Coping with Serious Stress the Sober Way

You know how it goes. When you’re drinking, the bottle becomes the answer to every question — it will be there beside you during your most jubilant celebrations and in your darkest moments. Alcohol, your constant companion, is also the first thing you reach for when you’re stressed.

All that changes when you make the brave decision to stop drinking and embrace a sober life. The question is, how do you cope with severe stress when you’ve decided to part ways with alcohol?

Let’s take a look at some practical, healthy ways to reduce your stress levels, both long-term and in the moment.

1. Exercise

A regular exercise routine can help you keep your stress levels in check, especially if you pick an activity you love. Working out lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body, as well as lifting your mood and improving your overall cognitive power.

You don’t have to be at the gym five days a week to benefit, though. Physical activity is also an effective way to reduce temporary stress. Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed, angry, or craving a drink, some moderate exercise can help you feel better.

You could maybe try out:

  • A brisk walk
  • 15 minutes on an exercise bike
  • Some burpees, jumping jacks, or ab crunches

2. A Shoulder to Cry On

Reaching out to loved ones and others in your support network is another effective way to deal with the stresses of daily life — so long as they’re supportive of your sobriety.

Most people want to be helpful, but it’s always a good idea to be clear about what you’re after. We all welcome suggestions about ways to problem-solve sometimes, but there are also times when we just want to vent.

If it’s venting you’re after, sharing your frustrations may clear your mind and lift your mood in as little as 15 minutes. That’s the power of social connection!

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3. Guided Meditation

Meditation is another proven stress relief technique. Mindfulness meditation, which focuses on being fully present in the moment without judgment, is an especially powerful way to cultivate positive thinking and gratitude.

There’s no denying that meditation is a learned skill, however. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you risk sitting there, allowing your brain to start wandering and ending up in dark places.

Why not try some of the countless guided meditation programs you can find online instead? Many guided meditation videos are free, and they’ll help you release stress while mastering the art of meditation.

4. Mindful Mealtime

(Full disclosure: Yes, we just made up the term “mindful mealtime.)

We all experience healthy stress on a regular basis, but unhealthy stress comes from problematic situations we feel powerless to resolve — or from having too much on our plates.

Knowing that you’ll be able to switch off from all your responsibilities three times a day, every day, can have a surprising impact on your mental health and stress levels. We all have to eat. Why not turn mealtime into your personal oasis of peace?

Switch your electronic devices off. Promise yourself you won’t ruminate about the challenges you face. If you’re eating with others, agree to keep the conversation positive — perhaps share what you’re grateful for that day, for example. Above all, savor every bite and know that this time is yours.

Your problems will still be waiting for you when you’re finished enjoying your meal, but you may just be more ready to tackle them!

5. Set Boundaries

Here’s a big one. Much of the stress we face comes from the demands others place on us. The expectations we set for ourselves are, of course, another major culprit.

Challenging yourself is excellent, and fulfilling your responsibilities is a key part of living a healthy adult life. However, too many people find themselves in situations where they can’t handle everything they take on.

Being overworked becomes a significant source of stress in that case, and a well-placed “no” can lift your burden. So, you don’t feel up to attending that dinner party with your new neighbors (especially if they’ll be serving alcohol)? You don’t really want to work this weekend?

Use healthy boundary setting to destress yourself.

6. Practice Self-Care

Restorative sleep, leisure time to engage in hobbies, and healthy eating can — in combination — do a lot to relieve stress. Get yourself into a routine that works. A solid structure is especially important during the early stages of recovery when every stressful situation represents an increased risk of relapse.

Your structure might involve daily meetings, at least eight hours of sleep, structured hobbies like golf, a martial arts class, or a book club, and simple meals designed to meet your nutritional needs. Whatever your unique schedule looks like, don’t be afraid to center your health. You’re worth it, and your recovery may depend on your willingness to place yourself first (for a time).

7. Fresh Air and Nature

Research has shown that spending as little as 20 minutes in nature can significantly lower your stress levels and improve your mood. If you’re nature-starved, there are plenty of ways to get your fix:

  • Take a leisurely walk in a beautiful public park
  • Go hiking
  • Get yourself some houseplants — they purify the air in your home and lift your spirits
  • Visit a botanical garden
  • Don’t forget to open your windows every day for at least 15 minutes to let fresh air into your home

Some people are better able to enjoy nature if they don’t just stare at it but actively engage with it. If you’re one of them, try joining a bat-watching walk, get yourself an allotment to grow some vegetables if you don’t have a garden, or consider getting a dog you could take on long walks.

8. Laugh!

People don’t say that laughter is the best medicine for no reason. Laughing can boost your immune system, relieve pain, soothe tense muscles, improve your mood, and reduce stress.

Are you not sure you have something to laugh about? Challenge yourself to find the humor in any situation — and watch plenty of cheesy comedy shows if you have to. Laughter is as contagious as stress, and it gets easier with time!

A Final Word

Dealing with stress is especially difficult during the early stages of recovery when it’s hard to imagine that there are solutions beyond booze. As you practice healthy coping mechanisms, however, you’ll quickly discover that the world is filled with healthy stress relief options.

Try them all, and see what works for you!

While you’ll strengthen your ability to deal with daily stress the alcohol-free way over time, some situations are, of course, too tricky to handle on your own. In this case, never be afraid to seek professional help or find solace in your recovery group.

Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.