How to Rethink Your Approach to Anxiety in Addiction Treatment

How to Rethink Your Approach to Anxiety in Addiction Treatment


Based on my own observations and experiences, anxiety is very common in alcoholism and addiction treatment.

Even if you are not diagnosed with actual anxiety, everyone in recovery has moments of stress to deal with.

So the question is, what are we doing about this anxiety and how can we practice self care that will allow us to thrive during our journey?

Whether you have a technical diagnosis or you are just feeling stress or general anxiety in your life, you can probably benefit a great deal by practicing some self care.

Let’s take a look at some suggestions.

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First of all I want to urge you to go into this with an open mind and think carefully about the fact that you need to explore and experiment. Why? Because not every tactic or technique is going to work perfectly for every person in recovery. Self care can end up looking quite different for various people, so you are going to have to explore the possibilities. In other words, you need to be open minded enough to find the techniques that work best for you.

Now the first thing that I would recommend that you try to do is a fairly standard suggestion in recovery circles, and that is to associate with people in recovery support groups of some kind. So that might mean going to AA or NA, or it might mean going to group therapy, or it might mean participating in some other recovery program. The idea is not to allow yourself to just isolate and be trapped in your own thoughts. Nothing can be much worse for your anxiety than to not have any kind of social outlet at all. Therefore, if you are plugged into a recovery routine in which you–for example–go to an AA meeting twice a week, then at least you have those outlets to keep you from being completely trapped in your own head all the time.

I realize that meetings may not work for every person, but I think it is important to find a way for you to have this social outlet. Maybe it won’t be AA, but you need to find a way to connect with other people. This is really important for overcoming a pretty basic level of anxiety.

Now second of all I would recommend that you look into physical exercise, as this has been a huge part of my own recovery journey. Note that you can also combine exercise with the first idea, meaning that you can pair up with a workout partner or a walking partner and make a social habit out of exercise as well. This is really powerful in terms of basic self care and taking decent care of yourself in terms of anxiety. If you can make a commitment with another human, or with a group of people, to get out there and walk on a very consistent schedule, then this will go a long way in terms of your own self care. Exercise has been critical for my own anxiety and it is one of the foundations of my recovery. I strongly recommend that you look into it (provided your doctor approves, of course).

To go along with the idea of exercise, I would also urge you to experiment with meditation in order to help your anxiety level. This is another breakthrough kind of habit that can cause you to make huge leaps and bounds in terms of dealing with stress and anxiety. If you can learn how to simply breath and quiet the mind for about 20 minutes per day it will go a long way in terms of reducing the overall stress and anxiety in your life.

If you get into the habit of meditating on a consistent basis then you will automatically end up meditating at the times that you most need the relief. It is a small 20 minute investment to meditate every day based on the clarity of thoughts and emotions that you get from the experience. If you talk to a dozen people who are successful in long term recovery, ask all of them if they ever meditate, and you will be shocked to see just how many people benefit from this practice. It seems to be one of the universal strategies for success, not just in recovery but in life in general.

Another suggestion that I have for you is to do what I would call a “brain dump” in a daily journal. So every day, you simply write down the date and start pouring your thoughts onto the page with no real limits or constraints on yourself. Put it all down. This can be especially helpful if you do a brain dump before you meditate or exercise, because then you sort of free your mind up to stop worrying about things.

If you do this consistently then one day you will be able to look back at your journal and see how far you have come in your recovery journey, and you will be able to see how much you have matured.

The mind seems to grasp on to things to worry about, and if you write those things down then you are giving your brain permission to stop worrying about it. You are telling your mind “don’t worry, we wrote it down, we won’t forget it now.”

I would also encourage you to talk to your therapist, your sponsor, and your peers in recovery about how they overcome their own stress and anxiety. Ask people that you look up to in recovery what specific things they do for their own self care. As you hear their suggestions, start to test them out, one at a time, to see if those ideas can benefit you. If you keep iterating and testing new ideas then eventually you will find the techniques that actually work for you, and then you can establish them as new habits.

What you are really looking for when it comes to anxiety reduction are long term lifestyle changes. You want to build up the positive habits in your life that strengthen you and overcome anxiety. At the same time, you might also want to deliberately and consciously identify the habits or triggers that you have that create negative stress and anxiety for you. What can you eliminate? What needs to be changed or addressed in order to eliminate your causes of anxiety?

You may need to ask for help in this regard and talk with a therapist or a counselor in order to see the causes of your anxiety. Often times we are too close to our own lives in order to see the causes of our stress, and we need to take a step back or ask for feedback in order to identify the root causes of our problems. Sometimes you just need a second set of eyes to look at your situation and see where it can be improved. This is why being open minded is so critical in recovery–we all have blind spots that we can only overcome by seeking advice outside of ourselves. So you need to be open to those possibilities and suggestions if you want to achieve real personal growth.

Again, make sure that you are willing to explore and experiment. You must actually test out techniques to see if they work or not, rather than just use them as thought experiments. Some of my biggest revelations in this area came from ideas that I honestly did not think would help me much. Good luck to you on your journey!

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