In simple terms, stress is our body’s response to pressure of any kind. When starting a new job, taking an important test, or dealing with any number of life’s challenges, we will experience stress. This mechanism is a survival technique that allows our body to get ready for danger or prepare for a challenge.
When we experience stress, our pulse rises, muscles tense, brains use more oxygen, and we breathe faster to increase activity. These bodily changes can be beneficial and help us succeed or stay safe. However, when experienced too often, stress can take a toll on our bodies.
When stress becomes chronic, these same beneficial mechanisms can disrupt our sleep, digestion, immune system, heart, and reproductive health. Recognizing if your stress levels are unhealthy and working on the problem may improve your quality of life and save you from health issues down the road. Here you can find an article on what stress is and how to start treating it.
Stress and Substance Use Disorder
While stress affects all of us, those of us who are in the process of recovery may need to pay extra attention to it. Research has shown there is a link between relapse of substance use disorder (SUD) and stress. The study found that people with chronic stress or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have hormonal responses that are not appropriately regulated.
This means that after a stressful event is over, stress may not end when it should. This may cause people more prone to stress-related illness to use drugs or relapse.
Statistically, people with substance use disorder are also significantly more likely to have or develop PTSD than others. Since many drugs are mood-altering, people may turn to them to cope with stress in the short term. Unfortunately, this coping strategy makes symptoms of stress worse over time through neurological changes or creating new problems to stress over.
Severe stress is the cause of many addictions, so it makes sense that it would be linked to relapse as well. Managing stress is an essential aspect of self-care that everyone should practice, especially during recovery.
Unhealthy Stress Coping Strategies
There are various ways to deal with stressors in life, although many of them can be counter-productive. We have already identified that substance use is one of these counter-productive methods, but preventing other stress-causing behaviors may reduce the chance of relapse. Here are a few coping mechanisms that we should avoid when dealing with stress:
#1. Ignoring it: Often, when something we must do stresses us out, we try to ignore it and keep moving along. Although pushing through some stress is fine, acute stress is not. Positive lifestyle changes, stress-reducing activities, and therapy may all reduce stress levels.
#2. Overworking: Another coping strategy used often is to be as productive as possible. While stressed, we often feel as though we should get as much done as we can as a way to distract ourselves. In the short term, getting a lot of things done may help with stress. However, in the long term, you may just be pushing off dealing with stress into the future. Unresolved stress often builds up over time and can get worse. Remaining productive while stressed can be good for us, just not when overdone as a distraction to our problems.
#3. Binging: Binging is a common coping strategy that became even more prevalent during the pandemic. This includes over-eating, binging Netflix, playing video games, or spending too much time on social media. Binging is another form of distraction that can lead to more problems down the road. These related problems may end up creating more stress, and a feedback loop may begin.
Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress
Thankfully, there are just as many positive ways of dealing with stress as negative ways. Adding activities or habits which can benefit us not only reduces our stress, but can also help us have fun. Here are some of the many positive ways to cope with the many stressors in life:
#1. Therapy: Speaking with a therapist can be an excellent tool for reducing stress. Having a judgment-free way of talking about our problems can lower stress levels. On top of this, a therapist can recommend strategies and tools to make stress easier to manage.
#2. Meditation: Meditation has been used for thousands of years to clear the mind and connect with spirituality. The practice allows us to live in the present moment and relax our bodies, which has helped many people reduce stress around the world.
#3. Connection: Staying in touch with those we love is an important aspect of managing stress. A support network can offer practical help and support to prevent us from feeling overwhelmed. Help can come from family, friends, and community or religious organizations. Becoming isolated can make stress feel like more of a mountain than it needs to be.
Stress is an essential and challenging part of life that we all have to deal with. Unfortunately, circumstances can make stress overwhelming. Recognizing how stress may be affecting your health is the first step to getting better. Treating your stress and making positive life changes not only helps you in the present, but it also ensures your future self will be healthier. It is important to know that facing stress is not something you have to go through alone, especially if seeking professional help is an option. When treating addiction, dealing with mental health problems such as severe stress is vital for a successful recovery. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we know just how important mental health is during treatment. That is why we offer various therapies alongside our personalized treatment plans. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment, call us today at (866) 338-6925 to learn how we can help.