What is stress?
Stress is a physical response to a situation. When we perceive something as threatening our body goes into fight or flight mode. This causes our body to release hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body for action. The release of these chemicals causes different sensations in the body such as faster breathing, heart-pounding, and increased energy. This is all to prepare the body to act. If we are constantly in this stressed state problems can develop and the challenge is when our body goes into a stressed state for every event.
How can you be affected?
When coping with a family members alcohol or drug use we can often be in a heightened stressed state. This can be damaging to our health and relationships as we are constantly living on the edge, waiting for the next crisis. This can result in feelings of agitation, aggression and an inability to think straight. Can you relate to this?
Similarly when someone is using or dependant on alcohol or drugs it brings about its own stressors. Imagine trying to source, hide, excuse or defend your alcohol or drug use all the time?
Imagine being preoccupied with your next drink/drug/bet. What about arguing with family members all the time. What about work and trying to manage hangovers or withdrawals and the mood swings that go with it. Sound stressful doesn’t it?
The amounts of times clients have said to me ‘My head is wrecked, I can’t think straight’ is overwhelming. I find that people get to a point where their physical and mental health is being seriously affected by stress. Then they get to a stage where they have had enough but by that time everything is a stressor in their lives.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to manage this stress better? Here come my top tips.
- Admit that you are stressed.
Admitting there is a problem is the first step to start making changes. I see it all the time where people aren’t fully aware of how serious an impact alcohol and drug use is having on their lives. They might minimise how bad things are, how they are feeling or they just may not be fully aware of how badly they are being affected until we explore it in counselling. Coping with alcohol and drug use is stressful for both the person and their family. That’s a fact. So check in with yourself and ask the question ‘How often during the day am I thinking or worrying about my own or a family member’s alcohol or drug use?’ Imagine the stress of those thoughts.
- Get honest with yourself.
Because alcohol and drug dependence are shrouded with secrecy and stigma we often hide what is going on. Sometimes we even hide it from ourselves. Fellowship 12 step people would call that ‘denial’. I just see it as a coping mechanism, but the secrecy and hiding also lead to stress.
So let’s get honest. Ask yourself this ‘If there wasn’t alcohol or drug use in my life (my own or a family members) how would life be different?’ Write down the answers on a piece of paper for later.
- Look at how you can reduce stress.
Now, this is a big one. You are after admitting that you are stressed. You are also being honest with yourself about what is stressing you. Next, we need to look at how you can reduce the stress or at least the effects stressful situations have on you.
Firstly if you are stressed about a family members alcohol or drug use look at what you are doing in the situation that is causing you stress. Maybe you are confronting someone when drunk or high, getting nowhere which leaves you frustrated and stressed. Maybe you are looking for signs of alcohol or drug use only to be left feeling confused and stressed. Maybe you know you are being lied to but still ask questions leaving you feeling hurt, angry and stressed. This is a biggie: learn to say NO!
On the other hand, if you are using alcohol or drugs are you stressing over where the money is coming from or who you can ask for money, where you will source your next hit.
What is living with this stress doing to you? What one small change can you make to begin to improve your situation?
- Step Back from the Stressor.
Now, this might sound like it’s unachievable but let’s break it down. Taking a break from the stressor can just mean taking 15 minutes for yourself, not engaging in an argument or saying nothing. It might feel like you have to take care of someone, make sure they do what they are supposed to do, find them when they are missing, keep ringing until they answer the phone. BUT you have to ask yourself the question ‘Is doing any of this changing the situation?’ No! Then give yourself a break and step back from the situation.
Similarly, if you are using alcohol or drugs what can you do to step back? Talk to your doctor, reach out for support, answer the phone to family, start being honest with yourself. Become aware of your triggers, people, places and things so you can minimise them.
- Reach out and Get Support
This is a big one! You do not have to manage alone and sometimes just talking to someone can help relieve the stress. It is important you make sure that the person you talk to is someone you trust who will understand you and validate your feelings. Talking things through with a work colleague, friend, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.
Have you tried any of these before? Did they work for you? What else works for you? Leave a note in the comments below. I would love to know!