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Managing Anxiety in Sobriety

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According to a survey published in 2014 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 7.9 million Americans live with addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a significant toll on our mental health and impacting sobriety with headlines indicating significant spikes in anxiety, alcohol, and drug use. If you’re looking to manage your anxiety in sobriety, the following tips may help.

  • Join an online support groupBoth Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are offering online meeting forums in addition to some in-person meetings during this time.  Meetings are a great way to find support for yourself and show support for others.  Studies show that helping others provides the psychological benefits of combating depression, anxiety, and anger.  Go online to search for a local meeting or here are some links to National meetings.

AA Virtual Meetings

NA Virtual Meetings

  • Grab a cup of coffee with a friend Even though your local coffee shop might be closed or limited for in-person consumption, don’t let it prevent you from grabbing your favorite cup of joe or hot tea with a friend and heading outside for a walk.  The benefits of in-person contact combined with exercise and outside air are a trifecta for treating mental and physical health and thoughts related to using substances.
  • Call your sponsor (or mentor)If you belong to a support group such as AA or NA, you hopefully have a sponsor.  If you do not currently have a sponsor or mentor, reach out to your NA or AA branch leader.  If it feels too overwhelming to choose a permanent sponsor, ask someone to become an “accountability buddy” for now. Picking up the phone to call your sponsor or other sober support to talk about things that are worrying or irritating you is an important step in maintaining your sobriety.  Thoughts can lead to actions, so having a safe space to talk can help dissipate the link in your brain that associates thoughts with substance use.
  • ExerciseYou don’t need to pay for a gym membership or dedicate hours each day to reap the psychological benefits of exercise. Five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, and a 10-minute walk can be just as effective as a 45-minute workout.  Feel like stepping up your game from walking but aren’t sure where to look?  Check out the following equipment-free workouts for something new:

10-minute HIIT Workout

8 Relaxing Exercises that will Release Tension

13 Body-Burning Moves That Require No Weights

  • Breathe – Mental health and medical providers are increasingly turning to meditation and deep breathing exercises to treat anxiety and other physical symptoms. Stress can cause your heart to race, and when your heart races, your body responds by telling you to hold your breath without even realizing you’re doing it.  Deep breathing is something that you can do anywhere and anytime, and it will help lower your heart rate and help anxious feelings to subside.  If you’ve never considered this before, these brief videos can get you started:

How to do Deep Breathing

How to do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Think PositivelyCognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy that uses thought challenging to help change negative and anxiety-provoking thoughts.  In addition to practicing this thought challenging behavior with a therapist, there are an infinite number of ways to find inspiration online.  For starters, the internet offers great options (many of which are printable) to think positively.  Here are a few examples:

Mantras for Anxiety

Positive Thinking Quotes

Practice Gratitude

Inspirational Sobriety Quotes

  • Turn off the NewsThis may be easier said than done, so if you can’t turn it off completely, start with limiting the time you spend watching or reading news online (social media counts!).  Designate one or two times during the day to check in on the world’s status and then move on to another activity.  Also, look to add inspirational or motivational messaging into your daily routine. TED talks and Podcasts both offer plenty of options. The following are excellent places to start.

Change the World by Making your Bed – William McRaven, US Navy Admiral

Wisdom of a 3rd Grade Dropout will Change your Life –  Rick Rigsby

The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown

All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes – Andy Puddicombe

Lessons from the Mental Hospital – Glennon Doyle

  • Ask someone how THEY are doingWhether you choose to make a good old-fashioned phone call or rely on FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, make the intention of your call to ask about the person you are calling rather than telling them about yourself.  Showing genuine interest in someone else can ease negative or anxious thoughts (at least temporarily).  Helping others has a positive effect on the recipient, and it makes us happier and healthier too.

Try these tips today to help immediately manage your anxiety. Also, be sure to seek out a therapist who is trained in treating anxiety and addictions. This can make all the difference in getting started on your journey to better health.

Written By: Heather Blanck, LPC, a therapist with Counseling Works

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