Everyone experiences stress, but we have different approaches to relieving it. That’s particularly true for people new in recovery, whose nerves may be exceptionally ‘jangly’ and therefore more susceptible to the adverse impact of stress.

Some common tools in the ‘stress toolbox’:

  1. Let’s get physical — The stress response is at root a physiological process, and physical remedies are among the most direct and effective. It might be a vigorous workout or sport, or something less active, such as yoga. “I need physical activity to work off the stress of a long day at work,” says Brian. “Even when I’m tired. Something about being active gets my energy level back up.” For Maggie, exercise and meditation go hand in hand. “When I’m out running for several miles,” she reports, “my mind drifts away from my problems towards a sense of peace.”
  2. Relaxation / meditation — There’s an equal body of research in favor of parking yourself in one place and focusing inward. The practice of meditation is thousands of years old and shows up along with prayer in AA’s Step Eleven (although you need not be religious to benefit from meditating). Newer studies have confirmed the positive effects of simple muscle relaxation. With both, practice makes perfect — the longer you stick with it, the more effective it seems to become.
  3. Talk, and more talk — as many recovering folks will testify, ‘phone therapy’ is an essential for managing anxiety. “I actually start to calm down when I pick up the phone to call my sponsor,” one woman said. “Sometimes just leaving a message helps.” Another says it’s her way of ‘turning things over’ to a higher power. “I’m sure if I had God’s cell number, I’d call every day.”
  4. Gaining insight — some of us discharge stress through self-examination — with a counselor, for instance, or through regular journal entries. “For me, stress dissolves when I get clear on an issue,” David explains. “Once I clarify my feelings, I can let it go.”
  5. Direct action — with some forms of stress, the only thing that seems to work is good old fashioned confrontation. “When I get a letter from the IRS,” Marcus says, “I can’t just set the thing aside ’til later. I need to get on the phone with the IRS rep or go online and find a discussion group where I can put my problem in front of other people. That’s the only way I can relax. Otherwise I’ll stew and fret and probably not sleep that night.” Doesn’t mean we can expect to solve the problem right away, just that we’ve done something that moves us in the direction of a solution — and gives us permission to relax for a while.

Of course there’s no law that says we can’t mix and match approaches to find something that works better for us…