Staying calm feels antithetical to many of us who struggle with addiction issues. After all, the only time we think that stay calm “counts” is when we don’t really feel like being calm at all. How do we build up the “calmness muscle” and what’s the virtue in it, anyway?

Staying Calm When You Don’t Feel Like It

Keeping calm doesn’t make my top ten list of personal traits. I wish it did, and I’m working on it. Keeping your cool helps in recovery in three huge ways. First, anger is the death of calmness, but anger rises and peaks within 30 to 90 seconds. Second, staying calm helps you actually choose a way to deal with things instead of flying directly into ill advised action. Lastly, calmness often allows situations to become clarified.

Most addicts I know and have treated tend to act off the cuff. Even when some actions we know well are going to get us in trouble, we go ahead with it because it feels right at the time. That brings up a major issue: doing what feels right isn’t always the best thing to do. There’s a lot of casual verbiage in our culture that says, “Do what feels right,” but for an addict, that turns into catastrophe all too easily.


motional (feelings): happy, sad, worried, depressed, angered, brooding, enraged, overjoyed

Cognitive (thoughts): concerned, logical, irrational, rational, planning, spontaneous,

Behaviors (actions we can see): adventurous, sedate, calculating, aggressive, controlled, introverted/extroverted

First, it’s helpful to calm your physiology so you reverse your stress response. When your stress response is triggered, you process information differently, you can feel physically and emotionally taxed, and if you don’t reverse your stress response, after a while you become susceptible to the effects of chronic stress. Try these strategies to calm down quickly, or these 5 minute stress relief strategies for some quick coping strategies.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

There are two main types of coping strategies: emotion-focused coping strategies and solution-focused coping strategies. The calming coping strategies I mentioned above are a quick version of the former type—emotion-focused coping strategies—but there are more in-depth emotion-focused strategies that can help with many of the major stressors that people face. These include coping strategies like maintaining a sense of humor and cultivating optimism, where the situation doesn’t change, but your perception of it does. These strategies are great to use in many of the situations you’ve mentioned where you have little ability to control what happens, and you need to see your stressors as a challenge instead of a threat, or change the way you respond to your circumstances in order to diffuse some of the stress involved. See this article on coping with stress for more on emotion-focused coping strategies as well as the next category I’ll discuss.

Solution-Focused Coping Strategies

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to change a situation, but often you’ll find an opportunity to take action and actually change the circumstances you face. These types of solution-focused coping strategies can be very effective for stress relief; often a small change is all that’s required to make a huge shift in how you feel. For one thing, one change can lead to other changes, so that a chain reaction of positive change is created, opportunities are opened up, and life changes significantly. Also, once action is taken, the sense of being trapped with no options—a recipe for stress—can dissipate quickly. It’s important to be thoughtful about which actions to take, as each situation may call for a unique solution, but a less-stressed mind (see coping strategies in the calming category) can more easily choose the most beneficial course of action.