There’s a huge overlap between anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Research shows that about half of the people seeking help for substance use issues also have symptoms of PTSD — that’s about five times the rate of PTSD recorded among the general public. Getting treatment for both your substance use disorder and co-occurring anxiety disorder simultaneously is crucial to support a successful recovery. Attempting sobriety without treating your anxiety is not likely to work for very long, as people often use substances to cope with anxiety. Seeking treatment for both supports you in learning healthy ways to cope with your anxiety so that it doesn’t trigger you to relapse.
Therapy should always be your first plan for dealing with an anxiety disorder. You can uncover the roots of your anxiety, change your thinking habits to become less anxious, and develop behavioral strategies to help you cope with anxiety constructively. However, in the short term, grounding is a powerful technique that can help you deal with sudden anxiety.
Grounding Techniques to Cope With Anxiety
Grounding techniques serve as a way to bring your sensory awareness back into the present moment. Anxiety comes from thinking about things that may or may not happen in the future. When you get absorbed in this kind of thinking, imaginary problems start to feel real. Grounding returns your attention to what’s happening now. Here are two powerful grounding techniques to help you beat anxiety.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
One popular grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Start by looking around you and naming five things you see. Plants, a couch, a painting, or anything physically present in your space. Next, bring your awareness to four things you can feel. Maybe you feel your weight in your chair, a light breeze through your hair, the way your clothes touch your skin or the warmth of the air in the room. Then, bring your attention to three things you can hear. Perhaps you hear cars passing outside, people talking in the next room over or birds chirping by the window. Next, notice two things you can smell. Maybe you catch a waft of the fabric softener you used to wash your shirt or the smoke from the grill of a nearby restaurant. Finally, notice something you can taste, like mint from your toothpaste or the sweetness of your coffee. Take a breath and notice how you feel.
Another powerful way to ground yourself is to take a few slow, deep breaths and focus on the sensations of breathing. This has a double effect. First, slow, deep breathing stimulates your vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, or your rest-and-digest system. Take a slow, deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale. The longer the exhale, the more it will relax you.
As you breathe, pay attention to the sounds and sensations of the breath. Where do you feel it most clearly? Perhaps at your nose? Maybe in your stomach? Does the air feel cool coming in? Do you feel slightly congested or notice any scents? Does your breathing make any sound? How does the exhale feel different from the inhale? Noticing these things brings your awareness back to the present moment and away from whatever you’re anxious about.
Looking for Support?
Recovering from addiction isn’t just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s about being a healthier, stronger person overall. Many people don’t realize their addiction is a symptom of a mental health issue like depression or an anxiety disorder. In these cases, it is crucial to treat the co-occurring disorder with the addiction for a successful recovery. At Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon, we use a holistic approach to treat the whole person. We help men struggling with substance use find long-term recovery and live better lives. To learn more, call us today at (503) 850-2474