You feel like your heart is about to burst out of your chest, your blood pressure is rising, and you’re extremely tense.
Maybe you’re in a stressful situation at work or with a significant other. Your senses are sharpened and you’re extra stimulated. You feel like the world is about to crash down around you, stop turning, or somehow – both. You’re paralyzed, but wanting to jump out of your skin. You can’t sleep, concentrate or even eat.
You’re thinking the worst is about to happen, trying to soothe yourself with better thoughts, but jumping to conclusions and picking at straws for a solution.
Whether it be an external situation or an internal situation causing these unwarranted feelings, what you’re experiencing is anxiety.
When Anxiety Hits
No matter if you’re in the early stages of recovery or have a number of years under your belt, experiencing unsurmountable anxiety can be common. The entire structure of your life has changed, and this can contribute to a real sense of loss and worry. The good news is that anxiety is just a feeling – and feelings pass.
Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health disorders in the United States alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that more than 40 million American adults (aged 18 and older) suffer from an anxiety disorder. Additionally, the National Institute on Mental Illness (NIMH) publishes that this equates to over 18 percent of the adult population and that in almost a quarter of those affected, the disorder is classified as “severe.”
And according to the same study, those that suffer from alcoholism are also prone to anxiety. Specifically, those who suffer from an anxiety disorder are three times more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse. Since anxiety is rooted in fear and not wanting to feel fearful creates a distressed behavioral response, it can often perpetuate the feeling even more, creating an anxious and often destructive cycle.
Psychiatric Times published that anxiety disorders can generally come first (three-quarters of the time) in the case of co-occurring substance use disorders, further indicating a connection between anxiety symptoms and substance abuse as a coping method.
While there are numerous anxiety disorders that can co-occur with addiction (GAD, PTSD, OCD, Social anxiety disorder), there are also a number of ways we can deal with our anxieties when we experience them. For those of us in recovery, co-occurring anxiety can derail the best intentions for a sober life in recovery. It’s important for the person experiencing anxiety to develop new coping skills to help navigate these uncomfortable feelings. While it’s important to seek out professional help, we’ve put together a list of tools to use when the anxiety creeps in.
While this tip may seem cliche, meditation can help ease anxiety immensely. Meditation is a simple practice and anybody can do it – anywhere. Whether you’re with friends, in a social setting, by yourself, or at work, we can always excuse ourselves to go to the restroom and take a couple of deep breaths. Mediation doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be in hour or even half-an-hour increments. Meditation can be a minute long, as long as you become grounded. Make sure your feet are on the ground, relax, and focus on your breath causing any outside distractions to slowly dissipate.
Look for New Ways to Occupy Yourself
One of the most difficult things we deal with in early recovery is looking for new ways to fill our time. When we got sober, everything we did revolved around our using. Finding ways to fill our time can be nerve-wracking and boredom can be a slippery slope. However, having a plan to keep ourselves occupied is crucial. Whether it be working, going back to school, finding new hobbies, or exercising, finding ways to channel this newfound energy and occupy our minds can be crucial to dealing with anxiety.
Exercise has long been considered vital for maintaining not only physical, but mental fitness. It can also reduce stress. Studies have shown that exercise can be effective reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing overall cognitive function. In hindsight, it can be especially helpful when stress and anxiety has depleted our energy and ability to concentrate. According to some studies, regular exercise can work as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and these effects can be long lasting.
Talk It Out
Anxiety thrives in the dark, and when we push these feelings down they can exacerbate and fester even more. When you’re feeling anxious, talking to someone can take the power away from the feelings and bring whatever is going on into the light. Put a voice to your anxiety. In doing this, it can seem more manageable and you may receive some beneficial advice that will change your entire perspective.
Don’t Be So Critical of Yourself
If you’re anything like me, I’m my own worst enemy and my own worst critic. Being critical of ourselves can ruin our entire day and get us caught in a dark web of anxiety. Put the bat down! Isn’t that what caused some of us to drink or drug in the first place?
Don’t Give Fear the Power
Fear can be powerful if we let it. However, it can’t kill you – and it can’t even hurt you. It may be frustrating, but remembering that fear can be a fleeting feeling that will pass can help us leaps and bounds. Think about your situation. Have you experienced this situation before? Tomorrow, or maybe the next hour can be better. By “reframing” the circumstances, we can literally tell ourselves to stop when we begin to feel ourselves getting to a place of worry.