Dealing with Stress in Recovery – Part I

by Kay Sheppard, LMHC

If a group of people in recovery listed the problems they face and then looked at the common factors on their lists, one commonality would be that everyone experiences stress. Despite the fact that everyone experiences stress, some people are happy and others are unhappy.

What is the difference between happy and unhappy recovering people? The answer involves something other than stress, because everyone experiences stress on a daily basis.

One difference between these groups is that the coping strategy of happy people works. Unhappy people don’t cope effectively.

Stress Plus Ineffective Coping Equals Unhappiness.
Stress plus Effective Coping Equals Happiness.

What constitutes an effective coping strategy?

A coping strategy is a combination of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When we experience a stressful disturbance, we tell ourselves something, we feel something, and then we do something.

In the past, those of us with food addictions “ate over the stress.” Those who stay in recovery have to find a better way to deal with the disturbance and the feelings that surface.

What can we do to change our coping strategy?

Twelve Step Meetings

One place recovering people learn about coping effectively is at 12 step meetings. Often, the discussion topic at meetings addresses living life on life’s terms. Learning to deal with the stressful part of life by acting rather than reacting is a lesson meetings teach us.

Learning, understanding, and implementing the principles and practices of the 12 steps leads the recovering person into a life both spiritually and psychologically sound.

OA, HOW OA, RFA and FAA are all programs that support recovery from food addiction through various approaches to recovery. Recovery, Inc, although not exclusively for food addicts, teaches coping skills in a very effectively.


Acceptance is another principle discussed in recovery meetings. Imagine for a moment what the practice of absolute acceptance could do for us! If we could practice acceptance at its highest level, no problem could exist for us. In the state of pure acceptance there could be no expectations, criticism, blame, judgment, anger, hostility, fear, self-righteousness, condemnation, or any other negative state we could describe — only peace.

On a more practical note however, since no one reaches perfection, the degree of acceptance we are able to practice brings with it the same degree of peace. Read page 449 of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous ,for a view of acceptance.

A Daily Inventory

A daily inventory of life is a cinch by the inch and hard by the yard! That is why it is a good idea to evaluate our recovery process daily, before life swings out of control.

When we see that our decisions, behaviors, attitudes, and motives are effective, we evaluate and endorse them. When we see they are ineffective, we evaluate and correct them. With the help of the members in our support network, we can develop interventions to deal with our ineffective choices.

Sadly, some food addicts report they use their inventory to “beat themselves up.” Such an inclination is counterproductive to recovery. In inventory taking, we avoid guilt-promotion by realizing our inventory is about growth and change. It is not about being “good or bad.”

We strive to remember the course of our recovery is one of progress, not perfection. We can neither know we are making progress, nor can we halt destructive process, unless we are honestly aware of our daily choices.

An evening review of our daily activities aids in the identification of actions that either add or detract from the growth process. This daily evaluation keeps us from developing destructive patterns that will undermine our recovery process.

Have a Plan
To take an inventory, we must start with a realistic recovery plan composed of those elements we need to maintain physical abstinence plus emotional and spiritual growth. A food addict’s list would include 12 step recovery meetings, sponsor contacts, food management guidelines, telephone calls, recovery literature, prayer, service, and a 12 step study program. Individuals add their own important “musts” to the list in the areas of deportment, spiritual growth, building life skills, and therapy.

Evaluate and Endorse
We evaluate our conduct against our own rules. With the help of our sponsor, we develop a checklist determining what constitutes our most effective recovery program. We then use the checklist for our evening inventory.