How to Cope with Anxiety and Depression without Drugs

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Drug addiction not only affects the millions of individuals who struggle with it, but also their families, friends, and coworkers. The problem often isn’t just the substances abused. Users of both illegal and prescription drugs not only deal with cravings and compulsions, but also from issues such as anxiety and depression. These co-occurring disorders often present challenges during addiction recovery. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates over 8.2 million people in the U.S. suffer from both drug addiction and a mental health disorder, per a 2016 survey.

man walking down dark road aloneThe Connection between Anxiety/Depression and Addiction

Substance abuse in connection with a mental health problem is called a dual diagnosis. The same study reported that just 7.4% of individuals with a dual diagnosis received drug addiction treatment for both in a professional setting. Oftentimes, individuals do not seek treatment as their mental health prevents them from doing so independently.

Drug addiction and relapse and conditions like anxiety are connected in many ways. Sources they have in common include difficulty:

  • Thinking: Difficulty concentrating or focusing can impact one’s ability to function, increase anxiety, and affect their ability to make decisions. Many seek drugs such as highly addictive amphetamines to focus and counter these symptoms.
  • Socializing: Social anxiety can contribute to drug use and interfere with recovery. The thought of attending group therapy sessions or peer counseling can invoke intense feelings of fear and anxiety.
    three girls laughing together
  • Sleeping: Anxiety and depression are linked with sleep disturbances, and drugs are often a solution for those who are always struggling what’s on their mind. Stimulants and other drugs can make this problem worse, leading to a cycle in which poor sleep/anxiety leads to drug use, the substances exacerbate the problem, and the person takes more to compensate.

Prescribed and over-the-counter medications may help at first, but then people become dependent on them. Anxiety relief and better sleep may only happen when using a substance; without it, the problem is amplified, and there are complications such as withdrawal, paranoia, rapid heartbeat, compulsions, and fear of running out of drugs.

Alcohol and caffeine are often problematic for those with anxiety and depression. They can worsen anxiety, even triggering panic attacks. Alcohol can amplify depression, despite a person thinking they feel better after drinking. It can even interact with medications for it. It’s therefore important to manage depression in other ways, and recognize the symptoms, such as:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Feeling drained of energy
  • Disinterest in hobbies and pleasure
  • Feelings of negativity, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Memory and concentration problems

The trick to dealing with problems such as anxiety and depression, and finding other coping mechanisms, is to know what triggers your feelings. Lifestyle habits, eating habits, routines, and stress can be triggers. Here are some insights on addressing these mental health issues in conjunction with drug addiction treatment and recovery.

Addiction Treatment and Co-Occurring Disorders

There is no easy way to overcome drug addiction. Recognizing the problem is the first step. Living a sober life requires looking at how you deal with stress. The people you associate with, activities you pursue during free time, and your self-image impact recovery potential as well. Detoxification, behavioral counseling, and medication will only go so far if you don’t focus on coping with life’s stressors.

An outpatient program provides support around your schedule. Even in this format, the treatment protocol should address co-occurring mental health problems. Coping with stress is one reason people turn to drugs, so therapy and counseling to help handle stressful situations is worth considering.

Social support is important during recovery. A recovery support group consists of people going through similar challenges as you are. Sharing experiences, and proceeding through a 12-step program, can help you stay sober; at the same time, you can help others do the same. Seeking support from family members and friends is a way to find encouragement and guidance. New social connections – people not associated with or promotive of drug use – can change your life too.

group of four guys sitting on mountain

If you are receiving drug addiction therapy, it’s important to focus on stress relief as well, so anxiety and/or depression don’t become overwhelming. You can try:

  • Going for a walk
  • Practicing yoga or meditation
  • Picturing somewhere peaceful, such as a beach
  • Seeking pleasant scents, such as flowers
  • Playing with a pet
    man walking through garden

No matter how invested you are in recovery, there will be cravings. To cope, try distracting yourself by:

  • Reading
  • Hiking
  • Exercising
  • Watching a movie
  • Going out with friends
    two friends with hands in the air

Talking about your cravings can help. Whether you speak to a friend or family member, or you attend a support group, the interaction may not only yield relief, but a sense of what the source of the craving is. This can also breed healthy, honest relationships.

Some other techniques include challenging your thoughts about drug use. For some reason, people often forget the bad effects, but reminding yourself of the negative impacts of drugs can counter your urges. If the craving gets too strong, try a technique called “surfing the urge” (a mindfulness technique), which entails riding out the feeling until it passes.

More in-depth insights in this area can be found at HelpGuide.org. Continue reading for effective strategies for anxiety/stress/depression management without drugs, or to combine with RECO’s Florida drug rehab program.

Healthy Ways to Manage Anxiety and Stress

To condition your mind and body to cope with anxiety, without drugs, focus on the following:

  • Mental: There are things in life that you can’t control; realizing this is an important first step. Perfection may not be possible, but doing your best is, particularly when maintaining a positive attitude. Fewer negative thoughts will help you feel less anxious. It also helps to write things down. You might find solace in doing so, or perhaps a pattern that reveals certain triggers of feelings.
  • Physical: Alcohol and caffeine don’t mix with anxiety, so cut them out. Healthy eating can help with anxiety; not only do you feel better and have more energy, but get protein, vitamins, and minerals that help maintain a stable blood sugar level. This reduces the stress response that triggers anxiety. Avoid skipping meals and consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Magnesium is a helpful nutrient (although soil where most food is grown has little of it). Able to reduce anxiety, it is attainable through foods, salt baths, supplements, and topical gels. Omega-3 fatty acids help with mood, while B vitamins can alleviate deficiencies that cause depression. Probiotics help boost the natural flora in your gut that can improve digestion and mood.

  • Activity: Active ways to reduce stress include taking deep breaths. Try taking time outs to listen to music, meditate, or get a massage – anything to clear your head. You can also try counting slowly to distract yourself, or talk to a friend or family member for advice or just to shoot the breeze.
    woman meditating alone on the beach

Fitness is a great way to relieve tension whether in Florida rehab or not. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends at least 2½ hours of physical activity every week. This can be a brisk walk or bike ride. Dance counts as well. The association also suggests 1¼ hours of intense activity, like a jog or swim, per week.

Here are some emotional strategies for coping with anxiety and achieving sober living:

  • State what’s worrying you over and over until it’s boring.
  • Exaggerate your anxieties to see your fears aren’t worth worrying about.
  • Know your false alarms and realize they’re just background noise.
  • Visualize your anxiety as a show, song, or dance you observe.
  • Put aside/write down worrisome thoughts, and devote a time to think them through.
  • Think about how you’ll feel later, or a week from now; all feelings are temporary.
  • Don’t stop doing fun things just because you feel anxious.

Physiology is as important as drug addiction help. We all need sleep. Insomnia is often caused by anxiety, and vice versa. Being deprived of sleep leaves you vulnerable to anxiety. To get out of a bad cycle, work on stabilizing blood sugar, reduce/avoid caffeine, and make sure your room is dark at night. Also, give yourself a chance to wind down before bedtime and unplug your devices. The artificial light messes with the brain’s sleep mechanisms.

Coping with Depression

Depression is tough to break out of, and can make you feel drained and hopeless. Drugs and alcohol won’t help you feel happier and more hopeful. Sober living can help lift your fog. First, don’t give in to feelings of shame or guilt. Try these following tips to deal with depression directly:

Stay connected: Beating depression requires a lot of effort. The condition also causes many people to isolate themselves. Therefore, connecting with family and friends can improve your mood and outlook. The person may not have a solution, but being attentive and compassionate can complement drug addiction help. If you don’t feel like talking, socializing, calling, or having dinner out, do so anyway.group of friends laughing and smiling

Get Exercise: A workout can improve your energy level, which counters the fatigue of depression. Continuous, rhythmic exercises such as walking, dancing, and weight training are best. Focus your mind on the sensation of the activity, rather than negative thoughts. Try working out with other people too.woman meditating in the sunset

Get in the sun: Take a walk at lunchtime, go for a hike, or open the blinds to let in natural light. At least 15 minutes of exposure helps increase serotonin levels.

Challenge negative thoughts: As mentioned earlier, the way you think affects how you feel. Depression is exacerbated by all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing single negative experiences, ignoring or diminishing positive events/thoughts, jumping too quickly to negative conclusions, and believing how you feel changes reality. Creating too many rules for yourself and labeling yourself based on mistakes and shortcomings can bring down the mood as well.

RECO Intensive Can Put You on the Path to Sobriety and Happiness

How you think, feel, act, and eat have strong impacts on your mood. Depression and anxiety do not have to take over your life. If drugs and alcohol have been the answer and have led to addiction, our Florida rehab can help address your struggles, including your mental health. For information on drug addiction help and professional guidance on dealing with co-occurring mental issues, read more about the RECO Intensive program online or call 855-799-1035.

Sources:

  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016.pdf
  2. https://adaa.org/tips-manage-anxiety-and-stress#