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Relapse Prevention: 10 Tips For Managing Stress in Recovery

Stress management is critical for maintaining lasting sobriety. When done properly, it can decrease the risk of relapse and equip you for any difficult situations you may face in the future. Below are 10 tips to get you started.

1. Practice Morning Mindfulness

Wake up a few minutes early; better yet, set aside some pre-breakfast time to think about the day ahead and center yourself. The early hours of the day are a goldmine for creative thought and personal reflection. This simple change can make your mornings feel less rushed, and you may be surprised by how much extra time you have to get ready.

2. Create a Routine

Routine is incredibly important to early recovery and lasting sobriety. Free-form days are full of temptations and downtime, which can result in boredom: one of the hallmark catalysts of relapse. Alternatively, a too-full, poorly-planned schedule can cause unnecessary stress – another common cause of relapse. All of these issues can be circumvented by establishing a daily routine. By setting measurable goals and living with intention, you’ll recreate the structure that benefitted you in residential treatment.

3. Find Beauty in the Everyday

If you’re getting stressed at the office or on your commute, find something beautiful to cheer you up. This can be something as simple as a butterfly, treasured photo, or clouds overhead. By choosing to focus on a pleasant object, your stress levels will lower, and your brain will release feel-good neurotransmitters.

4. Make Time to Journal

Journaling is strongly encouraged in addiction recovery. Writing out your feelings – including your cravings, worries, and wins – is a great way to fully process the day’s events. Often, if a problem seems unsolvable, you can gain new insight from seeing it on paper. You can also reflect on previous entries to learn from the past and give yourself advice for the future.

5. Listen to Calming Music

If your bumper-to-bumper commute is already stressful, make sure you’re not adding intense music on top of it! Choosing a soothing soundtrack to your day gives your mind subconscious cues about how it should be feeling. Studies show that music is effective for relaxation and stress management, so cue up a playlist of relaxing piano pieces. You won’t regret it!

6. Exercise

No stress relief list is complete without the ultimate calming technique: a good workout. It’s easy to overlook the importance of physical activity, but few people actually understand its specific benefits to stress reduction. Exercise lowers your cortisol levels, releases endorphins (natural painkillers and mood boosters), improves sleep quality, and can even boost your confidence.

7. Spend Time with Friends and Family

Social support from loved ones and 12-step group members can get you through tough times. Studies show that for women, spending time with friends and children releases oxytocin, the body’s natural stress reliever. This effect – tend and befriend – is the opposite of the body’s fight-or-flight response. Strong social ties can reduce your anxiety levels and help you to overcome obstacles.

8. Try a Breathing Exercise

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work or school, one quick way to calm down is to regulate your breathing. By taking deep, full breaths, you activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This creates a relaxation response to slow your heartbeat and lower your cortisol levels, eventually alleviating any stress. Multiple methods are available, so try different types of exercises until you find the right fit.

9. Cut Back on Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, soda, tea, and energy drinks. As with many substances, people build a tolerance to it over time, requiring increasing amounts to get the same energy-boosting effects. However, caffeine can make you anxious and jittery – many people don’t realize just how negatively it impacts their stress levels. If you’re feeling the negative side effects of caffeine, begin cutting back gradually and see if things improve.

10. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

First, tense up all of your muscles. Then, gradually relax them in order. Begin at your toes, then your legs, working all the way up to your shoulders and furrowed eyebrows. This technique allows you to recognize tension and tightness in your muscles, and it has the added benefit of distracting you as you relax. For this reason, it’s also incredibly useful when you have trouble sleeping.

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