During active addiction, if you felt down or angry or even bored, you turned to your drug of choice.
A stiff drink, a pill, a joint, or a pipe – they all have one thing in common: They change how you feel. Even if, after long-term use, you no longer got high or even felt better after taking the substance, it was still different than what you were feeling before and your go-to coping mechanism for tough times.
In recovery, one of your first tasks is learning how to manage your emotions without the use of drugs or alcohol. Because there is no such thing as a magic “quick fix” that will instantly zap you into a better mood when you get angry or sad, the best way to find contentedness is to continually work toward balance while learning the coping mechanisms to employ when faced with acute stressors.
Here are some options that will help you to do both.
- Go Outside
Regularly: If you can get outside every day or a few times a week, you benefit from the exposure to the sun, a great source of vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, so stepping outside may help you up your levels while also giving you the benefits of calm that have been associated with living near and spending time in green spaces.
In crisis: If you are angry, stressed out, or struggling with depression, it can help to get a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air. Don’t worry about what you look like or packing a bag – just head out to the closest green area (no crowded spots), take a walk, or sit for a few minutes until you feel better or can turn your attention to other things.
- Listen to Music
Regularly: On your way to work, before and after meetings or treatment sessions, before you go to bed at night, and when you get up in the morning – there are any number of opportunities to incorporate uplifting music into your life. When you do so with the intent to improve your mood, it can have even greater results, so focus your intention on positivity when you pick your playlist.
In crisis: Music is a great way to immediately shift mood when you are struggling with difficult emotions that may otherwise trigger the urge to drink or get high. You can opt to slow things down with some mellow music and get introspective, or amp things up with some hard beats – whatever works best for you.
Regularly: When you write in a journal regularly, you have the opportunity to note different feelings you have and the situations in which they occurred so you can identify patterns and potential triggers in your life. For example, if you find that you often feel stressed out and in need of a drink after work, it might be an indicator that your job or the people you work with are not ideally suited to your recovery. Additionally, writing down your positive experiences has been shown to increase your feelings of happiness as well.
In crisis: There is no better or safer place to vent your emotions or explore why you feel a certain way than in a private journal. In addition, you can always carry it with you by choosing a journaling app for your phone or carrying a paperback journal with you, making it a portable coping mechanism employable anywhere at any time.
- Prioritize Yourself
Regularly: It is important to prioritize your physical care as well as your emotional wellness on a regular basis. This can mean making sure you get a good night’s sleep every night, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day with enough hours in between to provide you with adequate rest. It also means eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean protein, and whole grains, and avoiding too many processed foods and sugars. It means going to the dentist and doctor regularly for screenings and checkups as needed in addition to dealing with acute issues in a timely manner. When you manage these issues on a regular basis, they are less likely to turn into serious problems or contribute to stress that you face during the day.
In crisis: Whether you are dealing with an overwhelming emotion, or just feel out of sorts and can’t pinpoint why, it can be helpful to take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you tired? Hungry? Did something happen early in the day or in the week that is nagging at you? Are you in physical pain? Identify your area of need and immediately address it. Take a nap, eat a high-protein snack, stretch, and help yourself to feel better.
Mix and Match
There is no rule that you have to choose one coping mechanism at a time. Instead, feel free to mix and match, and find something that works for you. Put on your headphones and head to the park with a journal to get some vitamin D while enjoying the relaxing effect of music and personal thought exploration. Or go running while listening to your favorite uplifting tunes and focus your thoughts on the things you are grateful for. Regularly incorporate the lifestyle choices that work best for you into your schedule and then make use of the ones that most resonate with you when in emotional crisis.