Rethinking Anxiety in Recovery

Those of us recovering from addiction are no strangers to the overwhelming force of anxiety. It often accompanies our depression and other mental health issues and makes our struggles with addiction that much harder. We often come to think of anxiety as something we have no control over. Once it hits, it takes over us, clouds our thinking and impairs our judgment. We feel unable to stop our minds from racing out of control. We feel like we’re drowning in thoughts of sadness, fear, shame and confusion. We feel anxiety not only mentally and emotionally but also in our bodies, with our hearts racing and our breathing accelerating, making it increasingly difficult to relax, to center ourselves, and to feel grounded. We tend to think of our anxiety as something we’ll always have to live with. We assume it’s incurable, especially when we thus far have been unable to manage it. Our anxiety feels like a power we have no recourse against. We feel there’s nothing we can do to stop it from overtaking us. Anxiety has a way of derailing our lives, creating inner turmoil along with tumultuous circumstances and difficult obstacles to try and overcome. It chips away at our sense of self-worth and makes us feel increasingly inadequate and unworthy. It interferes with our relationships and worsens the health of our interpersonal connections. It can feel as though our anxiety has taken on a life of its own and that it is stronger than we are. We can, however, start to rethink our anxiety to help us in our recovery. 

As we’re recovering, were learning new coping skills and developing new mental and emotional habits. We can find ways of perceiving our anxiety differently so that we can change our relationship with it to be one of acceptance and self-nurturing rather than fear and resistance. Let’s start to examine our anxiety with more mindfulness. When we look at our anxiety more closely, we see that it is not this invisible, abstract force we can’t contend with, that’s controlling us and that has the power to change how we feel about ourselves and wreak havoc on our lives. Anxiety is, simply enough, actually just the result of fearful thoughts that we’ve become habitually conditioned to think over and over again. The relentless repetition of our anxious thoughts creates limiting beliefs about who we are, how strong we are, and how capable we are of coping with our mental and emotional challenges. We start to feel powerless. We feel victimized by our illnesses. We don’t feel strong enough to handle our anxiety and fear. As we learn more about ourselves, though, we see that we are in fact strong and courageous beyond measure. We don’t have to allow our fearful thoughts to have so much control over us. The difficult thoughts we’re experiencing can actually be neutralized, soothed, transformed, and redirected. Changing how we think changes how we feel. We have more power over our thoughts, and therefore our mental illnesses, than we think we do.

We can neutralize our anxiety by learning how to stop resisting it. Often when we feel anxious, our instinct is to panic. We don’t want to feel our anxiety because it can be painful, uncomfortable and overwhelming, so we try to rush it away so that we can feel it as little as possible. We try to stop it in its tracks by changing the subject in our minds, but when we do this in a fearful way, we compound the negative energy that our anxiety is storing in our bodies. Also, the more we actively try to stop thinking about something that causes us anxiety, the harder it usually becomes to actually stop thinking about it. We tend to obsess about it even more and dwell on it, creating even more anxiety for ourselves. Our resistance to our anxiety, therefore, has a way of compounding and exacerbating it. We’re attracting more fearful thoughts as we’re trying to fight them. We want to, instead, take our anxious thoughts, mindfully notice them, accept them, and then calmly nurture, soothe and comfort ourselves. In this way, we’re not fighting our anxiety or trying to make it go away, we’re acknowledging its presence, accepting it, and giving ourselves some comfort and relief. “I’m feeling so afraid and so anxious in this moment. I accept that I’m really having a hard time right now. I’m going to breathe through the anxiety. As I breathe, I can try to reach for thoughts that make me feel a little bit better. I’m going to get through this. I am stronger than my fears. This too shall pass. These are just thoughts, and they will pass.” We can redirect our anxious thoughts by repeating calming, uplifting, empowering affirmations such as these, anything that resonates with us and helps us bring down some of the fear that is flooding through our system.

We can also redirect our anxiety by trying to get to the root of it. Instead of letting our anxiety run wild and unchecked, let’s ask ourselves, “What am I actually feeling anxious about in this moment? What are the underlying fears fueling my anxiety? Do I really have anything to fear, or am I allowing irrational fears to get the better of me?” The more we heal the wounds that are contributing to our addictive patterns, such as our wounds from the traumatic experiences we have yet to confront, the more our anxiety will naturally subside on its own, and we will feel ourselves healing internally, bringing ourselves so much more mental and emotional peace.

The community of Riverside Recovery has personal experience with addiction and the feelings of hopelessness and disconnection that come with it. We’re here to help you reclaim the life you love. Call (800) 871-5440 today.