5 Substance Free Ways to Manage Stress & Anxiety

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Stress is inevitable. It might be something you deal with infrequently or seemingly all the time, but it’s how you respond to stress that can have a huge impact on your health and happiness. For example, self-medicating stress with drugs or alcohol is unhealthy and can lead to mental health issues and addiction. You’re much better off using healthy, substance-free ways to manage stress and anxiety.

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Identify the Source of Your Stress

Stress is internal and external. Internal stress develops inside of us determines how our body responds to it. Nutritional health, attitudes, thoughts and feelings, imagination, memory, physical health and illness are all sources of internal stress. External stress is caused by external factors, such as physical environment, career, finances and relationships, or lack thereof.

The causes of stress may or may not be within your control. Do what you can to change the things that are in your control. If you can’t, recognize that it’s out of reach and work to change your outlook and reaction to the situation.

These tips will help you learn how to handle stress and anxiety without relying on harmful, addictive substances.

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1. Get outside.

A pleasing environment can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness. Being outside in nature, or even just viewing images of nature, improves emotional and physical health. Nature reduces heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. Take your workout outside, go for a walk around your neighborhood or in the park, take a hike through the woods, or do some gardening.

Or, bring the outside inside. Even houseplants can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

2. Breathe and meditate.

Your breath acts as the body’s built-in calming mechanism. Whenever you start to feel overwhelming stress coming on, take a long, deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale out through your mouth. A few long, deep breaths will slow down your heart rate and ease your body into a state of relaxation. Mediation often combines breathwork with visualizing exercises or activities that aim to increase mindfulness and alertness in the present moment.

3. Reduce caffeine consumption.

Caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda and energy drinks cause cortisol, the stress hormone, to spike, which increases the body’s physical response to stress. The breath shortens, the heart rate picks up and adrenaline kicks in. However, this can be a tough change to make considering that stress makes us more tempted to reach for that extra cup of coffee to power through the day.

4. Eat well.

You are what you eat, so whatever you’re putting into your body has a direct impact on the way your body responds to stress. Cortisol also causes people to crave foods high in fat, salt and sugar, which makes it really hard to opt for healthy fruits and vegetables instead. Potato chips, ice cream and other junk food may taste great in the moment, but they’re only exacerbating the physical effects of stress.

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5. Talk about your stress.

People who successfully recover from a stressful event are often able to do so because they have a strong support system, according to PsychCentral. Discussing your issues with a friend, family member or counselor can reduce stress levels and offer a new perspective that changes the way you view your problems and improves your moods. Confiding in someone else also shows you that you aren’t alone.

Effective stress management is critical to lasting recovery from substance abuse. Stress is a trigger, but knowing how to cope with it in safe, healthy ways can prevent relapse and help you sustain recovery. If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance use, Guardian Recovery can help. For more information about our comprehensive continuum of care, contact us at (888) 693-1872.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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