Coping with stress can be a high hurdle to jump for individuals in recovery. That’s because, for the most part, substance use is an extremely effective means of quickly dealing with negative feelings. However, this is a maladaptive means of coping due to the problems that substance use creates. Part of recovery is readjusting how one handles every day stress without the use of their substance of choice. Often, this is easier said than done.
Build Your Coping Skills Toolbox
People tend to view coping as something one does “in the moment.” Building up a “coping skills toolbox” that one can refer to when needed can take away from the initial panic that sets in during a stressful situation. In recovery, there are often automatic thoughts to use maladaptive coping skills, such as substance use, to get through these situations. Having coping skills identified that one can use as an alternative can be the difference between a relapse and maintaining sobriety.
A healthy coping skill can be anything, and coping skills toolboxes look different from person to person. Some people tend to be more focused on social activities, such as attending support groups, spending time with family, or calling a peer. Others may be a bit more solitary, such as reading a good book, exercising, or going for a walk. Your coping skills toolbox can include whatever healthy activities you want, but you build it up by trying new things. Stay open to trying new things and you may be surprised as what you find to be effective for coping.
Establish a Self-Care Routine
Building up a self-care routine as a means of proactively coping with future stressful situations can make all the difference. In doing this, the stressful situations are still stressful, but you are better prepared to deal with them. Think of your mind and body like a car. You can drive your car for a long time, but eventually your “Check Engine” light comes on. Even though there are warning signs, you can still drive the car. Eventually, without proper maintenance, the car might break down. For you, this “maintenance” can be anything, such as going to the gym, going to therapy, going to meetings, or even giving yourself the time to sit down and relax for a night. The more you perform your regular “maintenance,” the less likely the car will break down.
Check-In with Yourself
In a perfect world, we keep up with our self-care consistently and the stressful situations in our lives aren’t always so impactful. But sometimes, life gets in the way and we can’t take part in our usual coping activities. Reactive coping begins when one recognizes that they need it. It’s common to find oneself caught up in the moment and be at the peak of one’s anxiety or stress without realizing this before it’s too late. Part of what makes mental health and recovery so interesting and complex is that different people experience anxiety and stress differently. It’s important to know what stress looks like to you. It could be shortness of breath for some, muscle tenseness for others, or a combination of many symptoms.
Throughout the day, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “How am I feeling? How’s my breathing? Am I stressed out?” Building that awareness makes it easier to recognize when it’s time to use coping skills. Again, this is all easier said than done. By trying to improve your coping skills, you’re doing more than simply getting through another day, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to live a happy, comfortable life. It’s setting an intention to maintain your recovery and making the decision to be strong enough to succeed in what life has in store for you.