5 Ways to Deal with Anxiety when You’re Sober

by Kelly Fitzgerald |

Did you know that alcohol use and anxiety go hand-in-hand? Alcohol actually changes serotonin levels and other transmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. Additionally, once the alcohol wears off, you might even feel more anxious. This was the case for me. While nursing a hangover the day after drinking I always had crippling anxiety. Alcohol-induced anxiety can last for hours, or even an entire day, after drinking.

Many people who suffer from social anxiety use drinking as a coping mechanism. This may work temporarily because alcohol is a depressant and a sedative, but ultimately it can pave the way towards alcohol addiction, and possibly worsen anxiety. According to Healthline, about 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence.

When I got sober, I realized how uncomfortable anxiety can be and that alcohol was no longer a quick fix. Here are 5 ways to deal with anxiety when you’re sober.

1. Meditation

Meditation is transformative. It seems like such a simple practice. Some people might believe it’s so simple it can’t help, while others understand how deep the practice can become. The best part about meditation is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You start anywhere, with whatever you have – on the floor, with background noise, and closed eyes. If you have a smartphone, I recommend downloading the Insight Timer app. It has a ton of guided meditations, as well as soothing music and recovery themed meditations. Even if you can only do it for one minute a day, it helps to relax, reflect, and breathe in moments of anxiety.

2. Yoga

Yoga is soothing and healing in many ways. Many types of yoga include meditation too. Yoga can calm anxiety with chants, stretching, and other soothing techniques that are included in its practice. There is even Yoga for 12-Step Recovery, which intertwines a regular yoga practice with the 12 steps and recovery themes. Moving your body in a healthy way is a great anxiety reliever. Making this a part of your recovery program can help in more ways than one.

3. Talk to Someone

A Woman Dealing With Addiction Issues And Anxiety

There’s nothing worse for anxiety than keeping it in the dark. Anxiety festers and thrives when we try to push it down and act like it’s not there. Especially when you throw sobriety into the mix, it’s important to talk to someone when you’re feeling anxious. Even when you think it’s a silly thing to be anxious about, it will help to talk it out. Talking about what’s making you anxious will bring it into the light. It will give voice to it, it will make it more manageable and you might receive advice that will help it too.

4. Grounding Exercises

There is a grounding technique that I’ve used myself and have heard many other people who have anxiety has used. It’s called 5-4-3-2-1. Engaging in these 5 steps will help soothe your anxiety. First, acknowledge five things you can physically see around you. Second, acknowledge four things you can touch around and list out those 4 things. Third, acknowledge three things you can hear. These three things should be external, not internal like thoughts. Next acknowledge two things you can smell. Take in the smells around you. Lastly, acknowledge one thing you can taste, like coffee, water, or a sandwich. These 5 things should ground you. I normally get through the first 3 and already feel better. Being grounded in the moment physically gets you out of your own head.

5. A Healthy Distraction

Another great way to deal with anxiety is to engage in a healthy distraction. If you’ve been using alcohol and drugs to do this over the years, you’ll have to learn new ways to distract yourself during your anxiety. Exercise is a healthy way to distract yourself and create healthy endorphins. Writing, reading, listening to podcasts, or creating other art is another option. Cooking, seeing a show or theater production, or any other way that will keep your heart and mind occupied, until anxiety passes is acceptable. Distraction is healthy at times, but it’s also not a good idea to avoid anxiety, what’s causing it, and how to prevent it. It’s important to also address these issues and talk about why it might be happening.

Sobriety and anxiety might be common, but there are healthy ways to deal with it when it comes. Anxiety is not something that has to disrupt your life. You are not alone. We can all get through this and stay sober.

Photo of Kelly Fitzgerald

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