Handling the stress of success after sobriety

How to cope with the success which comes with sobriety.

Posted  4,477 Views updated 5 years ago

We know that stress is a major factor in Substance Use Disorder. We also know that stress is not something that magically disappears after rehab. Excessive or poorly managed stress can drag a recovering person back into relapse, so it must be kept in check. How it is controlled, depends on many factors, but one that rarely works, is total avoidance of everything that smacks of stress.

Positive and negative stressors

We tend to connect stress with negative events, but the source can also be a positive event. Success is a prime example of a positive development that often causes stress problems. We frequently see media reports about celebrities who are negatively affected by the stress of success. It happens to average people too. That does not mean that success is a bad thing. Indeed, most people want to be successful.

After rehab a person’s cognitive skills and productivity levels usually improve. However, knowing that they are sensitive to it, they still try to avoid stress as much as possible. After a while, due to their improved competence, they may be offered a job promotion or tantalising new career move. As a rule, such offers involve new challenges and more stress. If you land in this situation, should you accept it or shy away from it?

Conventional logic suggests that, if you can’t take stress, stay away from it. This prevention strategy dictates that you must avoid new challenges and remain in your current comfort zone. However, the prospect of remaining stuck in the same rut can create its own problems.

There are many examples of how missed opportunities can actually lead to stress, including feelings of apathy, regret, self-blame, shame and guilt. Our decisions also affect people like spouses, children and others, who rely on us for improvements in their lives. If we wrongly avoid opportunities that affect them, it can lead to discord and may even harm them.

Not all opportunities, or the stress that accompanies it, lead to self-destruction. In fact, sometimes success and a higher level of initial stress can actually be to your advantage. For instance; it can reduce severe suffering and stress caused by a chronic lack of finances and the resources that it provides.

The recipe for sustained success

Although opportunities should not be wasted, decisions about promotions and career changes must be carefully considered by someone recovering from SUD. Only accept an offer if you are convinced that it is justifiable.

Do research by personally talking to people with first-hand experience of the proposed job. Often there are practical nuances that you have not noticed and which are not mentioned in the media or in career guidance manuals.

Try to be realistic.

Open your mind and look at the issue from different angles. Make a list of pros and cons and look for realistic ways to deal with the cons. Then consider the overall picture to get a more balanced perception.

The risk must be reasonable and, of course, not involve anything illegal, unhealthy or socially unacceptable. Discuss it with your life-partner, children or someone you trust. Don’t rely on your own judgment only, as it can be subconsciously influenced by a natural, misleading urge for self-preservation or a lingering fear of failure.

Be wary of irrational self-bias.

During the first year or two of the long-term recovery process, many SUD patients still struggle with the remnants of poor self-image and lack of self-confidence. They can rob themselves of opportunities due to inner turmoil and uncertainty. Give yourself a fair chance. If there is any doubt, consult a mental health therapist.

For people with a history of SUD, the stress element must be given special consideration. If there is consensus that the stress impact will be too severe, or if the task includes something the person is very sensitive to, it may be better to wait for a more suitable opportunity.

Do not be discouraged by the enormous diversity of advice regarding career changes, regrets about missed opportunities, and all the other intricacies offered on the internet. It can be overwhelming, but ideally you only need to consult a therapist for a personal analysis and guidance – people typically ignore this step, but you may be surprised by the insight you gain and it can be decisive for success.

Set boundaries.

Don’t overdo the job because you want to prove your worth. This gradually turns from enthusiasm into exhaustion, and eventually into burnout. It is vital that you balance your work with other interests. Small routines, such as clearing your desk and leaving your office at fixed times, can make a big difference.

Prepare for the anticipated increase in stress triggers and ensure that you remain aware and capable of dealing with it. There are many ways to maintain awareness and to soothe your nerves without relapsing. It ranges from cognitive thinking processes to meditation, hobbies, outdoor activities and a multitude of other stress relievers that will boost your wellbeing. Ask a therapist for advice.

Never allow indifference or over-confidence to sneak in and ambush you. Don’t be obsessive about it, but always maintain a healthy vigilance.

Only you, and nobody else, can keep you from living up to the challenge of success.

Disclaimer: This publication provides general information for broad public audiences. Individuals are required to consult qualified health and/or legal professionals for personal advice.

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