Why do we describe our traumas and negative experiences as heart-wrenching, coldhearted, heartless, or disheartening? Why can frights and panic cause a heart attack? Why do we assign adjectives like heartfelt, heartwarming, and kind-hearted to moving moments or pleasant people?
As we make our way through the month of love, it’s time to focus our attention on the heart. The heart is both an essential organ and a way to refer to our emotional headquarters. It’s key to our physical, emotional, and love lives. Those in addiction recovery enjoy the sense of renewed health and energy that comes when the heart and other organs repair themselves from the damage caused by substances. Yet recovery can bring its own dangers to the heart, particularly in the form of stress.
Stress produces hormones such as adrenaline. Adrenaline is awesome–when we need to run from a charging bear or extinguish a sudden kitchen fire. But when we’re not trying to escape danger, adrenaline can be extremely damaging to our hearts.
Because the heart remembers, it stores the memory and the effect of frequent adrenaline release over time. This adrenaline imprint may cause the heart to change its shape and lead to heart failure and death. Over time, chronic stress weakens the heart. This weakening creates a slew of health problems and puts us at risk in numerous ways.
Recovering from addiction is stressful. Anxiety, insomnia, and depression can set in, and the big life changes required for long-term sobriety can take their toll. Taking care of oneself in recovery is in large part about handling stress.
Unfortunately, we can’t control when we experience stress. Stressful situations will always arise. What we can control is our reaction to stress, which is what our heart later remembers and responds to.
Reducing Stress Where You Can
You’ve heard the advice: take a breath and count to ten; go for a walk; find a yoga studio; meditate and practice mindfulness. All of these are wonderful methods that can help you calm down from a stressful moment or day, slow and steady your heartbeat, and relax your muscles.
Here are some other, practical ways to reduce the triggers for stress in your life:
Simplify, simplify, simplify
The less stuff in our lives, the less stress we’ll experience. Try cleaning out and decluttering your living space and work space. If you’re feeling stressed about how much you have to do, evaluate what truly must be done and what can wait or be dismissed altogether.
Make nature a part of your living space
Depictions of natural beauty lift the mood. House plants, natural light, pictures of nature, pets: all of these things can uplift us and reduce stress.
Surround yourself with objects or memorabilia that carry value for you. If a certain work of art speaks to you, include it in your environment. If you love seeing pictures of family, friends, or your partner, have framed photos nearby.
Let Us Help
Here at St. Gregory Recovery Center, we strive to create and promote an environment of virtue in which all clients and staff can thrive. If you are struggling with addiction, consider your heart. Our kind-hearted, nonjudgmental treatment can help you heal both your emotions and your physical body. Contact us today to discuss your situation and find out about next steps.