Let’s face it, stress doesn’t cut you a break just because you’re sober.
That’s why it’s so important to build a lifestyle that promotes serenity.
“If you start feeling stressed and don’t pay attention, telling yourself things like, ‘It’s not that big of a deal,’ you end up with a minor stressor that causes a major reaction,” says Debra Safyre, a Minneapolis-based holistic practitioner.
In recovery, that reaction often takes the form of relapse. Here are ways to help keep stress from sabotaging your sobriety:
Twelve-Step and Other Support Groups
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and a host of other Twelve Step programs have proven to be one of the most effective resources for achieving and sustaining sobriety. Their success can be attributed to many factors but above all to the original vision of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, two “hopeless” alcoholics who founded AA in 1935 on the premise that helping another alcoholic is key to maintaining one’s own sobriety. In other words, pay it forward.
Sherry Nykiel, director of the McLean Center at Fernside in Princeton, Mass., endorses Twelve Step and other groups such as SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery this way: “The evidence shows us that people who participate in mutual support are going to have more abstinent days than people who don’t.”
Sleep and Nutrition
People in AA use the acronym H.A.L.T. to warn against getting overly hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Note that it begins with “hungry” and ends with “tired.”
“Many of us wonder why we suddenly feel like taking a drink for no apparent reason,” write the authors of Living Sober, an AA sanctioned book. “Chances are, we have used up too much energy and have not had enough rest. Generally, a snack or a little nap can change our feelings completely, and the idea of a drink vanishes.”
“Energy is your power to make things happen,” Safyre says. “Developing an understanding of your energy and a vocabulary to talk about it can help you achieve balance.”
Meditation and Prayer
Learning to meditate pays high dividends in achieving peace of mind. For many people, so does turning their will over to a Higher Power. Whatever your religious beliefs, prayer and meditation pave a powerful path to serenity.
You don’t have to become an Olympic athlete, but there is no denying the benefits of a fitness routine. Exercise clears the mind. It is accessible and affordable. Walk, run, join a gym, swim, do group aerobics or try Bikram yoga. Get moving several days a week.
Hobbies and Group Activities
Drinking and drugging take up a lot of time. Along the way, hobbies and group activities fall to the wayside. Whether you are newly sober or have significant time in recovery, make room for “me” time. Play an instrument. Write. Join a book club or drumming circle. These things are fun. Fun is important to serenity.
“People who develop honesty and integrity have a wonderful chance at success and growth,” Nykiel says. “You need to find somebody you trust and become attached to. The idea that you can be honest with everyone is unrealistic. But real honesty can be achieved with a therapist, sponsor, clergy person. Honesty is a big part of reducing stress and achieving self-forgiveness and serenity.”