Going Back to School Without Drugs: How to Deal With Anxiety in Addiction Recovery

Getting ready to hit the books? Six (6) strategies for managing anxiety … without drugs!

minute read

School Can Trigger Anxiety

When you make the decision to go back to school after addiction recovery, you may experience a wide range of feelings and emotions. One of the strongest and most common feelings you may experience is anxiety. Between new classes, an increased workload, exams, and interacting with people who might have encouraged your old habits, going back to school can seem a bit overwhelming at first.

These feelings of anxiety can be a threat to your sobriety if you’re not prepared to cope with this powerful emotion in healthy ways. The good news is that with a few healthy coping strategies, you can learn to manage your back-to-school anxiety. Here are six strategies for managing anxiety that you can start practicing today so that you can return to school without jeopardizing your sobriety.

1. Ask For Help

One of the most important skills you can learn to effectively maintain your sobriety is to ask for help. Whether you attend high school or college, the majority of campuses have counseling available. If symptoms of anxiety start to surface, reach out to a school counselor or another member of your support system.

In addition, if the college you attend has sponsored drug/alcohol meetings, find time to attend one or more meetings a week. Talk to your drug-free friends, your sponsor and/or other fellowship members about your feelings of anxiety. Sometimes, simply talking about your concerns will help tremendously in reducing your anxiety.

2. Distract Yourself

Often times, feelings of anxiety are short-lived. After a short period of time, feelings of anxiety will pass. One of the best ways to learn how to deal with your anxiety during recovery is to distract yourself from the feelings of anxiety by removing yourself from the situation that may be causing the anxiety.

For example, if you have a big exam coming up and you are worried that you haven’t studied enough, it’s fine to spend extra time studying. However, do not overwhelm yourself with the task at hand. Instead of spending long hours at the library reading a textbook, take a walk, get some fresh air, and allow yourself to relax before hitting the books again. Taking a break will not only help to reduce your anxiety, but it may also help you retain more information.

3. Exercise

There is a positive link between exercise and anxiety management. Those who do not stay active or exercise regularly are more prone to developing anxiety disorders. Routinely exercising throughout your recovery may prove to be a valuable tool for managing your anxiety. There are a number of reasons why exercise is so effective at relieving anxiety, including the following:

  • Exercise releases neurotransmitters that promote an uplifting effect on your mood.
  • Exercise tires your muscles, which helps to prevent anxiety symptoms.
  • Exercise burns the stress hormones that may trigger your anxiety.
  • Exercise is a natural and healthy way to combat your anxiety.

Anxiety can wreak havoc on your mental health; even if you never had much concern about your fitness before, part of a healthy recovery is improving your mental health. Whether you take a brief walk before class or go to a yoga class at the end of your school day, exercise is extremely beneficial for relieving and preventing anxiety.

4. Vitamins and Minerals

While using drugs, your body probably depleted a lot of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain your health. Studies have shown that some people may be more prone to the symptoms of anxiety if they do not get the proper nutrition in addiction recovery.

One of the primary culprits is a lack of magnesium, which is an extremely important mineral that may have been stripped from your diet. Magnesium also naturally depletes during times of stress and when hyperventilating. Each time you become anxious, you are unknowingly reducing the amount of magnesium in your body, which in turn increases your anxiety and causes it to last for a longer period of time. Talk to your medical provider about supplementing magnesium and/or other types of vitamins and minerals that may ensure you are getting the proper nutrition your body needs to function as well as help fight your anxiety.

5. Meditate

Another healthy coping strategy for managing anxiety is meditation. If you are new to meditation, it is important to note that you do not have to go into a deep meditative state in order to deal with your anxiety while in recovery. Anyone can meditate before, during and/or after the times that they are anxious. You can even meditate while you are in class, such as just before you begin that big exam.

Meditating will help calm you, reduce your anxiety, and allow you to focus on the task at hand. To mediate while you are anxious, simply sit still in silence, close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Concentrate on taking deep, slow breaths. Try to release other thoughts by tricking your mind. Say to your mind, “Oh, thanks for that reminder. I’ll think about it later. Right now, I’m enjoying the moment.”

6. Be Grateful

When you are feeling anxious, try connecting yourself to your recovery; it will help to put things in perspective. Take a minute or two to think about your sober life now versus your past life in addiction. Come up with a mental list of all the things you are grateful for now. If you enjoy writing, you can write these down in a journal.

Even as stressful and frustrating as school may seem, being grateful for your recovery will help you recognize how far you have come. You may not have been able to even think about school before recovery. Be grateful for who you have become and what you have overcome to be the person you are today.

In Conclusion

A commitment to managing anxiety and other feelings that may threaten your sobriety is an important step in your recovery. Using these six healthy coping strategies will help you to manage anxiety without fear of relapsing. You will be faced with challenges on a regular basis. This is why it is extremely important that you remember you have already accomplished milestones. Remind yourself that you can overcome anxiety, as well!

Best to you.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?