional meditation means sitting on a pillow for 5, 10, or 20 minutes a day and focusing 100% of your attention on your breathing or on a phrase. If you’ve ever attempted it, you’ll probably agree that it’s surprisingly difficult. However, studies have shown that building and sticking with a meditation practice has incredible benefits for your mental and physical health, making it very handy for dealing with stress during recovery.

Those who practice meditation are more likely to be able to recognize those early warning signs for relapse because they are more in tune with themselves, their emotions, and their behavioral patterns. 

If traditional meditation isn’t for you, consider alternatives: focused prayer, walking meditation, guided meditation, guided relaxation, and even relaxing, focused “flow” activities like cooking, crafting or gardening have been shown to deliver similar benefits.  

Recovery Trick #2: Get some Exercise 

“The body remembers what the mind forgets” women getting ready to exercise

-– Jacob Levy Moreno

The body holds our experiences, both good and bad. Exercise in almost any form is a free and natural stress-reliever. The benefits of exercise in addiction treatment are similar to those found in meditation, including emotional stability and witnessing one’s inner dialogue, good and bad. With an increase in physical activity, you will experience a decrease in frustration, irritation, anger, depression, anxiety, and cravings. Exercise can add a sense of structure to your day. 

Exercise is best when shared. If you team up with others to meet your fitness goals then you’re not only getting the benefits of exercise, but you’re also expanding your sober-friendly social circle, which can help combat some of the loneliness and isolation associated with early recovery. Major win!

women doing yoga by the waterRecovery Trick #3: Try Yoga 

A combination of meditation and exercise, yoga is an ancient system designed to establish equilibrium between body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is the practice of creating ease, space, and peace within the body, making it a perfect complement to any recovery program. 

From a yoga perspective, addiction is the result of an unhealthy disconnect between the mind and body. The goal of yoga in recovery is to provide you with the necessary skills to tolerate feelings of dis-ease and discomfort in the body that could ultimately lead to relapse.

Recovery Trick #4: Learn how to breathe

Sometimes mastering difficult emotions and situations is as simple as remembering to breathe. A simple focus on in and out breaths can be enough to calm the mind and body, buying time to slow down emotional reactiveness in challenging moments. 

If basic breathing isn’t doing it for you, there are many different kinds of calming breathing techniques to try. 

One favorite of Navy SEALs and other first responders is square breathing (also known as four-square breathing and box breathing). Here’s how it works: 

  1. Exhale completely for a slow count of four.
  2. Inhale deeply, feeling each part of your lungs fill with air, for a slow count of four. 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four. 
  4. Exhale completely for a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath again for a count of four.

Keep cycling through these steps. You’ll notice that each count of four gets a little longer as you continue—that’s OK. Stay flexible with the counting and don’t hold your breath for any longer than feels comfortable to you. 

If box breathing isn’t your thing, try other breathing techniques until you find one you like. Check out alternate nostril breathing, lion’s breath, pursed lip breathing, or develop your own go-to technique. 

Recovery trick #5: Find a good counselor

Feel embarrassed about the idea of counseling? Don’t be. Counseling isn’t the head-shrinking pseudoscience many people worry it is. Counseling isn’t about picking apart your dreams or talking about your mother for hours, either.

Counseling is simply the act of sitting down with a professional to learn more about how you think and what you feel with the goal of learning better and healthier ways of approaching your problems. Yes, you can attempt to do this on your own but you’ll get results much faster with a professional outside perspective. 

A good counselor will work with evidence-based techniques like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) to help you learn new ways of communicating with yourself and others. The result? All your relationships— including the one you have with yourself—improve!

Remember: It’s OK to be uncomfortable sometimes 

Sometimes no matter what you do, you’re still uncomfortable in recovery. And that’s OK. 

Getting to a place where you can tolerate the discomfort and not use is the whole point of treatment. Learning new life skills will help reduce the amount of discord in your life but it won’t ever eliminate discomfort entirely. If you were completely comfortable, you’d be dead. Life is about continually growing and stretching beyond our comfort zones. 

The coping skills we covered today should lessen your discomfort by helping to reduce stress, regulate emotions, connect with your body, and gain valuable insight about your inner state. If you want to learn more about all the “tricks” Transitions Recovery Program uses to help patients deal with stress and discomfort during early recovery, contact us today at 800-626-1980.