If you’re in recovery, a stressful job can be detrimental. Most of us are aware that chronic stress is one of the primary contributors to addiction. People often abuse drugs and alcohol as a means of relaxing or calming down after a stressful day. And, in the United States, the workplace is a very common contributor to that stress. If you’re working a high-stress job, whether because it’s demanding such as for fields like law, medicine, or police work, or because your office has a negative environment, taking steps to ensure that stress does not result in a relapse is important.
While you eventually will have to choose your own best ways to cope, these 6 tips to staying sober in a stressful job are a good place to start.
1. Learn Stress Management Techniques
Good stress management techniques can help you to not only cope with stress in the short term but also to change how you view and respond to situations. For example, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR) is used to change how you respond to events. The therapy works on the principle of getting you to pay less attention to worry and anxiety and more attention to what’s happening now, in the real world. That can improve calm, can reduce stress reactions to specific events, and can improve how you recover from stress. Of course, interventions like mindfulness can take months to start working. They also require consistent and daily practice of the techniques – which mostly focus on meditation, paying attention to what you are doing and not to worry, and learning to let things go. Those skills can be extremely difficult to master – but they do allow you to improve how you experience events as being stressful.
While interventions like mindfulness are mostly only helpful to those who react to stress in a habitual or unhealthy way – many people do so. For example, one study shows that healthcare professionals taking MBSR therapy improves both stress management and self-compassion.
2. Continue Going to Therapy
Getting ongoing treatment can help you to cope with issues, problems, and behaviors that arise during your job. Seeing your counselor or therapist also means you’ll get ongoing support, even as stress causes cravings or triggers you into relapse. That means you’ll constantly have support and can possibly work through issues rather than looking for a coping mechanism for them.
While things aren’t always that easy and many people respond to triggers by withdrawing from their support networks, having the option available can help. And, being able to discuss stress from your work with a professional can help you to assess why it is there, what you can do about it, and how to mitigate it in a healthy fashion.
3. Go to Self-Help Groups
Self-help groups like AA, NA, LifeRing, and SMART are everywhere. These groups normally involve discussing sobriety, cravings, history, and goals with a group of peers. In turn, peers listen, offer advice, and offer a form of social accountability. It is the latter that can be incredibly powerful in keeping you clean and sober – even when you’re faced with stress. For example, people who can go “I don’t want to have to tell my group that I relapsed” have significant social motivation to stay clean and sober. And, it’s more powerful when you’re being accountable to your peers, who know what drug and alcohol abuse and cravings are like. Here, social motivation is effective both because “they’re doing it so I can too” and because you don’t want to disappoint or be a failure to people who are looking to you for accountability as well.
4. Consider Working Less
If a full-time job is too much for you to handle in early recovery, it may be an option to ask to reduce your hours. You may not have this option. However, working less is sometimes a good way to reduce stress related to a job. Not all workplaces will offer the option. However, you could consider moving to a new role, reducing your hours, or moving to the same role in a different company that allows fewer hours. That’s not always going to be possible. For example, many medical and legal professions just don’t allow fewer hours. And, if you work for yourself, reducing hours can mean not being able to afford your mortgage or rent.
5. Work to Reduce Stressful Parts of Your Career
Many companies increasingly allow teams to self-organize and self-delegate tasks. Others allow you to negotiate your roles and tasks. And, it’s not always the job part of your job that is stressful. For example, many people find commute to be the most stressful part of work. Mitigating that might be a relatively simple matter of negotiating flex work or more work from home time, so you can commute less or outside of rush hour.
6. Use Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Some stress release is always necessary. If you acknowledge that, you can invest in healthy ways to release that stress. Here, exercise, music, taking time to do nothing, social interactions, and even cleaning your house can all provide that much-needed catharsis. For example, 30 minutes of exercise like walking or jogging causes blood oxygenation, creates endorphins, and reduces cortisol production in the body. Of course, it’s important that exercising doesn’t cause you to stress about having to exercise first, so if you do exercise, it’s important to pick something you enjoy and that you can maintain without too much effort. For most people walking is a good choice because it’s low effort, requires no equipment, and you can fit it into your lunch break or even your commute home.
Eventually, if your job is high stress, you have to consider if it’s worthwhile as part of your life. If not, you can always look for a lower stress job. At the same time, that isn’t possible for many of us. You might also find your high stress job to be rewarding enough to keep it. In either case, hopefully these 6 tips get you started to living a healthy, drug and alcohol-free life with your job.