One of the biggest challenges in recovery is figuring out new ways to cope with life’s stressful situations without a substance. Many who have developed a substance use disorder relied on the drink or drug to manage many forms discomfort. Over time, the substance became the primary coping strategy and the ability to naturally cope with life on life’s terms diminished. Discontinuing use and entering a recovery program is a great start to building the necessary coping skills that form a solid foundation in recovery. However, maintaining recovery through life’s toughest situations also requires resiliency. Fortunately, there are many proven methods to help manage stress without picking up a substance. 

  1. Take it One Day at a Time

In the midst of a stressful situation, it may be easy to fixate on the uncertainty of the future or get stuck in the past.   Spending too much time focusing on the “what if’s” or thinking of all the worst case scenarios is not constructive and usually results in increased levels of stress.  Remaining in the present – taking it one day, one hour, or a few minutes at a time will allow the issue to be confronted as it unfolds.  As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  

  1. Rely on Recovery Supports

As the saying goes, “pain shared is pain lessened.”  When stressful situations, overwhelming emotions, or other concerns are shared with trusted, supportive individuals, their impact doesn’t seem as intense. Sometimes, just the act of sharing the thoughts or feelings will result in a new level of clarity or provide some relief.  However, sharing with recovery supports can also help give a new perspective and opens up the opportunity for new solutions.  If a greater level of support is needed, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.

  1. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is one of the primary principles found in almost any recovery program.  When gratitude is fully embraced, it has the power to completely shift perspectives and provide balance to even the most daunting situations. Cultivating gratitude shifts the focus onto appreciating the abundance of life rather than emphasizing what may not be going right or what is perceived as lacking. Practicing gratitude has been scientifically proven to reduce stress chemicals and increase the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which results in an elevated mood and sense of well-being1.

  1. Accept Change

Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s always welcome or easy to accept.  Even good changes can be stressful. The very act of entering recovery usually results in significant stress, even though it is a positive change. Take time to acknowledge that change is occurring and make space for the emotions that occur in response to the change.  Utilize recovery supports to provide a safe space to process the change and discuss any concerns. Realize that much of what happens externally is beyond any individual’s control, but each person has the ability to determine their reactions.  Change is an opportunity to develop resiliency and to grow in recovery, so remember to celebrate any progress or growth that takes place. 

  1. Set Boundaries

Regardless of the source of stress, setting boundaries can be very helpful in managing exposure to certain form of stress. If possible, reduce exposure to people, places, or situations that are increasing stress levels.  This may involve having difficult conversations, but setting boundaries will pay off in the long run.  

  1. Establish a Routine

Experiment with different stress management exercises and find a few different techniques that work.  Some examples of common stress management techniques are physical exercise, meditation, sticking to a sleep schedule, and deep breathing.  Practice the chosen stress reduction methods regularly, daily if possible.  For example, take a ten minute walk each day after work or begin the day with a brief meditation.  Committing to a stress management routine will help build resiliency and make it easier to confront challenges head on. 

  1. Let Go of Control

Surrender is a common principle in recovery.  Like acceptance and gratitude, it helps build the foundation that long-term recovery is built on.  Letting go of the need to control a situation, person, or outcome opens up the opportunity to step out of comfort and into new possibilities.   

  1. Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 7(11), 18–22.