Addiction causes profound changes to a person’s brain biology, social environment, and ways of thinking about the world. As a result, individuals struggling with addiction are at a high risk of developing other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol are twice as likely as the general population to have a co-occurring mental health problem. As depression or anxiety can be triggers to use drugs or alcohol, it’s important to take small steps throughout the day to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
Diaphragmatic breathing refers to a special breathing technique shown to reduce anxiety. The diaphragm is a strong muscle in the abdomen that sits just below the lungs. During regular breathing, people may breathe relatively shallowly, increasing feelings of anxiety or shortness of breath. To perform diaphragmatic breathing, place one hand on the chest and one on the stomach. When breathing in, try to make the hand on the stomach move while keeping the chest steady. This ensures that slow, deep breaths are used. Breathe in, counting slowly to the number seven. Then breathe out for five counts, watching the hand on the stomach slowly move back toward the center of the body. This slow, rhythmic, deep breathing settles the heart rate and relaxes the mind.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Individuals struggling to reduce anxiety often report severe muscle tension. In fact, they may not even realize how tense their muscles are during day-to-day activities. To perform progressive muscle relaxation, a person slowly clenches a single muscle group and holds it tight for 10 to 15 seconds. Then they release the tension, allowing the muscle to relax. This technique allows deeper relaxation than other methods. Begin by clenching the toes downward, followed by flexing the foot upward, calf muscles, thighs, butt muscles, pulling abs tight, lifting shoulders upward, clenching the face into an exaggerated smile, lifting eyebrows high, flexing the arms, and clenching the hands into fists. Move slowly through each muscle group, focusing on how the tightening and relaxation feels. It should take approximately 10 minutes to move through the whole body.
Depression and anxiety often lead to runaway thoughts, in which a person ruminates or worries for hours at a time. Guided imagery calms the mind and decreases the power of these thoughts. Begin by sitting in a chair in a comfortable position, hands in your lap. Breathe slowly and think of a place associated with deep, complete relaxation. This may be a beautiful white sand beach with no one nearby or a warm bubble bath. Imagine that you are there, enjoying the deeply relaxing location. Think about what the place looks like and whether you hear any sounds. Also think about any smells, tastes, or sensations you experience. Perhaps you can feel a cool breeze across your face or the comfort of a beach chair beneath you. Continue the guided imagery for 10 minutes before gradually coming back to the present moment.
Getting aerobic exercise has been associated with positive outcomes in individuals with depression or anxiety disorders. Try to get the heart pumping for at least 20 minutes per day. This might include brisk walking, swimming, jogging, or dancing.