Using alcohol as a way to cope with life’s stressors ultimately leads to serious and sometimes deadly health issues. For one thing, not all stress is bad stress, and for another, there are many effective ways to manage stress without alcohol.
Appropriate levels of stress can motivate people to perform well, such as when they are giving a presentation or interviewing for a job. Likewise, the stress that occurs when you are in a potentially life-endangering situation prepares your body to face the threat or flee.
However, long-term stress, especially when its source is constant, can suppress your immune system, disrupt sleep, and impair digestion. Alcohol is a harmful way to try to cope, particularly for those who are prone to addiction. Fortunately, there are many ways you can manage stress and maintain your sobriety. Here are seven of them.
Some people find solace for the soul in routine household tasks such as cleaning the kitchen sink, while others may find crafts like knitting to be an effective way to deal with stress. There are many possibilities; brushing the dog, preparing a healthy snack, making a pot of coffee, or doing a crossword or Sudoku puzzle are just a few examples.
Physical activity is an excellent and healthy way to cope with stress. It does not have to be intense, either. A few minutes on the elliptical machine, a walk around the neighborhood, or an easy hike at a local park are ways you can get your body moving, your breathing rhythmic and regular, and your stress levels down. One Swedish study found that swimming is great for triggering the body’s relaxation response.
This is a mobile, yet plugged-in society, and your devices may give you the illusion that you do not have any downtime. Setting aside your phone or tablet for a few minutes while you gather yourself helps ensure that you do not have unnecessary interruptions and that you do have the opportunity to remember what it feels like to be “unplugged.”
Stress can cause your breathing to become restricted. Have you ever noticed how you subconsciously hold your breath when you are under stress? Taking a moment to focus on breathing all the way out and re-establishing normal breathing helps reduce the physical toll stress takes, while giving yourself a momentary break from the madness.
A genuine, heartfelt laugh not only feels good, it lowers stress hormones and raises endorphin levels. Thanks to the internet, you have a never-ending supply of humor at your fingertips. Maybe memes are your thing, or perhaps you love funny cat videos. Maybe a short stand-up set from a favorite comedian is on YouTube. Talking to a friend with a great sense of humor is another way to inject some levity into the stresses of everyday life.
Many people do not meditate because they worry that they are “doing it wrong.” Perhaps the best way to “get better” at meditation is to practice it daily. Focus on your breathing, close your eyes, and recite (out loud, or in your mind) a positive affirmation, such as “I can do this,” or “I am doing my best in this situation.”
The music that helps you destress may be different than what works for your spouse or friend. For some people, lively dance tunes (accompanied by actual dancing, if possible) are helpful for relieving stress, while others may prefer hard metal, piano classical, or jazz. The power of music to reduce stress is real and documented, so do not feel like a few minutes enjoying some of your favorite songs is “time wasted.” It is an excellent coping strategy during stressful times.
Long-term recovery means learning how to use things other than alcohol to cope with the challenges life throws at you. Fortunately, the options are innumerable, and technology has made it easier for everyone to access relaxation techniques, music, and light entertainment. Be aware that stress management is a skill like any other, in that it must be practiced regularly to become more automatic and effective. However, the payoff is both instantaneous and long-term, so learning a handful of stress reduction techniques that work for you is a smart investment of your time and energy.