Addiction and Stress: How to Feel More Calm in Recovery
When you think of stress you probably don’t think, “Yippee! Bring it on!!” In fact, if you’re like millions of others who experience stress then you probably try to avoid that frazzled feeling at all costs. Considering that 77% of people experience physical stress symptoms, 73% experience psychological symptoms of stress, and 33% feel they live with extreme stress it’s no wonder that estimates suggest over $800 million is annually spent on anti-anxiety pills. We are a global nation of tension.
While feeling emotional strain is a natural part of living, it can become amplified by addiction and also the recovery process. Managing cravings, expectations, promises, goals, and disappointments produces additional pressure and anxiety. If you’re looking for how to feel more calm in recovery then you’re in just the right frame of mind for a stress reframe.
Changing the Way You Think About Stress
Most of us feel stress and want to get as far away from it as possible, but Dr. Heidi Hanna, author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Sharp Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance as well as Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, suggests a different approach. Her objective is “…to encourage people to embrace the notion of stress and see it as a challenge and opportunity for growth.” The first step in how to feel more calm in recovery, then, is to transform the way you think about – and even experience – stress.
The first step in how to feel more calm in recovery, then, is to transform the way you think about – and even experience – stress.-Michele Rosenthal
Hanna believes it’s good to think about transforming stress or changing our relationship with it, particularly in our (default) approach of perceiving stress as something to avoid. “When we think of stress as something that we have to fight,” Hanna explains, “just that in itself is exhausting and daunting. If we can start to change the way our brain perceives stress we can actually start to seek out things that are going to help us to adapt and become stronger. That’s ultimately how we change our relationship with stress: We become stronger than the stress.”
From Hanna’s point of view, becoming stronger than the stress requires three areas of focus that help your brain learn a new approach to anxiety and tension. Sound like a lot? Pause and take a step back; Hanna breaks it all down into three easy steps:
- First, balance brain chemistry.
- Second, build brain health.
- Third, boost brain power.
Changing the Way You Use Your Brain
In the balance-build-boost method you deliberately partner with your brain so that it creates its own calm chemistry while learning to function more optimally. The benefit of these outcomes is that your cortex (the part of your brain responsible for inhibiting your reactive stress response) strengthens and can interrupt and redirect the parts of your brain that create anxiety and tension.
- Step One: Balance your brain’s chemistry: Hanna suggests, “You have to balance the brain by practicing relaxation consistently. Taking deep breaths and doing breathing exercises gets the brain into a better chemical state so that you can start to shape it the way you want.” Just three to five minutes at a time several times per day helps prime your brain chemistry and tip the balance toward calm.
- Step Two: Build your brain’s health: Two components create a strong foundation here. The first is giving your brain proper nutrition. This means diverse and healthy choices that pack vitamins, minerals, and glucose, your brain’s energy source. The second component is gratitude. Hanna offers, “Gratitude is a wonderful way of building brain health because it adds nourishing nutrients to the brain.”
- Step Three: Boost your brain’s power: This means strategically pumping up your brain’s ability to work the way you want it to. Hanna calls this a “brain recharge” and suggests focusing on your intention. In other words, ask yourself “What’s most important in this moment?” and place your focus there.
Honing Your Skills
Hanna teaches this three-step process (deep breathing, feeling gratitude and then focusing on an intention) to audiences worldwide because she’s seen the benefits in her own life.
“I jokingly call it my BFF; it’s like my best friend. I do it as much as possible during the day. I do it for five to 15 minutes in the morning and before every meal, any time I’m feeling stressed. I breathe, I feel positive, and I focus on what’s most important. Those three things can be done in 30 seconds or 30 minutes but it starts to train the brain to become in that optimal state that makes us more resilient to stress.”
Like any skill, learning how to feel more calm in recovery takes time and practice.
Your brain learns slowly and through lots of repetition. A general rule to remember is that it takes thirty consecutive days for your brain to convert a new skill into a habit. This means that when you’re practicing how to reduce stress you have to suspend your expectations for results for at least a month. While you may see results earlier than thirty day your brain needs time and space to learn.
Giving your brain support through Hanna’s balance-build-boost program is a great framework for reclaiming control over stress—and also a great framework for practicing how to be kind, patient, and compassionate toward yourself during addiction management and recovery. Whether your brain is striving to learn to relax or to break a habit it needs your help. In every moment you have the choice to work with your brain or against it. Working the three steps outlined above, plus committing to the time it takes to see significant results puts you and your brain on the same side—the winning side.
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