Life can be extremely uncomfortable if people are in a position where they feel they are unable to cope. It can drive them to all types of desperate behaviors as they attempt to escape their pain. Individuals who are in recovery from addiction will be at particular risk if they are unable to cope. Unless they find effective coping strategies it will usually mean a return to substance abuse.
Coping strategies are techniques that people use to deal with the stress that they experience in their daily life. These strategies can vary greatly in their effectiveness. Negative coping techniques can actually make life a harder in the long term. There are hundreds of different possible coping strategies. It is possible to classify them into three categories:
It is not necessary for people to know about every coping strategy. They just need to have enough of them so that they can deal more effectively with life.
Substance abuse is a type of coping strategy. The problem is that it isn’t very effective in the long term. People turn to alcohol or drugs because they are finding life difficult to deal with. In the beginning these chemicals do allow them to escape reality. Once they become dependent on these substances it means that life is harder to handle than ever. There is a saying that sums this situation up perfectly; alcohol gave me wings but then it took away the sky. The real danger with substance abuse is that by the time people realize that it is no longer an effective coping strategy they will already be addicted.
Escaping addiction means giving up an ineffective coping strategy. The problem is that this leaves a vacuum. It is therefore vital that people develop new coping strategies so that they will be able to handle the challenges life sends their way. The main goal of the first few years of sobriety should be developing new coping strategies, and to test these out in the real world. This way the individual acquires a toolbox of effective coping strategies that will allow them to deal comfortably with almost any situation. When their toolbox is sufficiently full they will reach a stage known as serenity. This is a situation where people experience an inner peace most of the time. No matter what problems life throws their way, they will comfortably be able to handle them.
If people are not coping their life will be incredibly hard. Not only will they be enjoying things less, but it will also start to impact their mental and physical health. Here are just some of the dangers associated with not coping:
* It can lead to depression
* People may become suicidal if they feel they can no longer cope
* It means dealing with chronic stress which increases the risk of developing many types of disease.
* It reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. This means that people become ill easier.
* It prevents people from discovering the most effective means of dealing with a situation. The feeling of not being able to cope puts the mind in panic mode. This means that the individual will not be able to think straight.
* It means plenty of worry and sleepless nights. This further damages mental and physical health.
The real danger for people in recovery is that the feeling of not being able to cope can quickly lead to relapse. This is because recovery is unsatisfactory when people feel overwhelmed by problems. They can start to romance the drink or drug; this is where they think back to the days when substance abuse did help them cope with life. The feeling of being overwhelmed interferes with their ability to make rational choices. They then make the decision to once again return to their addiction as a means of escape. This means a return to even worse misery, and they may never get a chance to escape again. It is therefore vital that people learn effective coping strategies so that they can avoid relapse.
Each individual needs to build up their own collection of effective coping strategies. What works for other people may not always work for them. The important thing is to be able to differentiate between what works and what doesn’t – this involves plenty of experimentation. Those who attend rehab will learn many strategies, and they will be able to test these out in the controlled environment of a treatment facility.
Some of the most popular coping strategies that may benefit people in recovery include:
* Relaxation techniques are a great way to rid the body of accumulated stress. These are simple to learn and even just practicing such techniques for a few minutes each day can make a difference. The important thing with relaxation techniques is that people need to develop a regular routine.
* Exercise is another great way to rid the body of pent up stress. Physical fitness also increases people’s self-esteem so that they feel more confident about facing the challenges that life sends their way. Those who are unhealthy will usually struggle more with any stressors that appear in their lives. People do need to avoid developing an exercise addiction – moderations is the key here.
* It is extremely helpful if people can alter their attitude towards problems that arise in life. They can view them as opportunities to grow rather than obstacles on their path. In AA they talk about how “pain is the touchstone of recovery”. Challenges in life are an opportunity and not a punishment.
* Many people in recovery are finding that mindfulness is a highly beneficial technique for improving their ability to cope with life. This practice involves facing the present moment fully but without taking it all so personally. Mindfulness allows people to better understand what is going on in their minds.
* Learning to let go of the future helps to remove stress and worry from people’s life. It involves taking a leap of faith; the belief that by doing the right thing today it should lead to good results in the future.
* Self improvement courses are useful because they often involve learning new coping strategies. Some of the suggestions might not be appropriate to the individual, but even one or two gems can make such a course worth attending. It is highly beneficial if people in recovery are always open to new ideas.
* Membership of a fellowship like AA provides people with a program that is aimed at making life easier to deal with. The 12 Steps have helped many people reach a state where they have great serenity in response to life’s difficulties.
* Those people who follow a spiritual path can find that this allows them to cope with life more easily. Not everyone in recovery will be attracted to spiritual pursuits.