Whether you’re in the early stages of recovery and anxiety is one of the symptoms of your withdrawal, or you’re experiencing anxiety as you move further along your journey to recovery, getting treatment for it can be daunting. If you do go to a doctor for treatment, you will likely be exposed to addictive drugs, like benzodiazepines, which can trigger your addiction. While you may be given another, less addictive, solution instead, seeking out medication can be intimidating when you’re so recently clean or sober.
Luckily, there are many things you can do about anxiety without getting medication for it, and many of them will be recommended by your doctor before starting a treatment course.
Exercise is one of the most common treatments for anxiety, both in clinical and non-clinical settings. Nearly any kind of exercise will relax the body, improve endorphin production, and increase blood circulation throughout the body, while tiring you out. Each of these factors contributes to relaxation which will help you to cope with anxiety.
In the short and long term, exercise also forces you to focus on what you are doing rather than thinking about things you are anxious about. It forces you to develop discipline, which improves your thinking patterns. And, for most people, exercise works to boost self-esteem, which also reduces anxiety. Multiple studies have linked exercise to short-term boosts in emotional well-being and happiness, allowing you to be happy rather than focusing on problems.
Exercise can greatly benefit anxiety in a number of ways. Doctors recommend that you exercise regularly and for a minimum of 20 minutes per day to see results. Best of all, exercise can also benefit your recovery by helping you to reduce stress, improving your health, and producing dopamine and serotonin which will help you to feel better.
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, chances are that you are suffering from some form of nutritional deficiency. Substance use causes damage to the gut, causes most of us to develop poor eating habits, and may cause digestive issues that limit nutrition absorption. Unfortunately, nutritional deficiencies can and will cause you to get anxious. Even not eating regularly or eating a great deal of sugar can cause your body to respond with anxiety as your blood sugar spikes. Some studies also show that magnesium deficiency can mimic anxiety.
You should try eating well, eating healthy food regularly, and try to balance your diet so that at least 80% of what you’re eating is good for you. In most cases, it’s not a good idea to take supplements unless your doctor recommends them to you, simply because having too much of a nutrient can do as much damage as it can do good. If you’re concerned, you can ask your doctor to test your blood to determine nutrient levels.
3. Learn Stress Management Techniques
There are dozens if not hundreds of stress management techniques, but most of them are based on the simple principle of focusing your attention on the here and now instead of ‘being in your head’. For example, most mindfulness and breathing techniques force you to pay very close attention to your body and what you are doing.
Stress management techniques like mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and exercise can all help you to relax and destress. They can also teach you the discipline to help you control what you are thinking about, and may give you something to do when you start to feel anxious that will prevent your anxiety from worsening.
4. Building Stress Reducing Routines
Most people are stressed by things to do, time pressure, negative emotions, money, feeling inadequate, waiting on others, etc. Whether your anxiety is a result of temporary withdrawal or a more permanent part of your personality, you can seek relief in activities that are the opposite. For example, many people find that performing household activities, working with their hands, and doing things they enjoy like sports is a great way to de-stress.
- Cleaning your home
- Learning a musical instrument
- Creating a relaxation ritual like meditating and then taking a bath
- Playing sports
- Learning a craft or artistic hobby
The idea is that if you can dedicate time to do something you enjoy, and you can spend that time simply relaxing and doing that thing or focusing on it, you can give your brain a break, de-stress, and come back in better shape.
5. Get Enough Sleep
While anxiety can cause poor sleep, poor sleep can also cause anxiety. It is in your best interest to develop a regular sleep schedule, get up and go to bed at the same time every day, and work to ensure that you get 7-8 hours of sleep each day. In most cases, not getting enough sleep changes how your brain produces neurotransmitters, slowing dopamine and serotonin production, and causing side effects such as lowered focus, reduced attention span, irritability, and anxiety.
If you have trouble sleeping, consider creating a night-time ritual, switching off devices at least an hour before bed, and working to relax before you get in bed.
6. Clean House
You may have heard something along the lines of “a cluttered home is a cluttered mind” but you might not know that there’s actually a grain of truth to the saying. People working and living in areas that are uncluttered and clean tend to have more focus, stress less, and be less anxious than those in a cluttered environment.
You can start out by getting rid of things you don’t need, setting aside time each day to clean up your space, and keeping your home and workplace as clean and neat as possible. Tidying up can seem like a chore at first, but if you’re not used to it, you will build habits quickly.
7. Identify Your Triggers
Just like addiction, anxiety has triggers. Unfortunately, they don’t always make sense and you might not always be able to identify them. But, by working to identify what makes you anxious, you can work to develop coping mechanisms or to avoid that thing altogether. For example, many people get anxious in traffic jams or when waiting in lines. Triggers can also relate to past events. Someone who had a traumatic past may become anxious when things relating to that trauma are near. This can be as simple as a person who causes anxiety or as indirect as a song that was playing at the time something bad happened.
Consider writing down your triggers or working with a psychologist to determine the triggers for your anxiety.
8. Take Care of Yourself
If you are hungry, tired, always upset, or otherwise not taking care of yourself, you will be more anxious than if you take care of yourself. Taking care of your clothes, staying clean, eating healthy meals regularly, and getting enough sleep will boost your health and your self-esteem, both of which will help you to feel better and be less anxious.
9. Take Time Out
Life is often stressful, especially if you’re recovering from a substance use disorder. Giving yourself time off to rest and relax is important if you want to stay healthy. That may mean unplugging devices over the weekends, taking time out to do sports or other activities you love, or taking time to relax in other ways.
If your anxiety persists or worsens, or you experience severe anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks, you should see your doctor and a therapist. You may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy or anxiety medication and a medical professional can help you to determine the best option for your needs and your health. A psychologist will also be able to help you determine if your anxiety is the result of anxiety, your substance use disorder, or PTSD or another disorder, so that you can approach and treat it properly. While it’s understandable that you want to avoid medication if possible, your health should come first.
Hopefully these 9 ways to cope with anxiety without medication will help so that you can get back to focusing on your recovery, anxiety free.
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