Stress is inherent to any workplace, but when you are in the addiction treatment industry, stress becomes a significant component of your day. It is truly admirable how addiction treatment professionals are able to endure so much stress. Their job stress can be cumulative and chronic, building over time. Having heavy caseloads or working with challenging problems or challenging clients is not easy. In fact, a 2018 CNN Money survey reports that 85% of addiction counselors report that their job is stressful.
Being a witness to other people’s deepest challenges, and frequently, their traumas, can take its toll. The stress of managing treatment often can be carried home, out of the workplace. There may be carry-over effects into their own physical health, emotional health, personal lives, and relationships. It may affect how counselors take care of themselves and have consequences to their sleep as well as other health behaviors and decisions, including their own substance use.
Stress Management Strategies
Despite these realities, there are many things that addiction counselors can do to manage stress in addiction treatment aftercare and prevent these outcomes. Four important strategies to manage stress include openly acknowledging your own stress, building and practicing healthy self-care habit, connecting to others, and using tools and technology that make your job easier.
1. Openly Acknowledge Your Own Stress
It’s understandable to feel stress and it’s important to let yourself recognize when stress is negatively affecting you. Professionals who are more self-aware of how their workplace demands and stresses of the job are affecting them are in a better position to do something about it. Challenge yourself to become a more astute observer of your emotions and your own behavior. Check in with yourself using awareness exercises, and allow yourself to be honest, even when that means letting down your guard. For example, you could ask yourself these questions:
- How is my work affecting me right now?
- Am I doing things right now that are either self-destructive or counter-productive?
- Am I needing to do something differently, or am I needing to step away?
Allowing yourself to answer these questions honestly for yourself and increasing your self-awareness will lend to the opportunity to approach your stress differently.
2. Build and Practice Healthy Self-Care Habits
Pay attention to your own self-care habits, or how you regularly take care of yourself and attend to your many needs. This may include focusing on sleep, diet, physical appearance, physical activity, spiritual, or emotional goals or needs. Create habits and nurture your whole self.
Self-care should be ongoing, rather than a time-limited and compartmentalized practice. Essentially, self-care habits can become career-sustaining activities. Developing good habits of self-care is important to better serve the needs of others. Being a counselor asks you to put your focus on others, but self-care shifts the focus to you.
If you are not regularly practicing self-care, this may seem daunting and not realistic. The best way to change self-care habits is by practicing these skills. Just like other skills you’ve learned throughout your life, self-care skills require practice. When attempting to change a behavior, start small. Small steps help overcome barriers to changing unhealthy habits. Making even a small change feels good. This change can be reinforcing, which boosts motivation. Motivation will then make the change more likely to occur in the future, and eventually the behavior will be triggered without your even thinking about it. Starting or ending your day with even 5 minutes of meditation, taking a brief walk at some point during the day, or taking a few minutes to get up and stretch during the day are small practices you may consider adding.
3. Connect with Others
One of the most effective ways to buffer the negative effects of stress is to turn to a support network. When we bottle up emotions and keep them inside, eventually they will seep out, often in ways that are not healthy. Taking advantage of healthy relationships, social supports and personal therapy can help to ease ongoing stress and allow for an outlet. There may be others in our lives, co-workers, friends, or family, that can empathize with your challenges or support you when most needed. If and when your needs increase or you notice that the negative effects of your stress have carried over into other areas of your life, it can be useful to reach out for professional support to help you increase your coping skills or talk through your emotions.
4. Use Tools and Technology That Make Your Job Easier
A great way to keep stress low when working with your clients is to know the right tools to use in order to make your job easier. With the rise of telehealth in the healthcare industry, there are many new pieces of technology that can help you reduce your workload, ultimately reducing stress. Some examples include organizational web portals, video-based therapy, and remote alcohol monitoring. Organizational web portals help you keep all of your clients organized. It can help you manage a large number of clients, so you don’t have to stress about remembering every detail or losing your hand-written notes. Video-based therapy allows you to treat clients without physically having to be there. Although face-to-face therapy is best, videos help you stay in front of your client in times of need without the stress of actually having to go meet them.
Finally, for clients with Alcohol Use Disorder, remote alcohol monitoring systems such as Soberlink can help you stay connected to their recovery journey. The system documents sobriety with a portable device that includes facial recognition and tamper detection, so you don’t have to stress whether clients are being truthful about their alcohol recovery. The system also automatically sends alerts of test results and detailed reports, so you don’t have to manually enter data.
Using the right tools keeps stress low, so you can focus on helping your clients.
About the Author
Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice specializing in health psychology, health behavior, anxiety, stress, and coping. Additionally, she consults on and writes about a variety of mental health, relationship, and prevention-focused topics, which she shares on her website www.smarthealthpsych.com and social media @smartpsychreads.