By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC
More often than not, when clients enter my office that are struggling with anxiety, they have immediate need for relief and long term plans to gain coping strategies.
Numerous life situations have, in many cases, added up and created the environment for potential relapse back into old patterns for the use of substances and other addictive behaviors to numb and avoid.
At times, it is too easy to fall back into short term behaviors that work in short run but can lead into long term disasters.
When I was working in an inpatient recovery house, the difference between the safe environment of the house versus the outside world was enormous.
Clients would be afraid to walk outside the walls of the house for fear that the worries, stressors and fears would be waiting for them the moment they stepped outside.
They did not want to relapse, but the pull at times of the outside world was too much and a safety plan versus the immediate gratification of the old addiction was too much to handle. Anxiety and worry sit in and take over their lives once again.
“It was one of those days when I was thinking too much, too fast. Only it was more like the thoughts had a mind of their own and going all by themselves at a hundred miles a second, and I was just sitting back, feeling the growing paranoia inside of me.”
Coping Mechanisms Short-Term
When an individual begins to feel the anxiety of stressful situations, there are ways of temporarily relieving the physical reactions–Band-Aids if you will:
- Deep breathing – take three deep, full, conscious breaths whenever you need to.
- Breaks – a quick nap, snack, reading, walk or drive; a bath/shower/sauna; an exercise break (yoga/stretching); movie/DVD/TV; connect with a friend (email/call/text).
- Healthy Venting – no obsessing, righteous justification or a pity-party!
- Visualizations – e.g. visualize a peaceful scene (combine this with deep breathing).
- Gratefulness – recite to yourself a few things you are grateful for despite what might be lacking in your life at this time.
- Get honest – be honest – with yourself first and foremost. Admitting a difficult truth should bring immediate relief (especially if you’ve been avoiding/resisting it).
- Separate what you can change from what you can’t – (and focus on the former, not the latter!)
- “Keep your eye on the prize” – pick your battles (wisely)…pace yourself.
Reducing Stress – Prevention
- Make a list of the “warning” signs – of your stress before it gets out of hand.
- Prepare for a particularly stressful situation – ahead of time if possible.
- Take responsibility -”own up to” your own limitations, unhealthy biases.
- Treat: substance abuse (including caffeine), poor eating/sleeping habits, thyroid
- Expand your roles – i.e. don’t get stuck in one role e.g. achiever/perfectionist/caretaker/rescuer/, comedian, rebel, wallflower; controller.
- Learn to set boundaries – learn to say “no;” learn to be assertive
- Resolve old issues – (old baggage) i.e. resentments, trust issues; intimacy issues; chronic low self-esteem; fears of abandonment; strong inner critic.
- Learn to recognize your limits
- Learn to live your own life; let others live their own lives
- Learn to risk saying what it is you want/need from life – others and yourself (keep it “reasonable”, focus on 60% on your needs and 40% of your wants.
- Consistently “let go” of things you cannot control.
- Don’t get stuck in either/or thinking – for example – not either I do a good job or forget it…either you’re for me or against me but I both do my best and it’s not perfection…you are both supportive of me (in certain areas) and critical of me (in other areas).
- Challenge unreasonable expectations – desires, demands, standards, etc.
- Challenge limiting beliefs – challenge dysfunctional loyalties
- Clarify your goals – one-year plan, three-year plan,five-year plan; take “baby steps”
- Learn meditation/mindfulness practices
- Learn good time management skills and good financial management skills.
The more in tune with ourselves, the better off we are to combat the fears and anxieties of life that can, if allowed, paralyze the soul or worse yet, involve ourselves in unhealthy ways of coping (substance abuse etc.)
We so many times in life take for granted how we feel rather than taking the time to examine the underlining causes of our feelings.
Many who I have worked with in substance abuse recovery struggle with the easier coping mechanisms such as submitting to a relapse rather than the daunting task of struggling with what they suggest are demons within their soul.
Anxiety, worry and stress can be regarded as the norm rather than something to be met head on and over the course of time, to understand and mediate to manageable levels.
“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then, whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal — and soon they’ll forget my number.”
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701