How To Handle Negative Emotions Without Drugs or Alcohol

Published On 11-August-2020
By Tim Wood

negative emotions

It is essential to be able to connect with and accurately identify our feelings so that we can use them to navigate the world. Some negative emotions may be uncomfortable or hard to manage. The substance that helps numb them or temporarily take them away can become an addictive alternative to learning how to deal with your emotions healthily. [1]

Perhaps you find yourself often anxious, and so you smoke or drink as a way to take the uncomfortable edge off of the feeling until it reaches a manageable level.

This might seem like it is helping at the moment, but in the long run, you are only avoiding the cause of the emotion and will keep coming back. It can also lead to a variety of unhealthy behaviours, such as alcohol addiction or drug abuse. To stay mentally and physically healthy, it is vital to be able to cope with emotions without turning to substance abuse as an alternative.

Why It is Important to Look After Your Feelings in Early Addiction Recovery

The first stages of recovery will involve volatile emotions that have been suppressed by the substance for so long that they will be very uncomfortable to feel. There will be good days and bad ones with emotions moving between extremes.

This is partially due to the effect of drugs and alcohol on the brain's chemistry, which will be attempting to regain a healthy balance and bring up certain emotions like anxiety, doubt, guilt, fear, and anger towards yourself or others. Being able to identify and navigate these emotions will help lower the risk of a relapse.

When addictive substances are used to eradicate or lessen emotions, then the body gets flushed of those agents, feelings surge back, and they can seem unusually intense. It will take time to get acclimated to them. The first part of recovery after initial detox will include finding healthy ways to deal with these temporarily heightened emotions.

Common Negative Emotions in Addiction Recovery

Most of the newly felt emotions will be negative, and that is entirely normal. People rarely develop addictions to deal with positive emotions, so all of the feelings that were being purposefully repressed will become joined with new negative emotions caused by the addiction itself.

A few of the everyday things people feel when starting addiction recovery are self-hatred, anger, fear, anxiety, self-doubt, shame, and resentment against themselves, others, or the situation. It is an entirely rational response but must be dealt with in a healthy way to lower the risks of a relapse.

Most people who relapse during this period of their recovery do not look for positive alternative ways to cope and instead fall back into old habits that have been known to work even if the end result is far worse.

Understanding Negative Emotions and Cravings

You will need to relearn how to identify your emotions and what they are trying to tell you before discovering healthy ways of expressing them. Cravings are usually going to kick in during times of extra emotional stress because this is when you have trained your body to expect the drugs or alcohol to be used as a suppressant.

Being able to identify what feeling triggered the craving will help you find alternative reactions and proactive changes. [2]

There are a few questions you can ask yourself when you get a craving, which will help you identify the feeling and determine what to do next:

  • What is this emotion?
  • What were the circumstances and which specific action or thought brought up the craving?
  • Looking at the situation from a distance and asking, 'what is the result I truly want?' (e.g., to stop feeling anxious, my friends to be more understanding, etc)

The stronger the emotion then, the harder it can be to deal with it. There are a few things you can do to keep yourself from being overwhelmed, including the following.

  • Talk to someone that you trust
  • Remind yourself that emotions come and go. Even if it feels powerful at the moment, it is temporary
  • Utilize relaxation techniques (e.g., yoga, breathing exercises, etc.)
  • Medication can assist with prolonged emotions like anxiety and sadness
  • One-on-one therapy or support groups are excellent places to learn coping skills and find productive ways to work through strong emotions

Dangers of Being Led By Negative Emotions

Emotions, especially with how strong they will be at first, will make it seem easier to avoid the things that you need to do to recover fully and live a full life of sobriety.

For example, suppose you feel exhausted and angry at yourself for something that happened earlier in the day. In that case, it might seem like a good idea to avoid a support group meeting that evening, but this is precisely when a meeting would be most helpful.

You will need to fight through the feelings rather than letting them keep you from recovering your life. The final result will be more than worth the effort it takes to make it through each emotional episode.

The Danger of Loneliness in Recovery

Most people going through addiction recovery will need to restructure their entire lives from their social groups to sometimes even what area of the city they live in to get away from negative influences.

This can bring up feelings of loneliness, which will be intensified by the lack of numbing provided by substances. It is vital to find a support structure through positive relationships with friends, family, support groups, etc. That way, you can help ease the effects of loneliness.

Fear of the Future in Addiction Recovery

With so many significant changes happening at one time, there is often a sense of dread when contemplating the future. Fear of relapse, fear of starting everything new, fear that you are not good enough or that recovery will never get more comfortable.

These are normal thoughts to have, but they can be enough to send a lot of people into downward spirals if they are not dealt with quickly and healthily. Almost all of the fears that crop up during recovery are based on things that have not yet happened.

Future scenarios are limitless in their scope and how things can go wrong or right. Sacrificing your progress and current recovery on something that might not even happen is self-sabotaging. Being able to release your fears of future events and focus on the present will be helpful.

Dangers of Boredom in Early Recovery

Feeling bored is a trigger for many people recovering from addiction. One of the original draws of drugs or alcohol for them was ingesting substances to stop feeling bored.

Another reason boredom is dangerous in early recovery is that it is effortless to transition between uncertainty, apathy, and all the negative emotions waiting to spring themselves on you. This is the dip in the rollercoaster of emotions.

The best way to fight against boredom is to have a list of things you can use to fill your time. Hobbies, distractions, or tasks that need completing are always good to have on hand. That way, you have less free time during the day for your thoughts to wander.

How Can I Cope With Negative Emotions Without Turning to Drugs or Alcohol?

Multiple positive coping mechanisms are easy to access and provide excellent support during moments of high emotion. They include the following.

1. Ask for help

Find a friend or family member who is supportive and non-toxic. Then let them know you are struggling and ask for them to help you. This help could take the form of merely listening to you or assisting you in finding something productive to do to distract yourself from boredom or negative emotions.

2. Exercise

The human body is always negatively affected by substance abuse, and getting it back into good shape is important. It will also provide a physical outlet for stress. Your mental and physical health are linked, so the more you exercise and allow your body to heal, the easier it will be to cope mentally.

3. Massage therapy

Relaxation techniques are excellent for coping with strong or negative emotions. Massage therapy especially brings a sense of wholeness and a focus on the present that is helpful. It also boosts dopamine and serotonin, which makes you feel good.

4. Self-care

Self-loathing, self-doubt, and inwardly focused anger are common for addicts in recovery. Being able to look past how you view your self-worth and feel something good will help change negative thought patterns. One-on-one or group therapy is the best place to start learning how to accept and be kind to yourself.

Here are a few other things to try when you need help moving forward.

  • If you do not already have one, find a therapist.
  • Be understanding and kind to yourself.
  • Practice staying in the moment and being mindful of your feelings and thoughts.
  • Allow yourself to do something that you find fun and joyful (e.g., go to a sports event, play a game, work on a hobby, etc.).

What is Distress Tolerance For Negative Emotions?

Distress tolerance is the degree with which you can cope with distressing emotions. In the beginning, your brain will tend to create intrusive thoughts about dealing in the same way that worked in the past by using alcohol or drugs.

You need to be able to fight against these invasive thought patterns. Therapy, a strong support structure, and healthy coping mechanisms are the best way to raise your stress tolerance levels. The more you practice, the easier it will be to handle distressing emotions. [3]

Steps to Experiencing Negative Emotions Without Distress

There is no way to stop negative emotions from happening. All you can do is control your reaction to them. There are several things you can try, which will allow you to experience these emotions without being overwhelmed.

The first thing to do is look at the situation and emotions attached to it objectively. Name the associated feelings and try to link them with any triggers. The more you educate yourself about your feelings and what causes them to manifest, the easier it will be to decrease moments of distress.

There are mental exercises that you can use to keep track of what you are feeling and remind yourself that all emotions are temporary. No set imagery works better than any others.

You will want to work with your therapist to find whatever connects to you the most. Once you have that imagery in mind, you can use it to keep yourself calm during extreme emotions. [4]

What are Emotional Triggers and How to Deal With Them

Emotional triggers remind your body of moments in the past when you were using substances to cope. Often this results in sudden cravings when you experience that same emotion. You will want to work on distancing these emotions from memories by focusing on the present.

There are three useful steps that we have touched on previously, but you will want to give them greater focus when dealing with emotions that trigger intrusive thoughts or memories.

  1. Stay in touch with your emotions. Label them, understand what caused them to crop up, and then monitor them.
  2. Keep yourself in the moment and connected to your body and where it is in relation to the things around you. Physically relaxing exercises like yoga or meditation work well.
  3. Work towards keeping your emotions in check using healthy coping skills. Make sure to have several ready to be utilized at any time (e.g., breathing exercises, imagery exercises, reframing thoughts, etc.).

The Ability to Feel Your Feelings: Emotional Sobriety and the Signs

Being emotionally sober means you can feel your emotions, identify them, and positively deal with them. Someone who is emotionally sober has learned to control their relationship with their feelings.

Below are a few signs that you have gained emotional sobriety.

  • Being able to live in the present without being overwhelmed by thoughts of the future or memories of the past
  • A learned ability to understand and control your behaviours and reactions without falling into old, bad habits
  • Being able to withstand difficult moments and circumstances
  • Firm control over emotions
  • A strong dislike of controlling substances that might injure or cause emotional sobriety to fail
  • Staying positive
  • Forming and maintaining deep, close relationships with others
  • Less physical and mental symptoms of stress

Looking for more help?

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we offer free advice & guidance on addiction, substance abuse, and recovery. Call us today on 0800 111 41 08.

References

[1] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-17923-000

[2] https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4318059

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891552/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523137


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