Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction and anxiety are recognized as commonly co-occurring disorders. When a person self-medicates to quell anxiety symptoms, they increase their risk of becoming dependent and developing an addiction. On the other hand, a person may develop an anxiety disorder as a result of substance abuse.

The psychological challenge of anxiety is frequently experienced by patients in residential treatment programs. The good news is that there are simple but effective ways to manage anxiety symptoms without having to struggle alone and risk a relapse. Patients can calm their minds and set themselves up for a sustainable recovery by applying grounding techniques.

Anxiety is a common concern in substance abuse programs.

The detoxification process is the first step in substance abuse treatment for many patients. Medical detox is a clinically-supervised process that helps patients get through the physical effects of withdrawal and manage psychological distress.

Patients may have fears about the painful side effects of withdrawing and sobriety in general. Being unable to use substances to numb uncomfortable feelings as they arise can be stressful.

Anxiety can cause distress after detox & addiction treatment.

A patient’s mental and emotional state can continue to be impacted by their addiction long after they have gone through physical withdrawal. Patients may have developed an anxiety disorder as the result of substance abuse and struggle with their condition as they develop new coping strategies to deal with daily stressors and internal conflicts.

If stress and anxiety become too overwhelming, addictive behaviors can take hold again. Preventing relapse and enhancing well-being are key reasons why managing anxiety symptoms effectively and consistently is so critical.

Grounding techniques can help you work through anxiety.

Grounding techniques help focus your attention on the present moment to prevent painful thoughts and emotions from taking control of your behavior. These simple strategies can help you detach from emotional pain like anxiety in a healthy way.

There are three categories of techniques with various approaches a patient can try:

  1. Mental: strategies that work to exercise the mind
  2. Physical: strategies that utilize the body and senses
  3. Emotional: strategies that involve verbal and non-verbal self-soothing

#1. Exercise your mind.

To exercise your mind, try the following techniques:

  • 5-4-3-2-1 technique: In your immediate environment, acknowledge five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Reflect on these items.
  • Categories game: Try to exhaust a list of people, places, or things that belong to different categories—such as types of games, species of trees, cities of the world—and make connections between them.
  • Use your imagination: Imagine putting yourself in your ideal place surrounded by nurturing sounds and pleasant smells and imagery. Imagine the bodily sensations you would feel.

#2. Embrace your body and senses.

Your mind and body share an essential connection. Embrace this relationship through the following activities:

  • 4-7-8 breathwork: Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat as necessary. This can relieve anxiety in the chest.
  • Stretch: Stress can cause muscle tension to build up in the neck and hips. Lay down on a mat a stretch out your muscles. Letting your head hang as you reach for your toes while breathing deeply can also be helpful.
  • Move quickly: Brisk workouts—such as sprinting or doing pushups as fast as you can—use up your anxious energy, allowing you to experience a sense of calm.
  • Feel objects: Close your eyes and touch various items around you. Think about how the object feels. Are there grooves or smooth spots? Does it feel like something else you’ve felt before? Evaluating your surroundings helps take the focus off of stress.

#3. Learn to self-soothe.

Children turn to their primary caregiver for emotional support. Learning to comfort oneself without the help of others is an important skill that individuals acquire as they move into adulthood. Some self-soothing exercises include:

  • Positive affirmations: Don’t underestimate the power of saying nice things to yourself. The next time you are struggling, tell yourself, “I can do this,” or “I’ve gotten through so much, I can get through this too.”
  • Turn to your God or higher power: Turning to your God or higher power you are comfortable with may help ground you. This is also a core component of the 12-Step program.
  • Treat yourself: Taking yourself out to dinner or relaxing on the couch are excellent ways to give yourself a break. Planning something in advance also gives you something to look forward to when you’re feeling stressed.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to use the techniques in all three areas. Depending on the way you learn and process stimuli, some approaches may work better than others. If you find that one method works better than others, stick with it. You can also try making up your own based on what resonates with you. It’s also essential to practice as it helps you familiarize yourself with the technique and improve your routine over time.

The next time you notice negative thoughts accumulating in your mind, use these grounding techniques to calm your mind before your symptoms worsen.

Learning to navigate challenges is a critical focus of Authentic Recovery Center’s treatment facility in West Los Angeles. We believe that our patients can achieve a sustainable recovery when psychological challenges are adequately addressed. To learn more about how we can help, call our office at (866) 786-1376.