How Do We Cope With Stress Without Alcohol?
One of the biggest problems those new to alcohol addiction recovery face is how to cope with stress without alcohol.
Many times, we shake off long days at work by unwinding with a glass or shot of our favorite alcoholic beverage. When the kids act up all day long, we put them to sleep and sip our wine to relax. When disappointments set in, business deals don’t go our way, or we have arguments with our romantic partners, our good ole’ friend, alcohol, is there to temporarily take us away from the madness.
So, if we remove alcohol from the equation completely, how do we do it? How do we cope with stress without alcohol?
Here I’ll share 6 ideas to help you cope with stress without alcohol.
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Hopefully, most of the time you have generally “okay” days. Or at least you have more good days and weeks than bad.
We all have down periods, but my first piece of advice is to really take advantage of the good days in preparation for the bad.
I wrote earlier about the pink cloud of early sobriety. This is the time when you first quit drinking alcohol and things are just great.
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Here’s a small sample of what you’ll get!
You experience clarity, reduced brain fog, an increase in energy. There seems to be so much more time in each day!
You’re fixing things that went unattended to during the worst of your drinking days.
You’re saving money, showing up as a friend, family member, and coworker in ways that you neglected to before.
It’s like you’re floating on top of the world!
Here is the time you need to take advantage of.
You must understand that this won’t last forever.
You’ve got to be realistic about your expectations. Know that harder days and weeks (maybe even months) will come and prepare for them.
If you wait for the worst of the worst times to happen before deciding how you’ll cope with them without alcohol, you’ll be taken by surprise.
Yes, you can still manage, but it’ll be harder, and you’ll be more susceptible to relapse.
The rest of this post will give you ideas for how to cope with stress and you can certainly use them when you’re already amid a crisis. But it’s best to get started before things go awry so you’ll be prepared.
6 Ways To Handle Stress Without Alcohol
1- Begin a daily gratitude journaling practice
I recommend starting a gratitude journal for sobriety because it has so many benefits.
The most obvious is getting your thoughts out on paper. But the real benefit of gratitude journaling isn’t in the writing, it’s in the reading.
The way you set up your gratitude journal is up to you, but I recommend something short, sweet and simple.
Just jot down 3 to 5 things (more if you’d like) that you are truly grateful for each day. It should take a couple of minutes, be pleasant and not feel like a burden.
Don’t add things that you dream of, aspire to, or want. But things that are currently, presently true in your life.
That way when stressful times come, you have an entire vault of true things that you are happy to review. You don’t have to go reaching or thinking about things that please you when you are feeling low. That is artificial.
For me, there’s something about reading my gratitude journal from the very beginning when I’m having a tough day that is genuinely uplifting.
It really helps put my entire life into perspective. It helps me see the big picture instead of focusing on a single crappy day.
Get started with your sobriety gratitude journal sooner than later, and you’ll have it in your arsenal of tools to help you handle stress without alcohol.
2- Form a creative outlet to turn your pain into something positive
Again, this is something you do in the very earliest days of sobriety so that it’s already in place when stressful times hit.
One of the best (and worst) things that happen when you first quit drinking alcohol is that you seem to have so much more time.
If you don’t fill it with something productive and interesting, your chances of relapsing due to boredom are sky high.
But… if you are able to find a fun, creative, productive outlet that you are passionate about? Things change.
First, you have this exciting new hobby that fulfills you in a way such that alcohol and its ill-effects pale in comparison.
You won’t want to slack off on your new passion project due to hangovers.
But also, at least in my experience, it is such a huge stress relief to turn your pain and stress into something uniquely yours that did not exist before.
I do not believe you need to be a creative person by default to embark on a new journey toward something creative.
There are so many options to explore.
Is there anything you ever wanted to learn but didn’t really have space or time to before?
Even if you suck at it, who cares? If you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter!
Take up painting, drawing, an instrument, a new type of dance, gardening, start a side hustle, start a blog, write creative stories or poetry, make jewelry, learn to sew or make crafts, bake desserts, collect rocks, learn a new language…
The point is possibilities are endless. But you need to fill up your time with constructive activities that bring you joy and help you relieve stress on a regular basis.
That way, when really stressful times come you already have a go-to sober activity that you enjoy.
It will help you relieve tension in a healthy way.
3- Have a support system on deck
There are many types of support systems you can use to cope with stress without alcohol.
You can have understanding friends or family members to check in with when you’re feeling low.
There are also online Facebook groups or social forums where people in alcohol recovery hang out and will understand your plight.
If you’re taking the DIY approach to sobriety you may not desire support groups such as AA or even therapy/counseling. But hear me out here…
There is something liberating about creating a “break glass in case of emergency” plan.
Break Glass In Case Of Emergency
Though I gave AA a shot and decided against it, sobriety is so important to me that I haven’t crossed it out completely.
I created a list of AA and non-AA support groups that meet in my area and have taken note of when and where they are. I also got my health insurance information together and located a handful of potential therapists/mental health counselors who I can schedule appointments with should I need some next-level help.
I’m always telling myself if I hit a really rough patch, I at least have a plan for how I’ll deal with it.
This, to me, beats being caught off-guard by some really intense life situations that may pull me toward the drink.
The key is, once again, to get your “break glass in case of emergency” plan together before you actually need it.
So, if you’re already in AA but don’t have a therapist yet, hunt for therapists who you can schedule appointments with if you feel yourself slipping.
If you’ve yet to join an online community for instant support, join one now.
Whatever you have yet to try, get it set up before you actually need it, so you know exactly when and how to access it if you need to.
Just having such a list in the first place is so freeing.
Kind of like having an earthquake preparedness kit, a fire escape plan, or a zombie apocalypse survival guide. There’s calm in being ready before the storm hits. Click To Tweet
4- Make sure your base needs are met
This is one of the few tips for how to handle stress without alcohol that you can do in-the-moment.
It may seem like a no-brainer but having a checklist for all the things that you need to maintain during times of high-stress is key.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to forget to eat (eating healthy or even eating at all), drink water, sleep enough, exercise, maintain your physical appearance and other important self-care tasks when you’re stressed out.
But ironically, neglecting these things leads to more stress, which can cause you to crave alcohol. And ultimately, relapse.
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I recommend just keeping a short checklist that has the following 6 items on it.
Feel free to join my mailing list and print out the Self-Care & Stress Relief Sobriety Checklist that I created to go with this post.
It will get you through 4 days, reminding you of the bare minimum self-care tasks that you need to target each day.
Print it out and make sure each thing is checked off each day. If you require more than 4 days, print multiple sheets.
Here are the items on the list:
1. Have I eaten today?
Sometimes we can get so stressed out that we skip meals. Or we stress eat the wrong things (like ice cream and chips), neglecting to eat the right quality foods that nourish our bodies.
You’re not expected to eat more perfectly than normal when you’re dealing with stress. But skipping meals altogether or eating too many foods that lead to digestive issues is not in your best interest during low times.
Check this box only if you’ve eaten at least two meals that day, and if you’ve included some variety of traditionally healthy foods, like fruits, veggies, and lean meat.
2. Have I consumed enough water?
Water is important for our overall well-being. It’s important to stay hydrated because water regulates our appetite.
When you’re dehydrated you feel crappy, regardless of other issues in your life.
Check this box after you’ve had at least 32 ounces of water. Shooting for 64 is even better, but 32 is better than none.
Click here for 10 fresh ideas to increase your daily water intake.
3. Have I slept enough?
Sleep deprivation can cause depression, anxiety, and other problems, even on your best days!
If you are already stressed out and neglect to get enough rest, you’re compounding your issues.
Check this box only if you’ve gotten at least 6 hours of sleep (or however many you normally get).
If you battle with insomnia, click here for 17 tips to help you get more frequent, better quality sleep.
4. Have I cared for my personal hygiene?
You don’t have to step out (or stay in) looking like a fashion model, but it’s true that when you look better, you tend to feel better.
Putting minimal effort into your physical self-care will elevate your mood some, and you’ll be more presentable to the outside world as well.
Check this box if and only if you’ve taken a shower or bath, brushed your teeth, styled your hair and put on a presentable outfit that actually matches. (Friendly note: yoga pants and a tank top are OKAY… just make sure they fit well and the colors match)
5. Have I exercised at all?
Not saying you need to do full-on marathon training here, or even actually hit the gym. But moving your body in some fashion releases tension, gets you to focus on something other than your problems for a while, and expends energy, among other things.
Even 10 to 20 minutes of light to moderate focused body movement is beneficial.
Light yoga, walking, or calisthenics indoors are all great options.
Check this box after you’ve moved your body for at least 10 minutes.
6. Have I communicated with someone who makes me feel good?
Humans are social creatures. Even if you’re super-introverted, you will still benefit from healthy, positive interaction with someone who brings you joy.
It doesn’t have to be a lengthy session, but just checking in with someone you care about at least once each day is beneficial. And it’s a lot easier than you think.
Hugging and signing to your child before you put them to bed at night. Positive communication with your spouse or significant other. Phoning your mother, cousin or best friend. Or honestly, even cuddling your dog counts.
The point is to interact at least once daily with someone who makes you feel good, in a way that you truly enjoy.
Even if you have to go to a job you hate, make sure you end your day with having positive communication of some sort.
Check this box if you’ve had one positive conversation (or cuddle session) each day.
5- Have a destructive outlet
Yes, you read right.
Most of the time we try to focus on peaceful, uplifting, constructive things, true. But I argue it’s equally as important to have a destructive outlet. It’s also important to release pent-up energy and frustration. It has to go somewhere, right?
What has worked for me in the past is to go to my car, turn on the music loud and just… scream. Like I mean as loud as I can.
It sounds totally bizarre if you’ve never done it before but letting totally loose and letting it ALL hang out in a safe, private space is AMAZING.
Nobody judges you. Nobody sees you. It’s just you and your raw emotion being released into the air and it WORKS.
Another idea is to take a pillow and punch the hell out of it. I mean, beat that sucker ALL the way up!
If you have a gym membership and there’s a punching bag, have at that too. But I prefer quick, easy things that don’t require any extra effort on my part. So, screaming in the car and showing pillows who’s the boss is right up my alley.
Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!
You’ll look crazy, but you’ll feel so much lighter. And nobody will see you anyway.
6- Help someone less fortunate than you
Finally, my last tip for beating stress without alcohol is donating your time to a cause that will help someone less fortunate than you.
There is something about giving that is incredibly healing.
We human beings are all connected whether you like to admit it or not.
While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on others when you yourself are struggling, doing something kind for another person uplifts their state of being and yours.
This may not be something you do every day, especially if you’re pressed for time.
But if you’re in a long-term period of stress, taking time to focus on someone else and improving their life can work wonders for your psyche and mood.
Give it a try!
Create A Plan To Cope With Stress Without Alcohol
You’ve got some ideas. What now?
Now your job is to come up with a plan that you can try when things go sour.
You don’t need to do ALL the things in the above list, but some combination of them will prove useful down the line.
For example, when I feel something negative creeping up, I get creative. I write a blog post that I think might help someone else, complete with designing graphics that get my brain active in a pleasurable way.
As part of my self-care strategy, I’ll try to do a quick yoga session, take a hot bath, put on a cute, comfy outfit and style my hair so I like what I see in the mirror.
Playing silly games with my toddler before bed at night uplifts my mood, as does chatting with my mother a bit.
These things cover my self-care, creative outlet, and positive communication checkpoints and really help me to just feel better.
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It’s not going to correct the stressful situation or eliminate it completely. But when I do these things I feel much better than I would if I drank. And I don’t want to drink. I’d rather do THESE things that I truly enjoy, and that’s kind of the point.
On my “break glass in case of emergency” list, I have 3 counselors I can potentially schedule appointments with. While I don’t do AA, I found a non-AA support group that meets 7 miles away every Wednesday evening. I promised myself I’d go to that meeting if I really feel myself struggling.
I haven’t needed these options yet. But they are an important part of my plan and I’m comforted to know they will be just a phone call or visit away if I need them.
Your plan may differ, but you should at least have one or two versions of things you can try so you aren’t caught off guard.
Even if you don’t fully believe this will work, take a couple minutes and write some things down!
It takes little effort on your part and it might come in handy when you least expect it.
You CAN Cope With Stress Without Alcohol
Stress is an inevitable part of adult life for every person on Earth. That doesn’t change just because you quit drinking.
The best thing is to be as prepared as you can to navigate all the different life situations that will come your way.
When the stuff hits the fan, what will you do? You should be able to list off a few things without hesitation. That’s how you know you’ve prepared.
Draft Your Action Plan Right Now
So what are you waiting for?
Take these points into consideration and come up with a few different plans for when tough times hit. At least have two variations.
They may not cure all your ills 100%. But you’ll be a lot better off if you are proactive rather than reactive when it comes to managing your mental health and stress if you really want to maintain your sobriety.
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