Thanks to millions of years of evolution, the human body has developed a number of mechanisms which help ensure our survival. One of them is our “fight or flight” response to real or perceived threats. Upon sensing danger, the amygdala section of our brain releases a series of stress hormones throughout the body to prepare it for taking action. We aren’t being chased by dinosaurs or prehistoric predators any longer. As men in recovery from addiction, what we’re most often being “chased” by is our own problematic thinking patterns, our own problematic behaviors, and the normal problems or stressors happening in our every day lives.
We have to keep a few things in mind when it comes to experiencing anxiety in recovery. First, that anxiety can be more than a mood or an emotion, but a reaction to things going on in our life both externally and internally. Second, that awareness of where our anxiety is coming from can help us move through our experience instead of avoiding it.
Anxiety can be a reaction to external stressors in our life. Stress, of any kind, inspires our brain to react with cravings for drug and alcohol. Longterm addiction changes the wiring of the brain in a way which makes it highly sensitive to anything perceived to be stress. Drugs and alcohol create a surplus of a brain chemical called dopamine, which sends messages of pleasure throughout the brain. Becoming chemically dependent upon pleasure, the sensation of stress, real or perceived, immediately sets off a reaction in the brain to seek pleasure. The reaction isn’t merely a preference. Due to the way brain structure has changed as a result of addiction, the reaction becomes one of survival.
Knowing that our brains are primed to crave drugs and alcohol in response to what feels like a survival threat, we have enough evidence to stay mindful about our emotional experiences. When we feel anxiety coming on, we can avoid taking our emotions at face value and dig a little deeper. What is going on in our lives? What stress are we experiencing? Are there areas in our lives where we aren’t taking care of ourselves? Have we lost sight of some of our routines of recovery which help us feel less stressed? Once we get an in-depth look at our triggers, our anxiety-reaction makes more sense. Then, we can take action to acknowledge our anxiety, feel it out, and use the tools of our recovery to help it pass.
From the mountains to the coastline, the possibilities of living a life without limits are endless. At Tree House Recovery in Orange County, California, we’re helping men recover their lives from addiction through innovative treatment designed to transform their lives inside and out. For information, call to speak with one of our graduates: (855) 202-2138