It’s important to learn to cope with stress without turning to drugs or alcohol. Find 7 healthy ways you can make stress easier to handle.

Stress is a physical or emotional reaction experienced when you encounter changes in life. Some stress can be beneficial, helping you take on and master a new challenge while elevating you to a new level of competence. Too much stress, however, can affect your mental and physical health and leave you feeling drained.

Stress can also contribute to a relapse of drug and alcohol abuse. Many substances can temporarily relieve the effects of stress. Substances like cocaine, however, activate both the stress response and the powerful “reward centers” of the brain. Once the pleasure of using the substance is gone, though, the stress remains until you cope with it effectively.

That’s why it’s essential that you learn to cope with stress without drugs or alcohol. The effort is worthwhile for your overall health and to protect your sobriety. Here are seven tips that you can help you do it.

1. Identify the Source of the Stress

Take a moment to think about what is “getting to you.” If you could wave a magic wand and make your sources of stress go away, what would those be? Being able to pinpoint your source of stress gives you perspective and a certain amount of power over it, whether it’s caused by things like a work deadline, a pile of undone laundry, an upcoming exam or an argument with a loved one.

2. Identify What You Can Control

Some stressors are things you can’t control, but many stressors do offer you a degree of control. If that upcoming exam is bothering you, then you have the control of determining what and when to study. If the sink full of dishes is causing you excess stress, you can decide to work on it for 15 minutes to make headway or ask someone to help you with it.

3. Preserve Healthy Boundaries

Not creating or protecting your personal boundaries can make you vulnerable to excess stress. You have to remind yourself that it’s okay to say “no” sometimes, and it’s okay to be protective of your time. Saying “no” that first time may not be easy, but you will not hurt people’s feelings as much as you imagine and you will avoid adding to your existing stress load.

4. Make Time to Do What You Enjoy

Even if it’s just for half an hour, carving out time to make a casserole, play your guitar, dig in the garden or watch an episode of your favorite show can remind you of the value found in doing things you enjoy. Spending a little time doing your hair, singing, talking to a friend on the phone or reading a book can help you refresh and de-stress.

5. Incorporate Physical Activity into Your Day

Getting up and moving around is important for both your physical and mental health. A 15-minute walk at lunchtime or half an hour working in the garden can help relieve some tension and get you out of your head for a while. You don’t have to train for a marathon to get the benefit — shooting hoops in the driveway or walking your dog is enough to redirect your energy and improve your mood.

6. Don’t Forget to Laugh

Laughter is a positive form of stress relief. Laughter activates and relieves your stress response, soothes tension and stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. Can you take a couple of hours to watch a comedy movie or a comedian perform? If not, maybe you could read something funny. If nothing else, the internet is full of hilarious videos, photos and websites.

7. Avoid Making Yourself Vulnerable to Excessive Stress

Small things can make you significantly more vulnerable to stress. Sometimes they cannot be avoided, but many times they can. Trying to get sufficient sleep, having some breakfast before going to work and keeping caffeine consumption under control can help you respond better to everyday stress. Positive health habits can make a difference in how stress impacts you.

Stress can contribute to substance abuse. If your resources for coping are not enough, or if someone you love struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, we encourage you to learn more about treatment options. Help is always available and reaching out is the first step to healing.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

Ponton, Lynn. “20 Tips to Tame Your Stress.” PsychCentral, January 14, 2020. Accessed February 4, 2020.

Tartakovsky, Margarita. “10 Practical Ways to Handle Stress.” PsychCentral, July 8, 2018. Accessed February 4, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.