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anxiety in recovery

The Importance of Coping with Anxiety in Recovery

In early recovery, coping with anxiety often means starting from square one. Relapse rates are highest in the days immediately following addiction treatment. Unfortunately, anxiety can trigger substance use and cause a relapse. Learning ways of coping with anxiety in recovery is paramount for long-term sobriety. 

For someone with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), facing the harsh realities of early recovery can be challenging. It’s critical to find ongoing mental health support that helps you manage the anxiety signs and retain sobriety. 

If you think you may have GAD, review these symptoms of anxiety from NIMH

  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigued regularly and easily
  • Restlessness and feeling on edge
  • Problems with focus or maintaining attention
  • Inability to control problematic feelings and thoughts
  • Sleep issues such as insomnia, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrefreshed

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a highly misunderstood condition. We all experience anxiety to an extent in our daily life. However, when someone struggles with anxiety disorders, they have a general feature of excessive fear. These excessive anxiety episodes often lead to adverse behavioral and emotional consequences. 

It’s common for people struggling with any type of anxiety, including an obsessive-compulsive disorder to struggle with intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, substance abuse, and more. Sometimes, trauma-related anxiety disorders trigger the same signs and symptoms. There are also panic disorders and phobia-related disorders, which are considered to be anxiety disorders as well.

Common signs of anxiety include:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid, short breaths or difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Jitters
  • Irritability
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive worrying

All of these symptoms can be a problem in recovery- if you can’t stop worrying, it’s hard to focus on the hard work of getting sober. Additionally, this anxiety can also be a trigger for many people and lead to relapse if not addressed. 

Strategies for Coping with Anxiety in Recovery

Throughout your drug and alcohol addiction treatment, you’ll encounter many teachable moments to help you explore your anxiety better. It’s paramount to seek a dual diagnosis program that’s able to address co-occurring disorders like anxiety and depression while you tackle your addiction simultaneously. 

Recognize Your Triggers

Part of relapse prevention in addiction treatment is to learn more about your triggers. Well, you need to go through that same process with your anxiety. Unless you’re diagnosed with GAD, you’ll need to find out the root cause of your anxiety to learn the right coping strategies to fight them. 

Common anxiety triggers include:

  • Loneliness
  • New surroundings
  • Stressful situations
  • Meeting new people
  • Sleeplessness
  • Starting a new career or job
  • Sober living
  • Leaving a treatment center
  • Going back to school

Activities to Help with Anxiety

Unless your doctor prescribes anxiety medications, you can try to manage your symptoms with a few activities that encourage relaxation and calm stress levels. Practicing these activities daily can prevent anxiety triggers and flare-ups that could cause a relapse. 

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Self-care 
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Spending time with pets

Other Strategies to Manage Anxiety in Early Recovery

There are many strategies that you already know can help with relapse prevention that will also help to reduce anxiety symptoms. Let’s explore some of these examples that can help with anxiety.

  • Keep yourself distracted with activities that you enjoy
  • Maintain a strict eating and sleeping schedule
  • Practice mindfulness and gratefulness every day
  • Set up an exercise routine for at least 30 minutes of movement a day
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed

What Happens If You Relapse?

Even when you have a concrete plan to identify and manage your relapse triggers, the risk is always there. Unfortunately, anywhere between 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts relapse one year after completing treatment. These relapse episodes don’t indicate failure, nor do they mean you’re doomed to addiction forever. 

Relapses are relatively common, and how you manage them is paramount for your long-term recovery. 

If you struggle with relapse, it might be beneficial for you to attend an aftercare recovery program. Or, check with your former therapist to see if you might need a more extended addiction program to feel more stable and ready to face relapse triggers around you. 

Activities like breathing exercises that allow a person to clear their mind of thoughts and refocus their awareness can be powerful prevention tools. 

The inclusion of holistic therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, journaling, meditation, and others can help recovering addicts focus on their well-being. These practices can be beneficial for managing emotional triggers. 

Don’t feel as if relapse is a death sentence. While it might feel overwhelmingly like a defeat, it’s not impossible to overcome a relapse. After all, remember all the progress you’ve made so far. 

Seeking Help for Anxiety

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorders, seek help today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our substance abuse treatment programs incorporate relapse prevention techniques throughout the program, helping those in recovery build a strong support system that can help them win the battle against drug addiction.

Aftercare programs can cover things like:

  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • 12-step group meetings and other support groups
  • Therapy with family members to promote healing
  • Training and life skills development courses
  • Relapse prevention technique classes
  • Medication-assisted therapy

Also, our aftercare recovery programs offer ongoing support to those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. We know how difficult addiction relapse can be for those in recovery, which is why we provide continuing support to those in early recovery, helping them improve their daily routines and help them find the best ways to avoid relapse long-term. 

Finally, don’t dismiss the importance of long-term mental health assistance. Even after you complete rehab, consider maintaining a close relationship with a therapist to continue your progress. The best way to cope with anxiety in early recovery is by working on your mental health every day. As you know, addiction recovery is a lifelong journey, and investing time and effort to get better is the key to maintaining long-term sobriety. 

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