How to manage stress in recovery

How to manage stress in recovery

Proper use of stress management techniques can make or break your sobriety.

In their essence, anxiety and stress are ‘worry’ emotions rooted in fear of the unknown. Fielding these emotions on the road to recovery can be worrisome and exhausting.

The alcoholic mind is very simple when it comes to stress management:

“I’m overwhelmed by the negativity in my life, I need a drink.”
“Things are really good; I’m not used to good and this is uncomfortable, I need a drink.”

Regardless of a positive or negative environment, the alcoholic mind is wired to reach for the drink or the drug. Inactive alcoholism, stress management is reactive rather than proactive.

The purpose of inpatient treatment for substance abuse is to rewire the brain, with the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), developing proactive coping mechanisms to replace reactionary behavior for long-term results.

For the social or moderate drinker, stress management is natural; for the alcoholic, stress management is foreign, requiring attention and repetition.

Treating your mind, body, and spirit during stressful and anxious times is an imperative element of long-term recovery.


HALT is a well-known acronym in the substance abuse field used to describe the most common sources of anxiety and stress in recovery.

HALT stands for:

H: Hungry
A: Angry
L: Lonely
T: Tired

While hunger, anger, loneliness, and exhaustion are not the only sources of anxiety and stress, they often serve as a catalyst to negative emotions.

Generally, hunger and exhaustion are easy to identify. Anger and loneliness can take fairly longer to identify as they usually tend to snowball from a sensitive thought or a triggering memory.

The stress management toolbox should acknowledge the elements of HALT in some way as a method of prevention as well as stress management.


Whether you have attempted to recover from drugs and alcohol in the past, or this is your first time, stress and anxiety can be overwhelming emotions sending you closer to a drink or drug.

Stress management, as mentioned above, is both a preventative tool and a solution.

The following tools, which are scientifically proven to help you manage stress in recovery, are most effective when implemented into a daily schedule or routine and used as a form of relief.


When you exercise, your pituitary gland releases endorphins, which produce feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

Exercising biologically makes you happy.

Active participation in exercise is one of the very few ways you can manipulate your body on a physical level to produce the emotive results you want.

Just 30 minutes of walking every day contribute to a decrease in anger and frustration. Walk with a friend, and you increase your sense of connection which boosts your mood. Walk outside and the exposure to nature lessens the effects of Seasonal Effective Disorder.

Habitual exercise is a highly effective stress management tool and one that can change not only your mind but your body as well. Just one of the many perks!


Eating healthy does not mean eating less, nor does it mean eating bland foods.

Healthy eating merely acknowledges the five food groups and incorporates a diet of diversity.

Do you remember in middle school when you covered ‘food groups’ in your health class? If you don’t remember, the five major food groups are:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Wholegrain foods
  • Lean meats and poultry
  • Reduced fat milk products

Your body needs protein, carbohydrates, and fats (macronutrients) in order to function properly. Healthy eating incorporates all macronutrients and the micro nutrients extracted from fruits and vegetables.

Healthy eating increases your productivity by way of proper bodily function, enhances your mood by regulating your blood sugar and lowering your risk for depression, and stabilizes your weight. All of these reasons and more make healthy eating an exceptional stress management tool.


Have you ever felt emotionally drained from a situation, a long day at work, or a taxing crisis?

Sometimes, the best solution to a flood of negativity and frustration is to “sleep on it.”

Arianna Huffington, the CEO, and founder of Huffington Post is a big advocate of proper sleep. Her best-selling book The Sleep Revolution addresses the crisis that exists in the United States in particular: lack of sleep.

Here is a breakdown of the suggested “sleep time” for each age bracket according to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Ages 14-17: 8-10 hours
  • Ages 18-25: 7-9 hours
  • Ages 26-64: 7-9 hours
  • Ages 65+: 7-8 hours

Providing your body with the proper amount of sleep has a wide variety of benefits. From pain management and lower risk of injury to emotional regulation, weight control, clarity of thought, and more, sleep is a fantastic stress management tool when implemented into your daily routine.


You may be thinking: “How can I possibly laugh when I am feeling stressed or anxious?”

The immediate effects of laughter are plenty, physiologically! Your body actually responds to laughter, similar to the effects of exercise, by increasing your oxygen intake which feeds the heart and lungs, releasing endorphins, increases your heart rate and blood pressure causing a significant release of stress, and relaxing your muscles by increasing blood circulation.

Though it seems like an impossible feat to laugh in the midst of stress and anxiety, there are certain ‘laughter tools’ you can keep in your back pocket for stress management on the scene.

Pandora (Free App) comedy station
Pinterest (Free App) humor section
Funny movies or television shows
Long-term stress management tools for incorporating laughter into your life on a larger scale are also important. As with exercise, healthy eating, and sleep, the long-term effect of laughter is unmatched.

Laughter can improve your mood by lessening depression and anxiety, relieve pain in your body, improve your immune system by lessening negative thoughts which have a chemical effect on your body and increase your feeling of connection to others.

How do you incorporate laughter into your life on a daily basis?

Here are a few helpful tools:

When choosing friends and romantic partners, look out for a good sense of humor
Laugh at yourself, even if you are by yourself
Physically place yourself around people who are laughing
Schedule game nights with your friends


These four stress management tools (exercise, healthy eating, sleeping, and laughing) seem simple, almost too simple to be completely effective for stress management in both the short-term and the long-term.

They can also seem relatively broad and overwhelming. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Developing healthy tools to manage stress in recovery takes time, and it takes a willingness to change the way you are feeling. Research states that it takes 21 days to establish a habit.

Our challenge for you is to focus on just one of these stress management tools over the next 21 days. Just one. Take it slow and avoid any major overhauls as that is the quickest way to hit “burn-out.”

We are eager to know: what are some of your favorite stress management tools? Share in the comments!

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