Stress Test: Dealing With Anxiety in Recovery

In these crazy times, how can we deal with feelings of overwhelm and panic without our old ways of coping? How do we learn to show up to whatever comes with grace and calm?

Many of us in recovery—especially early recovery—have been overcome with intense waves of emotions like anxiousness, panic, and depression. Even when there aren’t global disease outbreaks, early days of sober living can be hard to adjust to. Big feelings can make even casual tasks difficult, and make it hard to imagine getting through a full day sober, let alone a lifetime.

What often short circuits our ability to stay clean and sober for any length is an unwillingness to feel uncomfortable, even for a little while. We assume it will always be like this, and sober living will just be a white-knuckling, teeth-grinding slog through life. The reality is, it doesn’t have to be this way! It will pass, and the only way out is through.

So in this time of international panic, we’d like to offer some tools to help cope with anxiety with some modicum of grace:

Get into service

Helping others is a front-line defense when times are tough. It distracts us from ourselves, and we often return to our problems with fresh perspective and a renewed spirit. Helping other alcoholics or addicts is a great place to start, and seldom fails to give an emotional boost. While stuck inside, a simple phone call can go a long way. A kind word of thanks to a friend, walking the dog or doing some dishes also counts. These things are good practice, and remind us that the world is bigger than us.

Stay busy

While we were drinking and using, our lives were getting smaller by the day. As part of our sober journeys, we need fresh interests and hobbies. Getting back into life and finding new activities often boosts our confidence and reminds us of who were we before our addictions robbed us of full lives. During times when we are asked to stay home and practice social distancing, we can get creative and practice workouts at home, or try out cooking new things. With so many people stuck at home, many brands and companies are offering free services online, including free art classes and yoga. 

Feelings aren’t facts

A great practice for those of us just learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions in healthy ways is to acknowledge the emotion and let it pass. We can look at it, nod to it, feel how it feels, and let it go. When hard thoughts arise, we can notice them like cars passing. We see them go by, but we don’t need to take a long ride in each one.

Fake it till you make it

AKA “acting as if.” We can literally re-wire our brains by acting as if we were well-rounded, healthy individuals. When in doubt, ask yourself “how would a sane, calm person react to this situation?” Although right now, even emotionally well-balanced individuals are struggling. There is no doubt that anxiety and panic are universal, and we can offer ourselves some compassion for simply being human. The secret is to allow ourselves some feelings, but not allow ourselves to be completely overrun by them.

Stop thinking about yourself

So often when anxiousness and fear arise, we grab on and dive in. We turn on sad songs, isolate ourselves, and dwell morosely on our troubles. This approach seldom helps, and only adds fuel to the fire. We can’t solve a problem with the same tool that created it, so getting out of our heads for awhile will generally give us some relief. Talking to someone else, being of service, or getting absorbed in an activity are all great diversions.

Get to a meeting or support group

A 12 step-meeting or support group is an excellent venue for learning new ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. They remind us to engage in the step we are on, and often our pain drives us to dive into the work more wholeheartedly. When we are instructed to stay home for health reasons, we can still interact with a recovery program. Inventory, amends, prayer and meditation offer us a path to real and lasting freedom from our discomfort with life itself. Plus, most meetings have gone online, giving people the opportunity to get to as many a day as they would like. Getting on the phone and sharing what you are going through and reaching out to others also lessens the sense of isolation and panic, and steadies us enough to keep us on the path for another day.

A final word—we are all practicing getting comfortable with discomfort! The more we can resist panic and do the right thing, the better we will feel. Good luck, and (hopefully) see you soon!




It’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

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