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Stress management for users

Stress management for users

Stress is our physical and psychological reaction to demanding or threatening situations. Research indicates that accumulated stress may be associated with both the onset and escalation of drug use. That is, the more stressful events or environments experienced, the greater the likelihood of drug problems. We live with potential stressors 24/7 in the modern world. Racism, homophobia, ageism and HIV are examples of stressors that can impact our lives. There are many others.

Understanding Stress

There are also an infinite variety of ways that people cope with stress. No one sets out to create dependency on a substance or a harmful behaviour.

Why does this happen? When we chose to use as a means to manage stress we build pathways in our brain directly tied to our reward centre. Tina does this to a much greater extent than most other substances.

Once there, the pathway will always be there. The more we reinforce it by using the stronger it becomes, and the more dominance it will have over other ways we may have previously learned to manage stress. We create an even more potent reinforcement if we have associated our use with sex and pleasure. We can find that our frequency and quantity of use increases. We can find ourselves using just to avoid the stress we feel by not using. Our using can become a vicious cycle that consumes our life, but it doesn’t have to.

Good News

The good news is that old pathways of managing stress can be reactivated and new ones can be built. We may have abandoned old ways we learned prior to our Tina use, or perhaps we just don’t use them as often anymore. We can also establish alternate pathways to the one we created with Tina. The pathways we chose to travel will be the ones that get stronger.

Managing stress is a skill and can therefore be learned. It is learned through awareness and practice. There isn’t much that can equal the near instant gratification and relief that a hit of Tina can provide. We must not evaluate other, healthier ways of managing stress by that measure. To be successful, we need to focus on the long term benefits of calm and peace that we can achieve through other means of managing stress.

Start Here

The best place to start is to recognize what we already know. What things do you do now or used to do in the past, that you consider to be healthier ways of managing stress that using? Some of the things other guys identify are exercise, spend time with pets, journal, talk with someone, cook, have a shower or bath, spend time in nature, home improvement project, movie or music, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Think about what you have already practiced in the past and make a commitment to reinforce that with practice in the future. You may want to start by focusing on one thing. Take it a step further and make a commitment to practice this method several times in the coming week. The more specific and realistic your commitment is, the more successful you will be. Setting a healthy reward for completing the goal also provides motivation. You can involve a good friend who might agree to treat or pay you if you are successful. There are possibilities for fun! The same strategies can be applied to additional methods that you already know. Find out what works best for you and practice it.

Build on Success

You can learn new ways of managing stress and add them to your stress management ‘toolbox.’ What other things would you like to try and possibly learn? You may find that some ways work better in some situations than others. Know that more practice will bring more confidence in your ability to manage stress in less harmful ways. Know that the healthier ways of managing stress tend to reinforce one another and contribute to a positive upward spiral instead of the opposite.

While it’s nice to have options, don’t loose sight of the initial goal to move away from using as a way to manage stress. Know that every time you practice an alternative to using, you are strengthening that pathway instead of the Tina one.

Exercises

We’d like to suggest several basic exercises that are relatively easy for users to do that will help build your stress management skills faster. While you can spend longer if you wish, they need not take more than five minutes each. They do require that you sit still and spend time in active reflection. The best position is to sit grounded in a chair with your back straight, legs uncrossed and planted on the floor so that you feel solid and alert. Close your eyes. Begin with three long, slow, deep, belly breaths. Now you are ready for any of the exercises below.

Evaluate
When you feel stress, pause instead of reacting. Evaluate the stressor (the thing causing the stress). Is it a big stressor or a small one? Our response should match the size and importance of the stressor. How would you like to respond to this stressor?

Visualize
We can only experience what we believe is possible. We tend to imagine the ‘worst case’ scenario in a stressful situation. Can you imagine the ‘best case’ scenario instead? What would that look like? Take a few minutes to think of concrete thoughts and actions you can take to increase the probability of a ‘best’ case outcome.

Scan
Investigating how we feel physically and emotionally helps improve our self-awareness in stressful situations. Scan your body, moving from your toes throughout your entire body all the way to the top of your head. Take several minutes to do this, naming each part and major organs while continuing to breathe deeply. Make note of any unpleasant sensations in case you want to return to them later. Now, turn your attention to your emotional state. How you are feeling emotionally right now? Enhanced self-awareness gained from this exercise can help you respond in a more authentic way.

Meditate
Meditation can be really simple. Extending the body scan or focusing on our breathing can provide a conscious focus that is accessible for most people. Being still and breathing deeply for just 5 minutes with your eyes closed will provide relaxation benefits. Being more relaxed can change your perception of stressors and enable creative solutions. Meditation is itself a stress management skill.

 

TIP: If you interested in learning more about how Tina affects the brain you may want to check out the Brain page! There is also other information on this site pertaining to stress issues including strategies to manage and the ‘fight or flight’ (FOF) response. You can find these pages and others by using the search feature on this page.