How to Identify & Cope with Stressors

Relapse Workshop: Stress

Estimated watch time: 7 mins


Stress is inevitable in daily life, but when you’re in recovery you may be more vulnerable to it. Developing coping strategies can help you be less vulnerable and avoid the risk of relapse.

This video guide will help you identify common responses to stress and learn to develop new coping strategies.

Video Materials:

Related Content:
Accompanying Worksheets:

There are lessons accompanying each video that you can access through our recovery portal, Swell or you can download, here. (Lesson 7)

Medically-reviewed articles:
Professional webinars:

Relapse Workshop: Stress

In this lesson, we’re going to be talking about stress and how we cope with stress and how we can find healthier ways to cope with stress.

We all have day-to-day stressors that will continue to occur. And we all handle stress in different ways, depending on how long the stress has been going on, how long you expect the stress to continue, how many times in your life you’ve experienced the same type of stress, how many times in your life you’ve experienced other types of stress, how you have learned to cope with the stress, and what resources are available to you for handling the stress.

We will continue to have day-to-day stressors, even in recovery. So by being able to identify what your stressors are and knowing which ones you are most vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed with, you can develop effective coping strategies so that you’re less vulnerable to relapse.

What causes you stress in your home, in your family situations, in your friendships, at work or at school? When it comes to your health and when it comes to your finances?

Now, there are four common responses to stress we all use. Fight, flight, freeze and fawn, and no one of these is better or worse than the other. And we’ve probably all used some of the techniques from each of these at different times. The goal is to understand how you respond to stress and learning to calm yourself during stress, so that you can decide which type of response would be most helpful to you and most effective for the situation. Sometimes the way you respond can help you get through the situation. But at other times, your response can make things worse.

Fight responses. Feeling and expressing anger or rage. Intimidating other people. Shaming or criticizing other people. Speaking in a condescending way. Lashing out verbally or physically. Behaving aggressively towards yourself, others or inanimate objects. Treating others with disgust or contempt. Defending yourself or others physically when you’re attacked, but not initiating an attack yourself. Speaking up and defending your rights or the rights of others and setting boundaries.

Flight responses include running away or quickly leaving a situation. Avoiding a situation that might be stressful or dangerous. Constantly busying yourself. Planning or obsessing over details of a stressful situation. Hanging up on the phone in the middle of a heated conversation. Abruptly leaving the room mid-conversation or blocking someone’s messages. Impulsively ending a stressful situation such as quitting a job or firing an employee without thinking through the decision or breaking up with a partner during a conflict. Staying away from a place you know is dangerous and staying away from people who have hurt you in the past.

Freeze responses include isolating yourself when a situation might involve stress or danger. Disconnecting from other people. Detaching from your emotions in a situation. Feeling numb to any physical or emotional pain in a situation. Feeling paralyzed and unable to choose a response.

And the last is Fawn. This is doing what the other person demands. Doing what you think the other person wants. Going into people-pleaser mode and saying yes to unreasonable requests so the other person asking won’t get angry at you. And staying quiet when you disagree, to avoid a conflict or avoid making a conflict worse.

So there are pros and cons to each response, and the idea is to learn where you may need to develop some more effective skills.

So let’s first take a look at your fight responses to stress. So what situations prompt you to fight in response to stress? When has it been helpful for you to fight in response to stress? Which fight behaviors have helped you? When has it been harmful for you to fight in response to stress and which fight behaviors have been harmful for you? And you’ll want to do this for each of the stress responses.

You will complete the same questions for flight. And for freeze behaviors. And fawn behaviors.

Now, all people cope with stress in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to cope. It’s not as though some of the ways that you responded are wrong and some of the ways are right and you need to act in right ways. The goal is to evaluate whether the use of your coping strategies is helping you live the life you want to live or if it’s causing further harm.

So in addiction, drinking or using drugs was helpful to manage your stress. But over time, it caused more problems for you than it helped. So the point of a coping strategy is to find ones that help you manage your problems, not ones that create more problems.

So steadying your coping strategies and learning to choose more effective options ensures you cope in the most effective way that leads to alleviation of problems rather than adding to problems.

So the assignment after this lesson can help you to start to identify what’s a coping strategy you’re using, what you used it for, how it worked in the immediate scenario, and then how it worked in the long term. If you start to keep these and journal about these and write down about them, becoming mindful of what you did, what you used it for and how it worked, it will help you to identify whether it was an effective strategy or an ineffective strategy.

Some helpful coping strategies can be to take long, slow, deep breaths. Count to six on the inhale, pause, and count to eight on an exhale. Your heart rate actually increases when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. So learning to deepen your breath naturally calms the body. You should repeat this three to five times. You can take a yoga class or find a YouTube video to guide you through some gentle yoga poses. Yen yoga and restorative yoga are actually quite soothing, although all yoga is soothing. You can listen to a guided meditation geared towards healing, stress and trauma. If you go to your portal, you can find guided meditations, they’re actually quite helpful.

It can be helpful to develop a daily soothing ritual. And it can be as simple as taking five minutes each morning to stretch and relax or do a moving meditation like Taichi. You can talk to a therapist who can help you process your emotions and heal. You can write in a journal about your strengths. You can start a daily gratitude practice where every day you write down three things that went well that day or that you appreciate. We can often use more time and practice focusing on things that are positive rather than the negative. Or you can join a support group to connect with others who have struggled with something similar.

And in our next lesson, we’re going to talk about lifestyle changes that can help you to stay sober.

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