Drug use is, among other things, an excellent short-term stress reliever. But it’s in the long-term that its flaws become glaringly obvious – and dangerous. Such forms of stress relief are also known as maladaptive coping mechanisms.
In short, they serve to cope with stress but don’t serve to help alleviate it.
The difference between one and the other is the difference between taking a pill to ignore the pain and going to a medical professional to fix the cause.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms help distract us from our problems and let us avoid the pain they can cause. But when the high wears off, the problems are still there – and in many cases, neglect causes them to actively grow.
This becomes a perpetuating cycle where many feel trapped by problems they can no longer address, seeing their addictive habit as the only escape from constant misery.
Facing problems head on isn’t easy, but often necessary.
Adaptive coping mechanisms are those that help a person deal with the stress that comes from dealing with problems, effectively pursuing activities that help one adapt and overcome the challenges they face in life rather than distracting them from the problems they face.
These are the kind of sober stress relievers anyone aspiring to stay sober should prioritize.
1. Find Things That Calm You
We all have different things that help us calm down and keep from hyperventilating. Whether it’s a song, a thought, a picture, a video, a memory, or an action, it’s important to write down what helps you deal with agitated moments and moments of restlessness and keep a list of these tips nearby.
It can be something simple, like a note on the fridge reminding you to breathe. It can be a habit you use to try and take your mind off a terrible thought, and calm down, like a routine household task, walking the dog, or going through the motions of making a cup of tea.
Think of these measures as emergency calming methods you can use to try and calm down in the event that you feel agitated as a result of cravings or urges.
2. A Walk in the Park (Literally)
If you are anywhere near a park or forest, consider yourself very lucky.
Being around nature has proven health benefits, particularly mental ones, often helping people feel much calmer and happier, and less moody.
Going for a walk can help you not only clear your mind of negative thoughts that are more common among people with addiction, but it can also help you make better sense of the messes in your mind and organize your thoughts in such a way that you can better plan for the near future.
3. Try Slow Exercise
While there is something cathartic about just laying into a bike or into the pavement for a couple minutes, the real benefits of relaxation and a lifted mood come from steady pace exercising that often lasts over an hour.
Pick a form of cardio you can do for over half an hour and start at a conversational pace. It could be walking, a slow jog, swimming, rowing, biking, taking the stairs, or anything else.
Slow exercise, especially in the water or out in nature, can bring your stress levels down a lot and keep you calm. This is better than spiking your cortisol with HIIT programs or very heavy lifting. Mind you, some people do respond well to more impactful exercises, and feel a greater sense of relief after a round of boxing, or some big weights.
Ultimately, you should do whatever helps you feel best.
4. Organize a Comedy Night
There are very few things as immediately and highly effective for killing stress and improving a bad mood as a good old laugh.
Comedy can be a very effective sober stress reliever, and it’s a good idea to schedule a day in a week or a day in a month to head out to your local comedy club with some friends, or just plan a get-together to browse through Netflix together for some laughs.
Spend more time curating your social media feeds with content that makes you happy, from funny videos to cute animals and uplifting news stories.
Change the way you consume media on your devices and television by more actively filtering through what you watch and take a digital break every now and again to just head out with some friends without giving into the urge to check a phone or tablet.
5. Try Meditation
Research has shown that meditation can be very effective in managing stress. But for most people, meditation isn’t a ‘straightforward’ process. Some take to it easily, while others have a hard time starting.
To better explain how meditation functions, think of it first as being ‘actively mindful’.
Mindfulness, when practiced properly, allows an individual to softly dissociate from their worries and struggles and achieve a calm overview of their own situation.
Think of life as a road trip. Now imagine stepping off the road and observing from a distance, watching each individual thought as it passes by, without being ‘in the middle of it all’.
Being actively mindful gives you a different perspective, which can help calm you.
6. Talk to Your Therapist
‘Letting it all out’ is a good way to relieve stress, even if it doesn’t seem particularly productive. Sometimes, we just need a few minutes to lay down the facts, bear our feelings, and be honest with both ourselves and someone else.
While a therapist is a great option, as it’s their job to help you sort through your emotions and consider what to do with them, the same can be said for a friend, pet, or even a plant. The critical points to consider are:
- Not being alone
- Being honest
Just take a deep breath and start talking. You’ll feel much better by the end.
7. Tackle Your Procrastination
A good way to reduce the amount of stress in your life is to cut down on the things that are stressing you out.
If you have tasks and deadlines to worry about, get them out of the way as early as possible. Put the time and effort in to take care of as much as you need to take care of, so you have more time to spend doing the things you enjoy doing.
If you find yourself often frozen, unable, or unwilling to do what needs to be done, it might be a good idea to bring the issue up with a mental health professional. Procrastination might seem like old-fashioned laziness, but there are often other subconscious factors at play keeping someone from simply sitting down and focusing on the tasks at hand.
There are other ways to deal with stress, and these are just a few of the sober stress relievers that we recommend. Consider trying them all and seeing what works for you, taking note of how effective they seem to be.