Contributor: Wilmington Treatment Center clinical content team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP
Addiction recovery requires a series of steps of lifestyle renovation that require both dedication and determination. Anxiety, however, can take each or any of the necessary steps of lifestyle change and add onto them an enormous emotional burden. The range of worries that ensues can make one’s progress in recovery seem impossible, regardless of how much a person tries managing anxiety or desires to recover.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that stress, which we all experience, is not the same as anxiety. Anxiety results from stress. Anxiety is a reaction of the human body to anticipated or experienced stress. Anxiety causes deep worry that is excessive, unfounded, and does not quickly go away. 
Anxiety’s Interaction With Recovery Efforts
Anxiety can severely inhibit progress through treatment if it is not addressed alongside addiction. The symptoms of anxiety that have a detrimental effect on recovery include:
- Excessive worry about participation in events or activities
- Becoming easily fatigued, tense or irritable
- Compulsively returning to discouraging thoughts
Sources Of Anxiety
It is helpful to try to identify the causes of anxiety when possible. The following are some of the situations that cause many to suffer from anxiety in recovery:
- Trying to improve in several areas of life at the same time
- Facing fears as part of the treatment program
- Socially awkward situations that arise unexpectedly
What To Remember When Managing Anxiety In Recovery
When it comes to developing new anti-anxiety skills, the person in recovery should remember that individuals will not experience a major change immediately, nor will anxiety disappear overnight.
Ideally, a person could break each social interaction skill into categories and work on each skill one at a time. After mastering one skill, a person could move on to the next. That sounds logical, but life is not that uncomplicated. Hence, patience is key.
The truth is that a person learning to overcome anxiety will have to apply many new skills all at the same time. For example, having a conversation might require learning to stop negative thinking while enduring physical reactions and at the same time trying to listen actively to another person – obviously applying many anxiety management skills all at the same time.
Approaching Anxiety Head-On
Avoiding situations that might cause anxious reactions can actually result in more anxiety. It is much better to take consistent steps to face anxiety that last for increasing increments of time. It is beneficial to start with small fears, like responding either yes or no to that uncomfortable invitation.
It is also valuable to schedule practice sessions for the bigger fears, like giving a presentation or participating in an interview. Put some forethought into the possible questions and ask a respected acquaintance to play the other part whenever possible.
Remember that many situations that cause social anxiety are very brief. When the situation is over, some self-analysis might be beneficial. Stewing over what should or could have been different, however, is not worth the worry! In fact, facing the situation is of no benefit if you decide to beat yourself with negative thinking afterward.
Focus on the positive. Then, reward yourself with some other activity that includes a diversion of thought and perhaps a little relaxation. Even a friendly phone call or some simple household chores with fun background music could do the trick.
Additional Steps For Effectively Managing Anxiety
Before entering rehabilitation, practical steps should be taken to get one’s life into order to any extent possible. Seek out a support system of family or friends who can help maintain the home or perform small tasks if needed, but beware of letting others handle responsibilities that you are capable of.
Adjusting Thought Patterns
Thoughts play a huge part in emotions. When you start to feel anxious, force yourself to think about the positive results of recovery so far. Audibly voice the benefits that you appreciate. Habitually expressing positive and appreciative thoughts to others (even if it feels forced at first) trains your mind to feel more positive and have less anxiety.
Addressing Physical Health
Certain foods actually result in worsened emotional health, so eat a balanced diet. Eat right and exercise: We have all heard it. The value of this really cannot be stressed enough. Heart and brain functioning, as well as breathing, plays a part in the anxiety response systems of the body. Do not underestimate the role that physical health will play on your emotional health.
Make A Daily List
At-home tips for managing anxiety:
- Make a daily to-do list.
- Work on one item at a time.
- Do not worry about what has already happened.
- Practice and plan, but do not worry about what might happen.
Place your feet on the floor and get moving when you get anxious. Never let anxiety paralyze you. Work on your objectives steadily and slowly, and move from one to the next. Do not try to do every physical task at one time, but do keep making progress.
As you work progressively to finish your tasks without giving time in between to worry about what will happen if you do not, you will find yourself making progress, which will result in greater self-security. Share your concerns with your mental health counselor, who understands anxiety and can help you to make continued progress. Good health to you!
Want to learn about how to effectively manage depression while recovering from substance abuse? See here.
: “Understanding the Facts.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved online 11, April 2016 at http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety.
About the author:
“Effectively Managing Anxiety In Drug Addiction Recovery” was written by Wilmington Treatment Center clinical team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP. A licensed mental health counselor, Kathryn has several years of experience working in dual diagnosis addiction treatment, women’s issues and trauma treatment.
Wilmington Treatment Center is a residential treatment program that provides a full continuum of care to adult men and women who have been struggling with substance abuse, chemical dependency, and certain co-occurring disorders. Located in Wilmington, N.C., the center features evidence-based treatment, state of the art detoxification protocols, and a locally developed multidisciplinary approach that is tailored to allow the staff to meet each patient wherever he or she is on the pathway of recovery. Since the day the program accepted its first patient in 1984, Wilmington Treatment Center has been dedicated to providing personalized care that incorporates the 12-step philosophy and principles, relapse prevention education, and a strong family component.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on July 26, 2016
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 13, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com