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Why Your Anxiety Might Be Higher Than Normal in Early Recovery

Early recovery is full of new changes. You're rediscovering yourself, taking new risks, and redefining what it means to cope with everyday stressors.

It can be an exciting time, but it can also feel undoubtedly stressful. As a result, many people find that their anxiety levels tend to be higher than normal.

Of course, this reality may be discouraging and even frightening. Increased anxiety may trigger exacerbated mental health problems and intensify drug cravings, both of which can contribute to a relapse. Here's what you need to know.

Why Do You Feel More Anxious Right Now?

People often put recovery on a pedestal, and they do so without realizing it. For example, you may envision that your life will suddenly be much happier when you're no longer shackled to your addiction. Or, you might assume that recovery means you'll feel more confident and capable of managing stress.

Sometimes, these beliefs are true. Other times, they are misguided. Here are some reasons why you might be more prone to anxiety right now.

Lack of Coping Skills

When you were active in your addiction, you had vices that kept you occupied. These vices were there for you when you felt sad, scared, ashamed, or even happy. You relied on them- time and time again- to numb your feelings and provide you with pleasure.

And so, without them, you might be feeling more hollowed or disconnected. This "emptiness," although it tends to be temporary, can heighten anxiety. You might feel uncertain about how to cope with certain situations, making you more vulnerable to stress.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Research shows that post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can persist for several months or years after abstaining from drug use. Anxiety is among one of the common PAWS symptoms, and it tends to be prominent in every type of drug withdrawal.

PAWS symptoms generally ebb and flow. Therefore, they may be difficult to distinguish, particularly if you have co-occurring mental health issues. Subsequently, they might become more exacerbated during specifically stressful circumstances.

Fear About What's Next

Life in active addiction isn't easy, but it can create a false sense of security. Many people avoid certain responsibilities or goals because they're so focused on using.

But when you enter recovery, you suddenly need to reevaluate your life choices. You may feel bombarded by all the tasks you procrastinated. Or, you may feel overwhelmed by the wreckage you caused as a result of your addiction. And so, the combination of these effects can certainly trigger more anxiety.

How Can You Cope?

Learning to cope with anxiety requires time and patience. In early recovery, it's essential that you create a toolbox of different interventions that can help you when you feel panicked. Referring to these tools will help you feel more empowered and confident in managing your emotions.

Build Your Support

Anxiety can fester in isolation. It's easy to obsess over the worst-case scenario when you're alone with your thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, it's also easy to fall prey to cognitive distortions about helplessness, lack of control, or being victimized.

To mitigate this risk, try to focus your efforts on building meaningful relationships with others. Socializing in recovery may feel scary, but practice will make the task easier.

Practice Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring refers to a set of techniques designed to help you challenge unhelpful or maladaptive thoughts. When you can challenge these thoughts, you can help yourself feel more balanced. Likewise, you can reduce the anxiety you feel about certain situations.

Cognitive restructuring starts by being open to the idea that thoughts can be changed. For example, let's say you think that you won't be able to find a job. You're convinced that nobody wants to hire you. Cognitive restructuring can entail:

  • evaluating evidence that counteracts your belief

  • asking yourself what you would tell a friend in this particular situation

  • ranking how likely you believe your thought on a scale from 1-10

  • asking yourself to imagine the worst-case scenario and then reflecting on how you'd cope

  • reflecting on alternative possibilities to that scenario

Engage in Stress Management

It's important to practice self-care regularly. Doing so helps regulate your stress levels and can improve your overall mood.

Stress management isn't just about rest and relaxation (although that's a part of it!). Instead, stress management means embracing a more balanced approach to your everyday life. This includes being mindful of how you talk to yourself when you feel anxious. It also includes practicing self-compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness during moments of uncertainty.

Seek Professional Guidance

Anxiety ranges in severity, but anxiety disorders can be serious mental health conditions that impact your overall quality of life. Self-help strategies may make a difference, but if you still feel poorly about yourself (or things are getting worse), it may be time for more structured support.

At The Resurface Group, we offer solutions and guidance for people struggling with addiction and mental health. We are here for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to get started!

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