April 24, 2023 By Leah Malone

Fostering Emotional Strength in Recovery


Emotional regulation is a skill that is necessary for proper functioning and well-being throughout life. When a person is in recovery from substance abuse or other mental health disorders, they must reflect on how their emotional distress may have contributed to the development of their self-destructive behaviors. Further, they must recognize the role that emotional strength can play in their lasting healing and sobriety.

Compared to men, women may experience more severe problems with emotional regulation as a result of hormonal and chemical imbalances in the brain. Women in recovery must understand why such dysfunctions tend to affect them and their recoveries differently. Essentially, this can help women seek the proper knowledge and resources they need to foster emotional strength throughout their lives.

Understanding Emotional Strength

The way a person feels can affect all aspects of their functioning. For example, if a person feels sad, they may feel unmotivated to engage in social activities. In turn, this can affect their ability to carry out tasks and interfere with their interpersonal relationships.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, “Emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.” Emotional wellness – also referred to as emotional strength or emotional awareness – is important because it allows individuals to properly acknowledge their own emotions. Additionally, it can help individuals to ponder intrusive and problematic thoughts without actively trying to resist, numb, or avoid them.

Poor Emotional Health and Substance Abuse

Anyone can struggle with their emotional health from time to time. This is because life is both uncertain and unpredictable. For example, a person may lose their loved ones without warning, be let go from a job they thought was their purpose, or cut ties with a friend they thought would be around forever. These circumstances can shake people to their core and cause lasting emotional damage.

While no one can avoid the circumstances that trigger poor emotional health, people are responsible for navigating them and integrating them into their lives. Unfortunately, however, many people are not equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to do this effectively. As a result, many individuals may turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate their emotional distress. Further, over time and through repeated substance use, individuals become more likely to develop substance use disorder (SUD).

The presence of unresolved trauma toppled with SUD or other co-occurring mental illnesses worsens the trajectory of an individual’s overall health. Not only do they have to address and overcome the root causes of their substance use, but they also need to navigate the various harms their substance use has caused. Fortunately, treatment programs can provide individuals with the education and resources they need to strengthen emotional regulation and, ultimately, prevent future relapse.

Challenges of Emotional Strength for Women

Both women and men are prone to mental health disorders and emotional distress. However, according to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), “Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression.” Additionally, “Women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.” The OWH points out that these gender differences in emotional distress may be related to hormonal imbalances, particularly stress hormones. The organization explains, “Long-term stress especially is more likely to cause problems with moods and anxiety in women.”

The pressures of female gender roles coupled with chemical susceptibilities often cause women to experience a great deal of emotional distress throughout their lifetimes. When this emotional distress is left unaddressed in treatment, it increases an individual’s risk of relapse long-term.

Increasing Emotional Strength in Recovery

Fostering emotional strength in recovery requires more than merely learning and utilizing stress reduction techniques. Although these techniques are essential, stress is not the only emotion worth addressing. Emotional strength empowers individuals to create space for themselves to truly – and fully – feel all the emotions that may come their way throughout recovery and beyond. Oftentimes, this requires the recurrent use of mindfulness practices.

Participate in Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices provide a plethora of benefits for an individual’s overall wellness, including improved emotional regulation and intelligence. Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in a given moment. Despite what individuals may believe, mindfulness can be accomplished anywhere at any time.

Mindfulness practices – such as meditation, yoga, and breathwork – can provide more intentional opportunities for fostering emotional strength in recovery. Setting aside time to focus solely on one’s breath can reduce the intensity of perceived stressors as well as offer space for an individual to express any emotional blockages throughout recovery.

Utilize Expressive Outlets

Another way to foster emotional strength in recovery is by utilizing expressive outlets. Some examples of expressive emotional outlets may include:

  • Art or art therapy
  • Music or music therapy
  • Photography
  • Movement such as dance or exercise
  • Poetry
  • Journaling

These outlets provide endless opportunities for individuals to effectively acknowledge and process challenging emotions. Oftentimes, holistic treatments such as art therapy are incorporated into an individual’s treatment and recovery plans to complement traditional treatment approaches. By using these outlets, individuals can feel more confident in their ability to manage difficult emotions as they surface throughout recovery.

Consider Using Additional Strategies

In addition to the suggestions mentioned above, the NIH suggests (in the page referenced at the beginning of the article) the following six strategies for improving emotional health and wellness:

  • Build resilience: This includes learning healthy coping mechanisms and utilizing support resources within the community.
  • Reduce stress: This involves learning stress management techniques and prioritizing self-care practices.
  • Be mindful: This involves being fully present in the moment.
  • Get quality sleep: This includes creating a sound sleep environment and practicing consistent sleep habits.
  • Cope with loss: This includes leaning in on friends, family, and other supports.
  • Strengthen social connections: This involves strengthening interpersonal, communication, and conflict-resolution skills as well as sharing healthy habits with loved ones.

Emotional strength is the ability to effectively navigate life’s challenges as they surface. Those in recovery from substance abuse and mental health disorders can foster emotional strength by practicing mindfulness, utilizing expressive outlets, and learning coping skills. Treatment will help individuals with emotional strength by helping them address problematic patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in their lives. Grace Recovery offers transitional living homes that include life skills coaching, experiential recovery coaching, case management, and more, for women in recovery from addiction and underlying trauma. Our vision is to provide the connections, guidance, and support that you need to create a self-sufficient, prosperous, and meaningful life in sobriety. To learn more, call us today at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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