Anxiety – it’s the recovering addict’s nemesis, and frequently a significant player in the many factors that lead to addiction in the first place. Dual diagnoses between addictions and anxiety are exceptionally common, with many of us self-medicating anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts with substances like alcohol and drugs for years. Unfortunately, substances only serve to mask anxiety rather than truly alleviating it. Once your drug of choice (DOC) wears off, you’re right back to where you started.
Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad; if you’re committed to your sobriety, you’ll learn valuable skills that help you to cope with stress and anxiety in a healthy manner along the way. Although breathing exercises, medication, meditation, and counseling is a big piece of the puzzle, you shouldn’t forget that downtime and self-enjoyment now and again are also good for the soul.
Developing an interest in particularly soothing hobbies that allow you to relax without the use of substances – hobbies just like the ones listed below – can help you to remain on the right path while still having fun.
Crocheting & Knitting
Crocheting, knitting, and other hooking crafts (no, not THAT kind) enjoy a robust and dedicated following. In a world that’s increasingly oversaturated by technology, there’s just something soothing about using a crochet hook to delicately stitch together neat little lines of soft yarn, especially if it’s in your favorite color.
Because hooking crafts require the mind’s attention so dearly, forcing it to focus on each stitch, many hobbyists find it incredibly soothing. The constant, well-organized laying down of stitches can lend a feeling of order and control to you when you may feel like you’re losing control of your emotions.
CNN reports that crafting, particularly crocheting and knitting, can improve self-efficiency, boost mood, and even make it easier for you to handle stress and problem-solve down the road.
Gardening & Growing Plants
Got a green thumb? If not, you can cultivate one quite easily, and the benefits of doing so just might be quite vast. Whether you fill a garden in the backyard or just have a single spider plant growing in your bedroom, interacting with plants can be a soothing and relaxing experience. The simple act of caring for another living thing can be immensely soothing, as can surrounding yourself with elements of nature. It brings us back to our center, reminding us of what matters most – that we, too, belong to this world, and can influence it positively when we put forth the effort.
There’s even at least some evidence that making regular contact with dirt (getting your hands dirty) may stimulate the production of serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. The real cause, of course, isn’t the dirt if so; it’s a little bacterium called M. vaccae that’s found within the dirt instead. Absorbed into the body, either through the skin or any other method, M. vaccae seems to trigger a rise in serotonin in the brain – one that’s much steadier and lower in spikes than medication alone.
Though the research is still in progress, if it’s true, M. vaccae could help people with anxiety to worry less, handle stress better, and feel more positive about their lives.
ASMR (or Ambient Music)
What do the sound of crinkling candy wrappers, bubble wrap, fizzy hair mousse, and someone tapping long nails have in common? They all fall under a strange and fascinating new hobby called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).
Though the name’s a mouthful, it simply refers to a strange and tingly feeling felt in the back of the scalp or the spine in response to stimuli – often music or video. People who suggest that they experience ASMR while listening to certain sounds or watching certain videos claim that doing so is intensely relaxing, sometimes to the point at which it lulls them to sleep.
The practice hails back for decades in the form of nature sound recordings, rain recordings, and even ambient music, and falls under the same sort of self-stimulating/self-soothing behavior that often benefits those who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorders or ADHD. In fact, both ASD and anxiety disorders share a common symptom: sensory overload that triggers meltdowns, often in the form of anxiety attacks.
So how does it work? The answer is “simple.” ASMR media often contains simplified sounds and images isolated and recorded with extreme clarity. Movements and noises are slow, drawn-out, and may mimic ocean waves, breathing, or a heartbeat pace. This allows the brain to focus on the simplified sounds rather than the potentially overwhelming sensory input all around you.
ASMR videos are generally safe, enjoyable, and accessible to just about everyone in recovery. But there is one small caveat: everyone’s triggers are different. One person can be utterly horrified by mouth sounds (misophonia), while another finds them enchanting. Others find tapping more of an annoyance rather than a treasure, or can’t stand the sound of smoothing the hands over paper. Your ASMR triggers can also change over time depending on your mood.
Curious, but not sure where to start? Videos like WhispersRed’s “21 Triggers” contain a variety of popular options, like hair brushing and plastic crinkling, to help you explore whether ASMR is right for you. Put the video on and relax in your favorite chair while you listen.
Coloring (No Matter Your Age)
Yes, that’s right – we’re telling you not only is it okay to break out the crayons and coloring books and plop yourself down for a coloring session; it’s recommended, too. Coloring seems to have almost meditative effects on the brain, and scientists have been able to demonstrate why through studies. The “why” is answered by brain scans that show both the brain’s primary logic and creativity areas lighting up at the same time.
At its most basic, it engages so much of the brain that it distracts us from our worries and calms down the amygdala, which is often responsible for anxiety attacks and heightened emotional response in the first place.
Coloring with our favorite colors or happy, calming shades like baby blue, grass green, and bright orange may even have a secondary beneficial effect on mood. This is the very basis for Color Psychology.
Getting started is as easy as grabbing the closest pack of crayons and a blank sheet of paper. Or, print your own coloring pages online and create a notebook you can take with you wherever you go.
Writing (Journaling, Poems, or Stories)
A great many people who enter recovery end up taking up writing in one way or another. Some journal, keeping track of their thoughts, goals, and dreams, while others, like Bert Pluymen, go on to write books like “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Sobriety” that help people in recovery to find their own footing.
Whichever you choose, getting your thoughts and ideas out on paper can be an extremely beneficial therapeutic activity, especially for anxious thoughts.
Writing falls under the classification of “expressive therapy,” meaning its benefit stems completely from the ability to release pent-up worries, thoughts, and feelings in a safe and healthy manner. In the case of PTSD and other traumatic events (including anxiety attacks), studies like this one show that people who wrote about it in a journal had “significantly better physical and psychological outcomes” than those in the control group who didn’t write at all.
But the best thing about writing therapy is that it remains entirely up to you if you share it with the world, your therapist, your recovery group, or just the diary itself. For many people, that means having a quiet, safe space to let go of negative feelings without feeling the need to explain yourself at the same time.
When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, or you’re overwhelmed with generalized anxiety, try writing down how you feel. Don’t correct things like spelling, grammar; they don’t matter. Just allow yourself 15 to 30 minutes to offload everything that’s been bothering you onto paper. It can help you to look at the situation from a more rational and measured perspective.
Recovery is hard work – particularly hard if you happen to struggle with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, too. It’s all too easy to slip into old, harmful self-soothing patterns if we don’t check ourselves and dedicate ourselves to good self-care. Cultivating enjoyable and therapeutic hobbies like the ones listed above is just the start; don’t forget that counseling, staying hydrated, eating well, and getting enough rest is important, too.