How to deal with anxiety in sobriety. I had a message from a lovely lady the other day who was on day 10 of her journey to sobriety and she said that she was suffering from the most terrible anxiety. “I thought it would all go away when I quit. What’s going on? I wasn’t expecting that!” she said. Although she was surprised, anxiety in sobriety is actually quite a common experience.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of ‘hanxiety’ which is the intense feeling of dread, panic, fear, guilt, shame and regret that comes after an evening of drinking. It is a horrible place to be and one of the reasons for taking a break from alcohol or stopping altogether.
However, the relationship between alcohol and anxiety is much more intertwined. When we drink, alcohol acts as a depressant, dulling everything we are feeling including all feelings of stress and anxiety, worry, low self esteem, overwhelm – everything really, which is why it is usually our go to solution to cope with what is going on in our lives.
The problem with alcohol is that it is a poison and it affects every part of our being, including the delicate chemical balance in our brain. The drinks we imbibe numb everything and our brain tries really hard to restore the natural balance by flooding the body with even more chemicals and hormones, so when the alcohol wears off we experience an onslaught of extreme emotions and feelings caused by the brains effort to counteract the effects of alcohol. Usually this happens in the middle of the night when we are scared and alone.
When we are still drinking, we turn to a glass or two to cope with these feelings, to squash them back down – in effect ending the withdrawal of alcohol, thus making us feel better.
Now, the brain is still very primitive and loves an easy solution so it learns that when we feel anxious, or stressed or whatever, that drinking is a quick fix and will solve everything and so the cycle continues: (feel bad – drink – feel better – drink – feel bad – drink) That is why we experience cravings too, an uneasy feeling triggers a response in the brain that makes us want to drink to make it better.
It’s no wonder that we never learn proper coping skills to deal with the root causes of our stress and anxiety when we’re drinking. Alcohol is the solution to the problem and also the cause of the problem.
Surely then, when we break the cycle we should start to feel less anxious, shouldn’t we?
Well, yes, we do as time goes on and we learn new healthy ways to cope with our every day stresses and angst, but in the short term our anxiety in sobriety can actually increase which might come as a shock.
No matter how much or how little we drink our bodies need time to get rid of the toxins, to recover and to heal.
This is because in the very early stages of quitting drinking, we are in withdrawal. No matter how much or how little we drink our bodies need time to get rid of the toxins, to recover and to heal.
The brain is so used to flooding our system with extra to cope with the numbing effects of alcohol that when there is no alcohol being consumed the effects of the extra chemicals means that we experience all of our emotions in an extreme way which can be very unsettling and uncomfortable.
However, as the body begins to heal and the natural balance is restored, the feelings of anxiety in sobriety do get less and less until they are not so extreme anymore and we can then begin to explore other ways of coping or dealing with the cause of our stress and anxiety.
Here are some tips on how to deal with anxiety in sobriety.
There are obviously lots of benefits to staying hydrated but some studies have also shown that water has natural calming properties. Your body will benefit from the soothing properties of water and added hydration in times of stress.
Nourish your body and soul with colourful comfort food
Alcohol strips our body of vital nutrients and also stops it from absorbing the goodness it needs to thrive. Eating healthy vitamin rich fruit and veggies will help to heal and restore your body. On a spiritual note, eating a wide range of colourful food is a great way to help restore balance to the chakras, encourage a healthy flow of energy and ground us in the present moment.
Meditation is so, so good for helping us to stay calm and focused. A calm mind makes it easier to concentrate, work through problems and even find solutions to the things that are bothering us. A ten minute morning meditation to set you up for the day is one of the best ways to ease anxiety in sobriety.
Be in nature
One of my go-to’s when I am feeling stressed or anxious is to take a walk in nature. There is nothing like the natural soothing experience of being outdoors, close to Mother Nature ,to put things into perspective and calm a troubled mind. If you can, walk barefooted and really take it all in, the smell, the sounds, the feel of the wind in your hair. Often we go out but find that we are really just passing through. Take a moment to connect and ask for guidance.
Poor sleep can lead to so many physical, emotional and spiritual issues which can manifest in our waking hours. One of the best ways to deal with anxiety in sobriety is to get as much quality sleep as possible. Listen to your body, go to bed early, take naps and think of your sleep as the restorative, healing experience that it is. Make your bedroom a sanctuary, a place that you enjoy being in and make it as calm and soothing as possible.
Stay in the present moment
Negative inner chatter about what has gone before and worry about the future is a very common cause of anxiety in sobriety. But, focusing on the guilt of past behaviours or worrying if we will ever feel normal again or what we are going to do, is not helpful, especially in the early stages of sobriety. Take steps to look after yourself now. Do whatever you need now to help you through. You will feel better, have more energy, time and confidence but just for now, be where you are.
Finally, if things are really getting too much and your mind is running away with you, get it all out. I love a brain dump from time to time where I take some time to get all my worries, thoughts, ideas and concerns out of my head which is so freeing. You can go back and look again and then try to sort out your words and get some clarity and perspective.
Stop, take a moment and slow your breath. Stare out of the window, notice your feelings without judgment and try not to follow the desire to ‘fix yourself’ Healing takes time and your anxiety in sobriety will ease, let your body do its thing and peace will follow.
If you need a little extra support and guidance, why not join us in The Virtual Sober Retreat? It is a gorgeous seven day practice of self care and self love designed to soothe and nourish your mind, body and soul.