Stress is what we feel when we are bothered or anxious, whether these reasons are real or imagined. The reasons can be happening here and now or projected way into the future. There are different kinds of stress, like short-term, situational, or long-term. Short-term is not harmful to us, and we are pretty well prepared to physically handle it and then go on our merry way. If you know a tornado was on its way to blowing your house away, you would be very stressed for those minutes. But if it turns away and your house is fine, in a minute or two, so are you. All those stress hormones that were zooming around in your body go back to normal functioning, and that’s that. In a matter of minutes, your body goes back into balance. No more surges of all the hormones that come into play when you are stressed. At that time, when your mind sends out the all-clear signal, you do what everyone does when the bullet is dodged. You take a big, deep breath. That is an automatic response your body does to help you to go back into balance and calmness. We can do that on purpose, so remember that.
But what if the stress is long-term? You hate your job, you want to strangle a coworker, maybe severe financial problems, maybe a long illness. What then?
Well, instead of big surges of the stress hormones, we now have a drip, drip, drip that means there is no deep breath, no going back into balance. That constant drip can affect you in many ways. You might have more colds, you might have trouble sleeping, you might get stomach aches. You go to the doctor because you are not feeling right, and after all tests are completed, the doctor tells you all is well, so the doctor says it must be stress. Of course, there are medical reasons and symptoms that I cannot address since I am not medical personnel, but you get the drift anyway.
People have many ways of dealing or trying to deal with stress. Some are easy to accomplish, some not so easy, but attempting to manage stress beats just caving in for it. And here is the good news: stress can be managed.
For addicts though, the way they have been coping with stress is to get high. No matter the reason. If they are disappointed, depressed, annoyed, you name what is stressing them, and the part of the brain that is addicted immediately springs into action to remind them that it knows just what to do. Use, and use now!
It is known that stress, whatever the stress may be, is the main reason for relapse. For some addicts who think there isn’t any other way to cope, well, there may not be any other way to cope for them. If you are the one training yourself to be positive, you can program yourself into knowing that change is within your reach. Remember, we live the effects of our thinking.
Recall the example about what the body does automatically after the short-term stressor passes. Right: a big, deep breath of relief. There are other physical things we can do to help ourselves diminish the effects of stress. For example, muscles cannot be tense and relaxed at the same time. We have power over relaxing our muscles. Next time you are feeling stress, pay attention to the following effects on your body. You scowl, which brings your eyebrows closer together. Your shoulders hike up a bit. Your body is tight. When you take your big, deep breath, you make sure your eyebrows are as far apart as possible, making sure your forehead is smooth; that relaxes your face. If you drop your shoulders, that relaxes an area where a lot of tension is held. Sometimes if you are really so stressed that you feel anxiety starting to overcome you, you can do what I call the rag doll. “Doing the rag doll” means you sit and bend your body over in half and let your arms dangle and shake them gently. Rag doll makes your body relax. Pretend you are doing an Academy Award—winning example of what a rag doll looks like.
Other techniques have to do with thoughts. We have already seen in previous chapters that thoughts are real things that create real physical events. With practice, as I hope you have been doing, you can think positive thoughts, picture positive things, imagine a pleasant scenario. You can start important self-talk by wondering how much this stress will matter in your life a week from now, a month, or even next year. Be clear that last year you had stress, but you cannot possibly recall what most of it was. Next year you won’t be recalling the stresses of this year.
Another technique is to distract yourself by focusing on anything beside the stressor. You could walk your dog. Don’t have a dog? Get a dog! Call a friend. Take a walk. Take a shower. Sing. How stressed can you be when you sing? I’m not kidding. Distraction is a good technique. Even if the stress is long-term, especially if the stress is long-term, make distraction part of your life. We are only capable of having one thought at a time. You can choose. Again, practice and perseverance.
For the addict, it is harder because the techniques that have been used are to use. Harder, yes. Impossible, no. Annoying, yes. Worth it? You bet. You must not help your disease to progress. Whatever the stressor might be, using is too high a price to pay. So breathe, relax your muscles, do the rag doll, use your imagination, distract. Win.