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How to Prevent Relapse During Hard Times

When times get rough, every one of us tends to slip into behavioral patterns that might not be healthy. If we need comfort, soothing, or escape, it’s all too easy to reach for something that helps us temporarily forget our troubles. If you’re in recovery and wish to stay healthy, you’ll have to be extra diligent not to revert to negative coping skills.

Understanding Resilience

The definition of resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” What isn’t as easily defined is how quickly or effectively an individual might do this. It’s natural to look at other people and think, “Oh, they never have anything bad happen to them, so they don’t understand what I’m going through.” 

The American Psychological Association (APA) points out a necessary reminder: every single person faces trauma, adversity, tragedies, and other stressors. So it’s more likely other individuals have learned—through trial and error—how to boost their resilience through various methods that help them weather difficult situations. As the APA notes, “Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.”

Unfortunately, just because a person has resilience doesn’t mean they’ll avoid distress, emotional pain, and stress. These and other emotions are part of being human in the face of challenges. Dealing with these emotions is often when many people relapse, believing that taking drugs, abusing alcohol, and other negative behaviors will ease their pain. But because you’ve worked hard in treatment, you know substances are not the answer. 

Reinforce Your Resilience

You’ve heard the quote, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” It’s most frequently attributed to author and pastor Robert H. Schuller, who published a book by the same name in 1983. He provided insight to various problems every person faces, and segmented his book into action points such as:

  • 5 principles for putting problems in a proper perspective
  • 10 commandments of “possibility thinking”
  • 5 ways to overcome a “brownout” and prevent burnout
  • 25 words to get you started and never let you quit

His overall theory? Difficulty offers us the opportunity for innovative problem-solving. 

Believing in possibilities also helps you move past the trigger or stressor that might provoke a negative action response. As psychiatrist and author Abigail Brenner explains in an article for Psychology Today, “Even in the midst of difficult times, there are things that are good and things to look forward to. Remaining hopeful keeps you moving in a positive direction,” she says. “Some things will work in your favor while others will not. But even when things are not going your way, when you have the opportunity to look back on a hard time in your life, you may find that what didn’t work out the way you wanted it to brought you to a different place.” 

Brenner stresses that learning to be resilient makes you stronger and provides additional skills for dealing with life. Her other suggestions for strengthening resilience include:

  • Embrace change. Understanding you have the ability to healthfully deal with changes allows you to better cope with the temporary upheaval caused by them. One of Brenner’s books, Shift: How to Deal When Life Changes, addresses how we grow from change.
  • Don’t dwell on negative thinking. Whether you’ve lost a job, had a relationship end, are experiencing family troubles, or have suffered financial difficulties, it’s common to slip into disaster mode and think the worst. This will only wear you down even more, Brenner says. Instead, believe you have control over your thoughts and break negative spiraling by “changing your state: go for a walk, exercise, meditate, pray, or engage in something creative.” This helps you think of other possibilities. 
  • Know thyself. While the weaknesses and fears always seem to rise to the surface, also acknowledge your accomplishments and strengths, Brenner says. Believing “you can” by reflecting on what you’ve already overcome puts a current challenge into better perspective.
  • Create goals. Short-term goals allow you to focus on something you can control and provide immediate gratification upon completion. Long-term goals, Brenner says, keep you grounded and help you see the bigger picture that’s beyond the current challenge. 
  • Take action. Instead of slipping into the abyss of negative behaviors, tackle troubling issues head-on. This is also a way of feeling more in control of the circumstances.
  • Have a sense of humor. Psychology Today also shares an article by psychotherapist Bryan E. Robinson which describes in detail how humor can uplift your spirits during hard times
  • Develop strong personal connections. “People who are your supporters and advocates, people who cheerlead for you, help raise you up, give you reassurance and strength, help you increase your resilience,” Brenner says. Don’t crawl into the weeds: reach out to your sober friends or people in your recovery programs
  • Take care of yourself. You deserve to be well. You deserve to care for your mind, body, and spirit. “Anything that nurtures you should be practiced on a regular basis,” Brenner says. Touch base with your addiction specialist counselor to reinforce positive coping skills to avoid relapse during hard times.  

And If a Slip Happens, Don’t Give Up

Do you know the difference between a slip and an actual relapse? At Twin Lakes Recovery Center, we strive to provide information that helps you keep sobriety on track, even during its more difficult phases.