Kreed Kleinkopf
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July 20, 2023

Anxiety During Withdrawal: Coping Strategies for a Smooth Recovery

Substance abuse changes how your brain, body, and central nervous system work. When you decide to stop using substances, it can trigger various withdrawal symptoms, and anxiety is a common one.

Anxiety is a natural stress response and often manifests as feelings of unease, fear, or worry. The intensity of anxiety can vary depending on factors like the type of substance used, the duration and severity of use, and individual differences in how the body and brain respond to withdrawal.

Understanding Anxiety during Withdrawal

an isolated male appearing to be struggling with withdrawal symptons

Withdrawal occurs when someone stops using a substance they have become dependent on, and during this period, anxiety symptoms can intensify. This happens due to chemical imbalances in the brain and the body adjusting to functioning without the substance.

When you become dependent on a substance, your brain and body adapt to the presence of the substance, leading to changes in neurotransmitter levels and neural pathways. When the substance is suddenly removed, the brain and body need time to readjust to the absence of the substance. This can cause fluctuations in neurotransmitter levels, particularly those related to mood regulation, leading to increased anxiety.

Common Anxiety Symptoms During Withdrawal

Withdrawal-related anxiety disorder can manifest in both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms

  • Increased heart rate
  • Palpitations
  • Sweat and hot flashes
  • Pins and needles
  • Headaches and backache
  • Trembling
  • Gastrointestinal distress

Psychological symptoms

  • Excessive worry
  • Fear
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances

Coping Strategies for Anxiety during Withdrawal

a young woman practicing coping strategies

Coping with withdrawal anxiety is crucial for a smoother recovery. Here are some strategies to help manage anxiety during withdrawal:

Monitor Anxiety Symptoms and Triggers

Be aware of what triggers your anxiety and learn effective coping strategies so you can take proactive steps to manage anxiety during withdrawal and promote a smoother recovery.

  • Keep a journal: Maintain a journal to track your anxiety symptoms, their intensity, and any patterns you notice. Note down the situations or circumstances that trigger your anxiety and any physical or emotional sensations you experience. This can help you identify common triggers and develop strategies to manage them.
  • Identify triggers: Pay attention to the situations, people, or environments that tend to provoke anxiety symptoms during withdrawal. It could be specific social situations, thoughts, memories, or even physical sensations. By identifying these triggers, you can take proactive steps to minimize their impact or avoid them when possible.

Once you have identified your triggers, explore these coping strategies to determine what works best for you.

Practice Relaxation Skills

Relaxation exercises are highly effective in treating anxiety. Studies show that multiple forms of relaxation training can help individuals reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being. Try:

  • Deep breathing techniques: Where you take slow, deep breaths, filling your lungs with air and exhaling slowly. This technique activates the body's relaxation response, slows down the heart rate, and promotes a sense of calm. You can do it anywhere and anytime, making it a convenient tool for managing anxiety.
  • Mindfulness practices: You focus on the present moment without judgment. When fully aware of your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and the environment, you cultivate a sense of calm and acceptance.
  • Yoga and Stretching: Yoga poses and stretching exercises are great for releasing physical tension and promoting relaxation. Yoga combines mindful movement with deep breathing, creating a holistic approach to relaxation and stress reduction. It can improve flexibility, balance, and overall mental and physical well-being.
  • Body scan meditation: Involves systematically scanning your body from head to toe, bringing awareness to each body part and noticing any sensations or tension. The body scan is one example of grounding exercises that help you feel more grounded, centered, and connected to your surrounding. Others include the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, deep breathing, and mindful walking.

Build a Strong Support Network

It's tough to navigate recovery alone. You need all the support you can get. Take advantage of the following:

  • Family and friends as support systems: Reach out to trusted family members and friends who can provide emotional support, understanding, and encouragement during this challenging time. Share your struggles, fears, and progress with them, and let them be a source of motivation and positivity.
  • Support groups and recovery communities: Consider joining support groups or recovery communities specifically tailored to substance withdrawal or anxiety. These groups provide a safe space to share experiences, receive guidance, and learn from others who have gone through similar challenges. Connecting with individuals who understand your journey can benefit you and provide a sense of belonging.
  • Online resources and forums: Explore online platforms and forums dedicated to substance withdrawal, mental health, and anxiety management. These platforms offer a wealth of information, resources, and the opportunity to connect with a broader community. Engaging in online discussions, reading personal stories, and accessing professional advice can help you feel less alone and provide valuable insights.

Prioritize Rest and Self-Care

Rest is an essential aspect of managing anxiety during withdrawal. Anxiety symptoms can worsen when your body and mind are tired – and the reverse is also true. Here are a few things to try out:

  • Prioritize sleep: Aim for a regular sleep schedule and create a sleep-friendly environment. Establish a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practicing relaxation techniques before bed. Avoid screens and stimulating activities close to bedtime.
  • Take breaks: Allow regular breaks throughout the day to rest and recharge. Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as taking a walk in nature, listening to calming music, or practicing deep breathing exercises.
  • Practice self-care: Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This can include hobbies, creative pursuits, or activities that help you unwind, such as taking a bubble bath, practicing mindfulness, or enjoying a cup of herbal tea.
  • Set boundaries: Learn to say no and establish boundaries to avoid over-committing yourself. Recognize that rest is essential for your well-being and recovery, and prioritize self-care without feeling guilty.
  • Establish a routine: Create a structured daily schedule with time for self-care practices and relaxation.
  • Nourish your body with a healthy diet: Consume balanced meals and stay hydrated to support overall well-being.

Seek Support from Professionals

If you are experiencing severe anxiety or other distressing symptoms during withdrawal, it's best to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or addiction specialist. They can provide appropriate support, guidance, and treatment options to manage anxiety symptoms effectively. In most cases, this will include:

  • Therapy: A mental health professional who specializes in addiction and anxiety treatment (dual diagnosis) can provide therapy options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you identify and change negative thought patterns, develop coping mechanisms, and address underlying issues contributing to anxiety. Other therapeutic approaches, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), may also be beneficial.
  • Medication options: Your healthcare provider may assess your situation and determine if medication, such as anti-anxiety medications or short-term use of certain antidepressants, may be appropriate. It's important to work closely with a healthcare professional to monitor medication use and ensure it aligns with your specific needs and circumstances.

Facing anxiety during withdrawal can be challenging. Know you're not weak – it is often challenging for most people. But you will not regret your decision once the withdrawal is over. You'll enjoy a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

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