One of the main reasons why people end up using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis is because it helps them cope with emotional, psychological, or physical pain. When pain feels too overwhelming, a person can begin to feel anxious, tense, and stressed. And this in turn, can drive a person to drinking or drug using too.
However, when a person begins a recovery from addiction, they must learn how to cope with stressors without the use of drugs and alcohol. They must learn how to manage their emotional, psychological, or physical pain in new ways. This can be hard to do without having some new coping tools. Furthermore, making this shift can also be challenging if a person tends to be anxious and stressed most of the time.
For all these reasons, learning to relax is an incredibly important skill in recovery. There are many modalities a person can use to relax on a regular basis. Yet, deep breathing is one of the most powerful, accessible, and useful tools above all others. You can use deep breathing as a coping tool whenever and wherever you are. You begin to breathe deeply even in the heat of a stressful situation. You don’t have to get out any equipment. You don’t have to go to another room and sit down, as you might in meditation. You can simply stop what you’re doing and breathe.
It’s also important to note that when you are anxious, your breathing tends to be quick and shallow. And anxious breathing can actually create more anxiety. When you are breathing quickly, you will tend to take in more air than you exhale. Fast breathing does not properly purge the blood of carbon dioxide because of the short exhalations. This type of breathing and the presence of more carbon dioxide signals the brain that you are in danger. The body reacts with an adrenaline rush and your muscles tighten. Your body is preparing for a threat, and as a result, gears into the fight-flight response with an activated nervous system.
You Can Return to Relaxation Through Deep Breathing
Yet, deep breathing reduces the tension of your muscles tightening and restores the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. Deep breathing stops the adrenaline rush and signals to your body that you are not in danger. With this message, the body can relax and enter a state of being calm and at rest. Learning to breathe deeply and slowly can immediately help restore a state of relaxation, even when you’re faced with challenging circumstances.
What’s important to know is that anything subtle in your thinking, in the environment, or in your emotional field can trigger anxious breathing. Sometimes, people go into a state of anxiety without even realizing it. They may not notice that they feel anxious until they feel their muscles tightening or their hands shaking. Often, it was a false stimuli (often as a result of unhealthy thinking patterns) that created a state of anxiety. Yet, deep breathing can immediately change that and return the body to a relaxed state.
Practicing deep breathing on a regular basis can facilitate recognizing more and more often when you feel relaxed versus when you feel anxious. In those moments when you’re feeling tense or stressed, take a few slow deep breaths.
Knowing how to relax when you need to can be the foundation for staying sober, healthy, and happy.