If you want to succeed in long term sobriety then part of your strategy for recovery, and for life itself, should involve some tactics and even daily habits that help to reduce anxiety.
It seems that most everyone who drank heavily or used drugs in addiction has at least some amount of stress and anxiety in addiction recovery. If you get to the point where you are overwhelmed with anxiety then this can easily lead to relapse, after which everything crumbles completely and you go back to total chaos.
Therefore, it is wise to find ways to manage, avoid, and mitigate anxiety while on your sobriety journey.
What are some ways for doing that?
First of all I would urge you to consider lifestyle and habits, because these will offer you the greatest return on your effort.
Why is this the case? Because when you change your habits in a positive way you are able to lock in the benefits of those changes permanently.
For example, at one point in my recovery journey I had not yet discovered exercise. I was out of shape and I had no intention of working out on a given day. I had a certain amount of anxiety at the time–not because I did not exercise, but just because everyone has stress in their life.
Later on in my recovery journey, I discovered exercise. And for whatever reason, it stuck this time. I started jogging and later added in weight training, and I stuck with it and fitness became part of my lifestyle. I would no longer consider the possibility of going back to my old, inactive self. I established fitness as a permanent habit because I liked what it was doing for me.
And yes, practicing fitness definitely has a positive impact on anxiety. In fact, if I discovered that if I have a large amount of anxiety, an intense workout can counter it in a very direct way. I can go for a long jog and work up a sweat and whatever was bothering me emotionally becomes smaller and more distant due to the intensity of the workout and the pumping of the endorphins. There is no doubt that–for me anyway–regular physical workouts help to reduce my overall level of anxiety and stress. And it works so well, and it provides so many other benefits (such as more regular sleep patterns), that I have made fitness a permanent part of my lifestyle.
Therein lies a good point–physical fitness and exercise works well for me. That does not mean that it will work equally well at reducing your anxiety. As such, you may need to experiment in order to figure out the best way to manage your own anxiety. This becomes a lifelong journey of learning and optimization. You need to become willing to test and refine new ideas in your life.
Where do you get such ideas? In my experience you can get them from 3 main places. One, you can go to AA and NA, work with a sponsor, and talk with your peers in recovery and find out what is working for them. At one point my sponsor quit smoking, and he made a suggestion that I try quitting myself. At the time I erroneously believed that smoking reduced my anxiety, when in fact it increased it. It was not until I had taken this suggestion and gone through with a full “quit” that I was able to see how backwards that thinking was–as a non smoker my overall stress and anxiety is definitely lower. I just could not see that at the time when I was still addicted to nicotine.
I also took a suggestion at one point to start exercising, and also to write in a daily journal. If you write your thoughts and emotions down on paper, on a regular basis, then this can help you to “unpack” some of that anxiety and stress that you may not even be conscious of yet.
So all of those were things that were suggested to me by other people. I tested out their ideas, see what worked in my own life, and I ditched the ideas that did not work for me. This is why they preach open mindedness at AA and NA meetings. If you are not open to new ideas then you will never discover what works for you and what does not. Also, you should not be afraid to test out ideas that may fail. Keep trying suggestions and being open until you find something that works. Rinse and repeat. I am over 17 years into my sobriety journey and I am still optimizing and refining my life through personal growth–and by taking advice from other people.
So taking advice is one way to find ideas. Another possibility is to read or explore techniques online for anxiety reduction. Again, the key is that what you discover and what is suggested to you cannot just be a thought experiment–you must actually try out the ideas if you want to reduce anxiety. You must take action and follow through with things if you want to get results.
One final suggestion for getting pointed towards better anxiety management would be to find a therapist who can help you on a weekly basis. Seeing a therapist regularly gives you an ability to have someone who is arguably an expert that can then coach you to a more serene life. I have taken a lot of suggestions from professional therapists in my recovery journey that turned out to have a major impact in terms of reducing anxiety.
So you have to create a foundation in recovery–go to treatment and get clean and sober, start with a foundation of abstinence, and then start seeking help and advice for how to reduce your level of stress and increase your serenity. If you are active about this process and you pursue it seriously then your life will get better and better.
In order to live a life of freedom you have to pay a certain price, and it requires a certain discipline. You have to face the things that create your anxiety, and many times you have to face those things head on. Sometimes there are no easy shortcuts to doing this. However, in those cases you can still find help and support from other people in recovery. And you can find support from professionals, such a therapist that you would see on a weekly basis.
If you make a habit of facing your fears then eventually your anxiety will drop to near zero. This is the price that we pay to live an emotionally responsible life in recovery.