While scientists may have not discovered a one-stop cure to anxiety and stress, those of us who struggle with addiction think we have. Yes, it’s drugs and alcohol. At the end of the day, we might say we need a glass of wine to destress. We might cut loose with our drug of choice. Pop a Xanax to calm us or a Benzodiazepine to sleep. But it’s important that we learn other ways to handle anxiety in sobriety in order to avoid relapses.
Unfortunately, our old habit of using drugs to calm our anxiety doesn’t solve the problem and, in many cases, the drugs or alcohol cause more problems than they mask because underneath the temporary delay in anxiety, stress, and drugs, the things that cause us anxiety continue to fester.
Around 40 million people deal with stress and anxiety throughout their daily lives. The causes include work, family relationships, medical conditions, and financial problems. In fact, many of these problems develop into actual anxiety disorders such as phobias and panic disorders.
Moreover, our own use of drugs to reduce anxiety sometimes leads to substance-induced anxiety disorder. It’s often seen often in people searching for more drugs, but it’s actually a symptom of withdrawal. Yes, that panic you feel when you realize you don’t have any alcohol may be a substance-induced anxiety disorder. In some cases, though, the anxiety happens with certain types of drugs. I once watched a friend freak out because he thought a satellite in the sky was an FBI drone spying on him.
Panic Attacks VS Anxiety
Panic attacks and anxiety feel very similar, but they are not the same. I have had panic attacks in the past when I lost my necklace with my son’s ashes in them. It was a sudden and intense fear that came with a desperation to find it. Before it was over, I was on the floor in the middle of a store searching frantically.
I have also had anxiety from getting called to speak to a manager at work, going to the doctors, and even before making amends as part of my recovery. Anxiety is a gradual feeling of worry, distress, and fear. Both anxiety and panic have similar symptoms including:
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling a sense of fear or danger
- Gastrointestinal problems
Regardless of which you are dealing with, both panic and anxiety in sobriety can be handled in very similar ways.
Know Your Triggers
You can’t plan if you don’t know what to plan for, so it’s important to know what triggers you into a state of panic or anxiety. Identify what causes the unpleasant feelings, and then analyze the patterns and themes that lead to them.
We don’t always know when panic and anxiety in sobriety are going to strike, but you can identify the things that trigger you, and having a plan to get through it can help you avoid a full-on attack. Anxiety is a little different. You can examine your past and see the types of things that induce fear so that when you have to face those events, you can be prepared.
Is Your Anxiety in Sobriety Real?
You should also consider whether your anxiety is real or not. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t, but for me, having anxiety also meant that I had an excuse to drink. Without realizing that’s what I was doing or why I was doing it, I would induce feelings of anxiety through self-talk about things that didn’t cause anxiety before started drinking and don’t cause it now that I no longer drink. Having anxiety meant that I could self-medicate to calm myself without the shame of identifying as an alcoholic. I convinced myself that needed it for my self-diagnosed medical condition.
I don’t want to dismiss panic and anxiety as made-up conditions, especially during early sobriety. That’s not what I am saying at all. It’s very real. However, in talking openly about my own struggles with alcohol, I have discovered that many people with substance use disorders have also experienced self-induced anxiety. Once in addiction, their anxieties started occurring more often and with fewer triggers after they became addicted to the medications they were using to relieve them of it.
I incorporate the following tools into my daily routine, regardless of whether I expect to be faced with panic or anxiety or not. These actions give me an overall sense of well-being that helps me manage my emotions most of the time. The best part is that it only took me a few weeks to start seeing the results.
6 Tools to Use for Anxiety in Sobriety
If you don’t know what causes your anxiety or panic, journaling can give you that insight. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down events that caused you to stress during the day. Take note of your emotions, thoughts, and reactions to the event. Write about the people involved and the event that led up to your stress and what you did to get through it.
Essentially, you should write down everything that happened, but then you need to take another step and identify things you could change next time you have to face that type of experience. Journaling will help you clear your mind, so you can focus when panic and anxiety hits.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is a great tool for relieving stress, a factor that leads to anxiety. When you get the proper amount of sleep, your head is clearer and more capable of thinking through stressful situations so that you can come up with the best solutions for the problems that cause anxiety in sobriety and avoid the stress that comes with those problems.
This isn’t always easy, however. Your anxiety could play out in your head at night as you lay down, keeping you from falling asleep. That’s where journaling also helps. It gets the things that stress you out of your head and onto paper so that you can let it go.
Start a bedtime routine. Set your sleep schedule so that you go to bed at the same time every night. Take a few minutes to write about your day. Then turn off the television. If you feel like you need sound to get to sleep, turn on some meditation music or sounds of nature instead.
I seem to write about and suggest meditation on a daily basis. That’s because it has changed my life. Meditation will help you clear your mind and learn how to control your breathing so that when panic strikes you can calm down faster. Meditation doesn’t have to take an hour out of your day. It can be as simple as a few minutes each morning.
If you aren’t familiar with meditation, you can start with a simple 4 squared breathing exercise. Check out how you can do it, even in the grocery store, in this video.
Take Care of Your Health
Exercise is a natural stress reliever, and the less stress you have with normal daily events, the less chance you will have that that stress will develop into anxiety and panic. This can be as simple as taking a daily walk or practicing a morning stretch. It will increase your alertness, so you can see triggers as they develop.
Additionally, eating the right foods and drinking plenty of water provides the same benefits as they both feed your brain to increase mental clarity and alertness.
See Your Doctor about Your Anxiety in Sobriety
Your anxiety could result from a medical condition or a mental health problem. Taking care of that on your own may be too difficult and unsafe. For example, a thyroid disorder has direct connections to stress. According to Healthline.com, “When thyroid function slows during stress, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone levels fall.” These two hormones play a large part in your energy levels and moods. Lower levels mean decreased energy and negative feelings that can increase stress and anxiety.
I discovered this during the Covid lockdown when I ran out of my thyroid medication and couldn’t get to a doctor. Within a few weeks without my medication, my mood shifted, and I started feeling depressed and anxious. Not realizing that thyroid problems had a connection to moods, I felt confused about the feelings I was going through. After doing a little research, however, I discovered the connection and made a better effort to get my prescription refilled. My mood improved greatly shortly after I restarted my medication, but that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have visited my doctor.
Many other types of medical problems lead to anxiety. In fact, just feeling that there is something wrong with your body but not knowing what could increase anxiety.
Finally, your doctor can prescribe anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications that can help you calm your anxiety in sobriety. Unfortunately, many of them can be habit-forming and can replace the addiction you are trying to avoid.
Self-care is one of the best ways to avoid overwhelm that can lead to anxiety in sobriety. All the suggestions above involve good self-care habits, but self-care also means taking time for yourself to do the things you enjoy such as getting a massage, reading, or getting involved in your favorite hobbies. It’s like shutting down your computer, so it can reboot. When you restart it, often it will run faster. Self-care means your health improves, you have better mental clarity, and you feel refreshed reducing the amount of anxiety and stress you have to deal with.
Unfortunately, many people newly sober struggle with self-care thinking either that they don’t deserve it, have to increase work to avoid obsessing over alcohol or have to please others to make up for the damage they caused during active addiction. If that is you, get rid of those thoughts. Taking care of your anxiety in sobriety is one of your most important tasks. Otherwise, your anxiety could lead to a relapse.
If you want to know more about self-care in recovery, check out this article.
You Are Not Alone
Anxiety in Sobriety Is Common
We all experience anxiety and panic at some level, so you are not alone in this matter. If you have trouble with anxiety in sobriety, you may be managing it with drugs and alcohol, but you don’t have to. You can get help.
Now Sober Academy offers courses, tools, and support to help you recover from addiction. We believe that the best recovery program involves positive support from the whole family, so we also offer programs for both the person struggling with addiction and the people who love them. If you are struggling with an addiction or you have a loved one you want to see in recovery, let us know.
The Academy isn’t opened just yet, but it will be soon, Get on our email list, so you can be the first to know and get the special Founder’s Member rate. You can also contact us to talk one-on-one without the wait. We want to help you get one the right track.