High Stress Jobs – How to Cope Without Turning to Drugs and Alcohol
Many people face stress on the job.
Jobs in healthcare, law enforcement, and high-risk finance may not seem to have much in common. Yet these and other professions often result in easy burnout, mental health problems, and, for many, substance abuse. That’s not to say everyone working a high-stress job resorts to drugs and alcohol, but many feel they need to in order to manage the emotional and physical demands of these positions.
A study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse looked at the stress levels of those who served as rescue workers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. The study found that many of these people turned to drugs or alcohol to help them cope. Many didn’t just experience initial stress during those early days but developed chronic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Are You Using Drugs or Alcohol to Cope with Stress?
You don’t need to look to large-scale traumatic events or read a study to understand the impact of stress. We experience stress daily and look for ways to cope with it. Consider a few examples:
- You feel the need to get a drink after work before you go home so you can decompress
- You find yourself needing a smoke break (of any type of product) just to get through the next meeting
- You may have used drugs or alcohol at work to help you stay awake or to get more done.
While substances may relieve stress in the moment, using them regularly increases your risk of long-term substance use disorder. That’s detrimental to your health.
How Can You Cope with Stress, Then?
Coping with workplace stress isn’t easy. Depending on the situation, you may even need to leave your place of employment because of what it is doing to your health.
If you enjoy your work and take pride in it despite the stress it causes, consider a few ways to reduce your daily stress level and the impact it has on your life:
Practice relaxation strategies
During tense confrontations or when you have too many things racing through your mind, recognize the need to calm down. Here’s a simple exercise to move your mind out of the fight-or-flight status that stress hormones create:
Close your eyes and lean back in your chair. Starting with your legs and moving upward, tense each muscle group, hold for five seconds, then release and relax that muscle group for 20 seconds. Do this with each major muscle group in your body working your way up to your shoulders. As you work to release the muscle tension, think the word “relax.”
Adjust negative thoughts
It’s quite common for thoughts to swing toward the negative, especially when we’re under chronic stress in the workplace. We tend to assume the worst. For example, a call into the office makes us wonder if we’ll be reprimanded or fired. Try to catch these negative thoughts and look at the situation logically and focus on facts, not conjecture.
Focus on the present moment
In highly busy environments there’s often little time to do anything but focus on what is happening. You need your attention to be razor sharp. Stress causes that focus to deteriorate. That’s why it is so important to focus on just what is happening in the present moment. Try to push aside all thoughts of past or future. By being mindful, you will avoid some of the negative energy that comes from anxiety and panic in high-stress situations.
Find a Way to Decompress Every Day After Your Shift
Going home to bed may be your ultimate goal, but it is not always the best first step. It’s important to give your brain time to work through what you’ve experienced during the shift. Here are some ideas:
- Talk to someone about what you’ve experienced. Just having someone to talk with about your day can be beneficial.
- Unwind in a relaxing way, such as taking a hot shower or bath. Give your mind time to move on and process what’s happened.
- Journal. Many people find that writing down their thoughts and feelings allows them to process them better.
Once you get some rest and reset, find a way to further decompress and relax, such as:
- Go for a run or engage in some type of exercise that you find rewarding. This helps to release endorphins, which work to support positive thoughts.
- Laugh. Whether during a movie or just with friends, find a way to express yourself through laughter.
- Listen to music. For many people, the best way to combat stress is by putting your mind at ease with music.
There are many other things you can do, too. The goal is to find any way you can to let go. This way, you’re less likely to need to turn to drugs and alcohol for the mental break you’re seeking. If you’re struggling with addiction, turn to our drug and alcohol treatment programs for immediate help.
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