Stress is a blessing and a curse. We need stress to motivate us and help us deal with life on life’s terms. Stress also gives us energy and fuels the fight, flight, or freeze phenomenon. On the other hand stress can be a curse for someone in early recovery for an addictive disorder. Stress is a major trigger for protracted or post acute withdrawal (PAW), and often leads to increased urges and cravings to use alcohol or other drugs. The stress response is a combination of biological psychological and behavioral factors.
I’ve had reinforced again this week the importance of stress management for people experiencing any type of medical condition after receiving a frantic call for help from a former patient of mine. Stress management is even more important when someone also has other coexisting disorders. People with chronic pain and coexisting disorders including addiction have three major reasons to learn effective stress management: (1) to lower the intensity of their pain; (2) to help them avoid a relapse back to inappropriate medication including alcohol or other drugs; and (3) better manage any pscychological or mood disorders.
In response to stress the body mobilizes an extensive array of physiological and behavioral changes in a process of continual adaptation. This is an important part of the body’s defenses with the goal of maintaining homeostasis and coping with stress. The body reacts to stress by secreting two types of chemical messengers – hormones in the blood and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Hormones alter the metabolism of food for fuel and energy for the fight-flight response. In the brain neurotransmitters trigger emotions, such as aggression or anxiety that prompt a person to engage in fight-flight or freeze response to stress. This leads to self-defeating behaviors.
One of the first steps in effective stress management is to learn how to identify and challenge irrational thinking that leads to uncomfortable emotions and anticipatory pain. For example if you’re under high stress the thought might be “I can’t stand this… I need a pill.” This in turn could lead to, fear, anger, anxiety, or even euphoric recall—anticipatory excitement.
The next step is to be aware of and learn how to manage those uncomfortable feelings before they lead to self-defeating urges. Developing recovery-prone feeling management skills is very important. Learning to share with trustworthy people is one way to deal with uncomfortable emotions. If the feelings are too intense or overwhelming, counseling or therapy may be necessary.
If those negative urges do surface, it is important to learn how to make healthier decisions before indulging in self-destructive behaviors. There is a decision point between the urge and the behavior that is almost non-existent when people first get into recovery. If people keep reacting to their impulses instead of thinking and responding they very well could relapse. That is why learning impulse control and delayed gratification is so important.
The final part of stress management is to learn relaxation and stress reduction techniques. For some people this includes options such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, etc. Other people like to use soothing music to relax. These relaxation interventions need to be coupled with developing an effective diet and exercise program.
Yes stress is a blessing or a curse, and if you want to stay serene and reduce your pain learning to identify and manage your stress is very important. Relapse prevention is an inside job, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. Help is out there if you’re willing to reach out.
To learn about two skill trainings coming up in Sacramento California designed to teach treatment strategies for people living with chronic pain and coexisting disorders including disorders including addiction please Click Here.
To learn more about other obstacles for effective chronic pain management, please read my article Overcoming Obstacles for Effective Pain Management that you can download for free on our Ariticles page.
You can learn more about the Addiction-Free Pain Management® System at our website www.addiction-free.com. If you are living with chronic pain, especially if you’re in recovery or believe you may have a medication problem and want to learn how to develop a plan for managing your pain and medication effectively, please go to our Publications page and check out my book the Addiction-Free Pain Management® Recovery Guide: Managing Pain and Medication in Recovery. To purchase this book please Click Here.
To listen to a radio interview I did conducted by Mary Woods for her program One Hour at a Time please Click Here to go to this interview.
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