By: Marilyn L. Davis
Early Recovery Equals Stress
“Now, for the first time in my life, I empathize 100 percent with Fluff McFly. My heart is beating at hamster-speed and I am throwing my eyes around the room, looking for some way out.” ― Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Stress in early recovery is often increased because we just want a way out and don’t like our feelings – overwhelmed, confused, and at a loss about what actions to take to relieve the stress. While we realize that relapsing will only add more stress, we still just want some relief.
Fiona Wood, writing in Six Impossible Things, describes us as: “Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”
Stress and The Emotional Time-bomb
I’ve felt that way, and it is not a good feeling. When we are upset or overwhelmed, it is an uncomfortable and often frightening time. The big picture seems like too much, and the little things are driving us slightly nuts.
The causes of feeling overwhelmed are going to differ from person to person. Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman suggested in 1984 that stress results from, “an imbalance between demands and resources” or as occurring when “pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope’. Some situations, behaviors, and attitudes that can cause confusion and feeling overwhelmed include:
- Relationships – both new beginnings and endings of relationships
- Physical or mental health conditions – for yourself, a loved one, or someone close to you
- Significant changes: Going off to school, job change, marriage, divorce, or separation
- Job Promotions
- Financial Difficulties
- Expecting yourself and others to do things perfectly
- Taking on too much, at work, in a relationship, or at home
- Not understanding time management
Isolating the Stressful Variables
Take the time to isolate the situations in your life that are bothering you and assign a percentage of your feelings to each situation. For instance, a person new in recovery; they are usually overwhelmed by all that they have to do to stay in recovery or their perception that they have to do everything at once.
They would start with “100% of my overwhelmed and confused feelings are about this thing called recovery”, and then find the aspects of that situation that are causing the confused and overwhelming feelings.
Once you’ve isolated the variables that cause you stress, take each variable and decide if there are actions to take or anything you can do:
- Immediately: to relieve some of the feelings
- In the near future: more relief as you have a plan
- Indefinitely postponed: acceptance and relief as there is nothing to do at this time
- Uncertain what to do first? Then ask for advice.
- Don’t know how to do something? Then ask knowledgeable people.
- If you decide that you do not want to do something, then learn to accept this decision, without stressing and feeling guilty about the decision.
Deal with the Smaller Components
Isolating the variables, determining when you can take action, and then creating effective strategies will relieve some of your stress. Robert Pozen thinks that “Most people get overwhelmed by the insignificant decisions of their lives. I’m urging people to lessen the time spent on these when they’re not critical to their most important goals.”
When you break variables down, you can sometimes see that a particular aspect is not a major contributor to your stress, and you can focus your mental, emotional and physical energies to changing another aspect.
By making small changes, you can lessen your overwhelmed feelings and confusion. Mapping out strategies, deciding the order of dealing with the variables, and planning actions will help you feel more in control and less confused and overwhelmed.
Strategies for Stress
Prioritizing and creating strategies can relieve some of the pressure that you put on yourself if you decide that something can wait and be done later, providing you are not just procrastinating.
Procrastinating can happen when you do not know what to do first. Or you are uncertain about how to do something, or you just do not want to put the time, energy, or effort into the task.
Guilt Does Not Always Motivate People
Guilt is a non-productive emotion if it doesn’t motivate you. It is a case of you cannot have it both ways, as guilt is a non-productive, non-motivational emotion unless you change the behaviors that create it.
Therefore, if you put off an action or change for the future, make a time-frame for resolving your variable. Then stick to the plan, but don’t spend a lot of time talking about how guilty you feel. If you truly felt guilty, you might change that variable now.
For instance, if you choose to study recovery materials for one hour each night, don’t feel guilty if something comes up that is of greater priority, and you can’t get to it that night. Simply get back on schedule the following evening.
If you are going to have to change behaviors to relieve your feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed, do not try to change them all; three variables are enough to start with.
How Can an Isolating Exercise Help My Stress?
Deciding that there are actions that you can take now and behaviors that you will do later help you lessen your level of stress when you are overwhelmed. “It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” Jim Rohn
When you commit to and follow through with organized, planned actions, you may find that your feelings are changing, also. Some predictable new feelings might include:
When we learn to isolate variables and spend our time, energy, and effort in productive activities, we lessen our stress, feel more positive, and get more accomplished.
With just this simple isolating exercise, we have begun to correct some things that cause us to feel confused or overwhelmed.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart