For people in recovery from addiction, anxiety is a real concern. In many cases, anxiety is one of the reasons they were self-medicating in the first place. Additionally, drug use itself can cause anxiety, which becomes a self-perpetuating condition. Even the thought of getting through an anxiety attack without drugs can cause the type of stress that triggers anxiety attacks in the first place.
To get past this vicious cycle, it is important to remember the reasons you chose to overcome your addiction. You wanted a safer, healthier lifestyle as well as better, more supportive relationships and to be generally happier. All of these things can be achieved in recovery and sustained without the assistance of substances.
There are plenty of people out there handling anxiety without drugs, and you can, too. You just need to learn some strategies and create some healthy habits for yourself. Here are some tips for dealing with anxiety naturally.
Take a Deep Breath
One of the symptoms of an anxiety attack is shallow breathing. Breathing has a lot to do with your sense of well-being in the moment. You may notice that when you are under stress, you do not breathe often. It is almost as if you are holding your breath without trying.
For a healthy person, breathing is something you can control, and you can use your breathing to control your heart rate. Runners, for instance, learn that by taking long slow breaths in and out, they can slow their racing heart to tolerate continued running. Controlling your breath is your ticket to gaining control of your anxiety.
Worry is a natural defense mechanism that warns you of potential danger. Anxiety, however, is the natural worry system getting out of control. It is common for people in addiction recovery to experience anxiety that can be so great, it interferes with daily activities. This often has to do with the brain chemical changes they experienced while using drugs.
When you begin to sense anxiety, stop what you are doing and take a deep breath. It sounds like a trite suggestion, but it works. The symptoms you experience with anxiety are similar to the fight-or-flight response. Your body is preparing to do battle with something or someone. Your heart races, and your breathing gets faster. Blood flow to your muscles also increases. However, you can short-circuit this unnecessary preparation by taking control of your breathing.
A few slow deep breaths will help bring your heart rate back to normal and clear your mind of those racing thoughts. Take a minute to just breath and realize that you are okay, and the anxiety is unwarranted. This technique can reduce the length of anxiety attacks and eliminate your desire for pharmaceutical intervention.
You learned in rehab that a healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise. Routine is also important to a lasting recovery. Routine and exercise are two things that should always be combined. When you schedule a regular time during your day to exercise, you never miss a workout.
There are a lot of benefits to regular exercise, but the ones that are most important for people in recovery are those that affect the brain. Many of the important changes you go through in the recovery process take place in your brain because it was most affected by your drug use.
Exercise increases circulation, which brings more oxygen and other healthy substances to your brain. Drug use has a profound impact on the pleasure centers in your brain. The euphoric feeling you get under the influence of drugs is a flood of feel-good chemicals in your central nervous system and an interruption of some of the sensory messages, especially those associated with pain.
Exercise stimulates your natural brain chemistry to increase the amount of feel-good chemicals produced. In the absence of drugs that unnaturally alter brain chemicals, it takes some time for nature to take over again. Regular exercise gives you a consistent dose of endorphins and other happy feelings.
In addition to your regular exercise routine, which is good for your brain and promotes positive feelings, you can also use exercise to counteract an acute bout of anxiety. When you feel the anxiety coming on, put on your sneakers and head to the gym — or just get outside and take a walk. The exercise will stimulate the circulation of feel-good chemicals to your brain, and it will give you a chance to clear your head of those racing thoughts.
Meditation is a means of quieting the mind and can greatly reduce anxiety. One noticeable symptom of anxiety is the racing thoughts, constant worry and reviewing and rehearsing potential outcomes in your mind. By eliminating that anxiety thought pattern, you can stop anxiety from interfering in your day.
Mediation is a sort of exercise for your brain, so it needs to be learned and practiced for it to be effective. It is a good idea to develop a regular meditation routine the same way you exercise regularly. Set aside a specific time each day for your meditation. At first, you’ll find it hard to sit still, and only a few minutes will be tolerable. As you go deeper into your practice, though, you will want to extend the amount of time.
There are plenty of books and videos available for learning meditation, or you can speak to your therapist about it. Meditation only requires the comfortable positioning of the body, an attendance to your breath and an emptying of your mind. It seems difficult at first, but with continued practice and patience, you can perfect this technique of quieting your mind.
Like exercise, mediation can also be used for acute anxiety attacks. If meditation is part of your daily routine, it should not be difficult to reach that empty-mind state on cue. When you sense the anxiety building, find a quiet place to close your eyes and go into your meditation. Just a couple minutes of meditating will calm your anxieties and allow you to get back on track with a renewed sense of peace.
If you want to combine the benefits of meditation and exercise, try yoga. A calming yoga practice stretches out muscles that may be tight from your workout. It also brings your attention to your breath. Holding yoga poses for an extended amount of time, as well as the stretching and breathing, is a meditative exercise for your mind, too.
Get Good Sleep
It seems like a catch-22 — anxiety disrupts your sleeping patterns, and a remedy for anxiety is better sleep. The circular logic could induce an anxiety attack on the spot. It’s like someone telling you to relax when you are having an anxiety attack.
First, it’s important to recognize the value of sleep to your mental health. Sleep is when your body and brain perform a lot of maintenance activities to keep you going all day long. Muscles, including the heart, relax and heal during sleep time. Your brain processes information while you sleep, making it more organized and easier to retrieve. The frantic firing of neurons characteristic of anxiety is quieted during sleep.
The key to good sleep is routine and practice. Create a bedtime ritual for yourself and follow it every night without exception. Your bedtime routine might include a warm shower and cozy pajamas, a cup of herbal tea, a relaxing face scrub or any nurturing activities. Avoid rigorous exercise, dramatic television shows, heavy meals or caffeinated beverages before bed.
Bedtime is a great time to practice self-care — another ritual that is important to your recovery. You want your bedtime routine to be as soothing as possible. You should make yourself feel pampered in every little way just before you go to sleep. Be sure to avoid work or family drama during your nighttime preparation.
Extend your sleep routine from the time you go to bed to the time you get up. Keep what you do as well as the times of going to bed and waking up constant — even on the nights when you have trouble sleeping. Sleep in a slightly cool, darkened room without a television or radio. If you have trouble falling asleep, try focusing on your breath and slowing your breathing. When you roll over in bed, do so slowly, as if you were sleeping even if you aren’t. Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it.
Practicing a consistent sleeping routine will help improve your sleep overall. When you are experiencing anxiety, your normal sleep routine will help calm you down, so you can get the rest you need.
While you were actively using drugs, you did not have the time, energy or interest in healthy eating. During that time, your physical health suffered, but the addiction distracted you from concern.
Now, you can rebuild your physical health with better eating habits and reduce your anxiety at the same time. Food is like good drugs for your body. It is what fuels you, but it also affects your mood. There are bad foods that when eaten in excess can make you sick, and it is possible to develop an addiction to certain foods.
Without becoming a nutritionist, here’s what you need to know about healthy eating. The best foods are ones that don’t come in a package. A potato, for instance, is much healthier than a bag of potato chips. Your body also needs protein and healthy fats. Muscles are made from protein, and your brain is made up of at least 60% fat. Meat and fish are good choices, but again, not the packaged or frozen kind.
Eating a variety of whole, not processed foods will ensure you get the proper nutrition you need for a healthy lifestyle. Once you get used to this new diet, you will notice how your body responds to it. The mainstays of your unhealthy diet will no longer appeal to you. Maintaining a healthy body will help you maintain a healthy mind.
When it comes to anxiety, the B vitamins are believed to be particularly helpful. You can get extra vitamin B in your diet by focusing on the orange-colored foods — sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, etc. Make them a more prominent part of your diet.
A healthy eating routine can also help you deal with acute anxiety attacks — routine is really the key here. Create a healthy breakfast regime that you follow each morning. When anxiety arises, following this eating pattern will bring comfort no matter where you are.
You can also develop a healthy comfort food routine — something you love that makes you feel calm and safe. Be sure this is not some processed snack food or something full of sugar and simple carbohydrates, though. Maybe when you come home from work each day, you relax with a big, juicy apple. Focusing on the self-care aspect of eating something fresh and delicious will distract your mind from any anxiety created during your work day.
With a healthy eating routine, you have an effective tool to comfort yourself when anxiety strikes. Stick with your routines, and you will remain healthy.
Did you ever notice that when you are going through a crisis in your life, there is no laughter? Nothing seems funny, and you probably don’t even crack a smile most of the time, either. Even people who love you and know what you are going through don’t dare laugh around you for fear of being inconsiderate.
Anxiety is certainly not a laughing matter. It can become severe and quite debilitating. But humans are capable of a wide range of emotions beyond fear and despair, and by tapping into some of the better ones, you can counteract the anxiety and help your brain rebuild happy thought pathways.
As you probably guessed, laughter happens in the brain. It is not confined to one area of the brain, though, and it is not an emotional response. Instead, laughter is a complex process that coordinates several regions of the brain and stimulates physical reaction.
When your brain decides that something is funny, it creates the physical response of laughter. Laughter boosts heart rate, improves healthy blood vessel functioning and produces antibodies to strengthen the immune system. Laughter is, in fact, a pretty good medicine.
Laughter is also a great diversion from your problems. It is a good way to turn off the worrying in your brain and give it a rest. Finding things to laugh about throughout the day can be a healing ritual. If you are not inclined to humor, create a laughter routine that works for you.
Find a movie, TV show, song or anything that makes you laugh. Play it at the same time every day, like taking medicine. Even if you don’t feel like laughing, focus on the funny material for a few minutes and give in to the frivolity. Make a point of laughing hard every day. It is a good antidote to anxiety.
Relinquish Your Control of Everything
One of the causes of anxiety is an overwhelming fear that something bad is going to happen. The thoughts start racing through your head as you consider all the possible bad outcomes. Then, you begin rehearsing your potential response to each one. Before you know it, you are paralyzed with fear, and your brain is on overdrive.
Everyone wants things to work out for the best, whether it is something as simple as getting to work without any traffic tie-ups or the desire for a positive outcome from a serious medical test. Unfortunately, there are many things that are beyond your control. Worrying about something for which you cannot possibly affect the outcome can cross the line into anxiety.
Control is a big issue for people in addiction recovery. In some respects, they are learning to take control of their lives and get on a better path. In other ways, they need to give up control to a higher power to unburden themselves. Like many other things in life, control requires striking the right balance.
In the case of anxiety, relinquishing control will have a positive outcome. Realize that you cannot control the outcome of every situation, and that’s okay. It is not your responsibility to decide when or how bad things happen. Your job is to take what happens in your life and look at it in the most positive light, feel your emotions, learn your lessons and keep breathing.
By relinquishing your control of everything, you will free your mind for more productive thoughts. Your burdens will be reduced to only the ones you can handle.
The one thing you can control is your breathing. If you take control of this and let everything else go, you should be able to reduce your anxiety and get back to your daily activities.
Therapy for More Extreme Cases
These are all good tips for managing anxiety and can be practiced at home or wherever you are. Sometimes, though, anxiety becomes extreme and requires some professional intervention. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should talk with a therapist about getting your anxiety under control:
• You make drastic changes to your life to accommodate your anxiety. You stop driving, have to get a different job, refuse to visit certain places or cannot leave your house.
• You experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations or others that cause you to visit the emergency room out of fear of some terrible medical outcome.
• You have an overwhelming fear of some common activity required in your life, like flying in an airplane or spending the night in a hotel room.
• You try every “home remedy” for anxiety, and nothing works.
• You cannot stop worrying about something once you get started. You obsess about it.
• You avoid unpleasant situations by refusing to voice your needs or concerns. Your fear of an altercation keeps you from telling people when they are taking advantage of you.
If your anxiety has become this extreme, it is a good idea to seek counseling. A therapist can help you address the root cause of your anxiety and give you some strategies to cope with it in the meantime. Anxiety in its extreme form is a very serious mental illness. It can be debilitating and should be treated right away.
To learn more about dealing with anxiety symptoms and other mental health issues related to addiction, contact 12 Keys today. Addiction recovery an be a long slow process, and you want to have the right support along the way. Issues like anxiety threaten to derail your progress toward a lasting recovery when they are not properly addressed.
At 12 Keys, we’re here to help. Our compassionate, knowledgeable staff understands the issues you encounter in trying to rebuild your life with healthy habits. We know it can be difficult to face the emotions that come up along the way without drugs when they were your means of coping before. It is possible to overcome anxiety without medication, however, and you can do it.