The Impact of Stress On Recovery: Positive and Negative

Tire pressure as analogy for stress in recovery / Photo by Getty Images / Unsplash

As I prepared to write this article, I was seeking to find a word that speaks about how I see the impact that stress has upon us and our recovery. The word that came to me was “tricky.” There can be too much stress in our lives that can lead to distress, and there can be too little stress that can leave us feeling lifeless. I invite you to come along as I try to lay out the positive and negative impacts of stress on our recoveries.

I was also searching for an image that might help in digging deeper into this theme. What came to me was a tire – like a car or bike tire. A tire can have too little air – like a flat tire – and it is very difficult to move the vehicle around. On the other hand, a tire can have too much air and it might explode. It is not good to have too little or too much air in our tires. As this applies to our theme of stress, it is not healthy to have too little or too much stress in our lives. Stress is a normal response to life situations, and there are really three ways to experience stress – too little, too much or just the right amount. What we need is analogous to a tire gauge that tracks how much air is in our tires, helping us determine what is the right amount of air. I see this especially in those of us in recovery, whose recovery is often impacted by the stresses we experience. I see three negative and three positive impacts that stress can have on our recoveries.

Negative impacts of stress


The first negative impact of stress – both too little and too much – is the tendency to isolate.  We can isolate because we lack the energy to reach out and do things to help our recovery – like attend a meeting or make a phone call. On the other hand, we feel over-stressed by work or commitments, and we fall back into addictive behaviors. I believe addiction flourishes in isolation.


A second impact of stress – either too little or too much – is the tendency to procrastinate. Here I see the impact of a kind of perfectionism. From this perspective, we might withdraw and vegetate on the couch because we fear making mistakes and are afraid of what others might think of us. Rather than risking looking imperfect and making mistakes – which can lead to a feeling of being over-stressed – we avoid this stress by doing nothing or spending long hours looking at our computer screens. This can also lead to feeling disconnected from others. Last May, the Surgeon General issued a report which said that one out of every two Americans are feeling lonely and disconnected. I believe feeling disconnected and alone creates its own kinds of stress.

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A third source of a negative impact of stress is shame. I believe shame is often the elephant in every addict’s living room that we seek to hide. It is often in mine! This shame is related to what we did or didn’t do as a result of our addictions. This can lead to hiding – trying to turn off stress – or engaging in our addictions as a way to deny our pain and shame, which can lead to feeling over-stressed.

So, isolation, procrastination and shame can be the result of too little or too much stress. Next, I will seek to suggest ways of getting just enough stress so that we can grow, remain in recovery, and share our talents and gifts with others.

Positive impacts of stress


One of the ways to overcome isolation is to make conscious choices to join a group or groups that will support us in our recovery. I believe a group is any group that is more than myself! 12 Step groups, other recovery groups, friends, therapists are examples of groups or communities that call us out of our isolation and help us find support in managing the stresses we are facing in our lives. At times, it is as simple as hearing someone else say, “I have been going through the same kind of experiences.” This often provides us with the message that we are not alone, which can ease our stress – the stress that we think we are the only one who is experiencing this. The misery of stresses – too little or too much – both loves and needs company and community.


One way to try to respond to our tendency to procrastinate is to work on a statement that seeks to name what we see as the purpose of our life. Living with some kind of purpose can help us manage our stresses as well as help us act – and not just wait and fail to act because we are afraid of making a mistake. This kind of a statement flows from what we value and believe. Making such a statement can often be empowering and keeps us focused on what we want to do. Such a statement can be revised as different things change in our lives.

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I see a powerful ingredient in our recovery and in managing stress which for me falls under the banner of self-care. The lack of self-care can often lead to increased stress. Getting good rest, eating healthy foods, exercising both physically and spiritually: All of these things can help us feel more energized and have the right amount of stress in our lives. Self-care can also help us in affirming our bodies and gaining confidence in ourselves, the lack of which can often lead to feelings of shame about ourselves.


Stress – too little or too much – is an issue in recovery. Some stresses can challenge us to grow and change and continue our commitment to our recoveries. Some stresses can be too much for us and lead us back into our addictions. I believe that we need communities, some sense of purpose and self-care to help us manage our stresses – a given in our lives today. They become the gauge that helps us determine whether we have too little or too much stress – or just the right amount of stress that keeps us growing and alive. And may your stresses help you – not hinder you – in your recovery.

Mark Scannell, an avid 12 Stepper, believes in dialogue about recovery issues and can be reached for dialogue at

Last Updated on April 20, 2024

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