Managing Recovery Related Stressors
“It’s not stress that kills us – it is our reaction to it.”
What is a Stressor?
The simplest stressors definition would be to say that this can be anything in our environment that triggers stress. A more technical explanation is that it refers to any stimuli that causes the release of stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine). When these chemicals are released into our body, it puts us in a state of high alertness and readiness – this is usually referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Stressors Are Not Always the ‘Bad Guys’
The word ‘stress’ can have a strong negative connotation in our minds, but it is actually a necessary part of life. Not only is it unrealistic for us to expect that we can eliminate all the stressors from our environment, but even if we could achieve this aim, it is unlikely to lead to much happiness. If we didn’t experience at least some stress, we would probably end up walking front of buses and losing all motivation to even get out of bed in the morning.
Stress can be beneficial, and it can even save your life. If you were walking down a dark alleyway, and you hear the sound of footsteps moving fast towards you, this is likely to trigger the release of stress hormones that put your body in a state necessary to react quickly. You may find that time seems to slow down as you become more aware of your environment. The adrenalin now pumping through your body can give you the ability to take fast action such as running away.
The Problem with Chronic Stress
When stress hormones need to be occasionally released in our body in response to a stressor, it is not going to have much of a negative impact on our wellbeing – we can easily handle these periodic episodes of fight or flight. The problem is that some of us remain in this state of high alertness so much of the time that it does start to have a negative impact on our physical and mental health – this is referred to as chronic stress.
The experience of chronic stress often (although not always) has a lot more to do with our state of mind rather than the number of stressors in our life. It is like we have become hypersensitive and can start to feel stressed without even an obvious stressor (i.e. we are reacting to paper tigers rather than real tigers) – we just become so used to feeling stressed that keep slipping into this state.
Awareness of Recovery Stressors
When in early recovery from addiction, we can be particularly vulnerable to stressors. We are not used to dealing with the world without the chemical numbness created by alcohol and drugs, and this means we can feel things a lot more intensely. Things will settle down eventually as we settle into this new life, but it is vital that we pick up some tools to improve our ability to handle stress. We need to be practically aware of addiction stressors (the things that used to make us want to drink or use) as these can be a fast track to relapse.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process