CEUnits Blog

Stress: Coming Home to Homeostasis

March 16th, 2022

Stress is a physiological and psychological process that helps us manage our day-to-day lives. For most of us, the stress response is a defense mechanism that helps us to deal with multiple daily threats. After the threat, or the perceived threat, has passed, our hormones rebalance and we feel relaxed and safe. We return to a state of homeostasis. Our ability to easily return to homeostasis depends on our resilience.

People who are well adapted to deal with stress often display high levels of resilience. Resilience is our capacity to recover from stress, adapt to change, and maintain homeostasis even when facing stressors. There are multiple factors that determine resilience, but our lifetime exposure to stress has a big impact. Overexposure to stress can mean we are less well-equipped to deal with it. 

When people experience prolonged periods of stress, it can become harder for the body to find its way home to homeostasis. Prolonged exposure may be caused by socio-economic factors, trauma, and addiction.  


Stress and Addiction: A Vicious Cycle

Stress itself can actually help build resilience. It only becomes problematic when our bodies aren’t able to pull us out of the stress response to reach homeostasis. When we stay in the stress response for too long, we can develop symptoms of acute and chronic stress. 

Both acute and chronic stress are key contributors to addiction. Substance abuse and misuse can also trigger maladaptive tendencies across our brain, body, behavior, and social functioning. This results in a dysregulated physiological state which limits our capacity for homeostasis. For people struggling with addiction, stress can perpetuate a cycle that is hard to escape from. Stress causes an increased dependency on alcohol and certain drugs, and these substances in turn reduce our capacity to deal with stress. This is why stress can so often trigger a relapse for people who are in recovery. 


Building Resilience with Embodied Self Awareness

People struggling with addiction, and those who are in recovery, can develop their resilience by fostering embodied self-awareness. This means they can practice noticing their physiological responses to stress. They come into a relationship with their stress response, meaning they are better placed to work with, rather than against it.

Nkem Ndefo developed the Resilience Toolkit to help people recognize when they are in a stress response. The toolkit is founded on somatic psychology and helps people to build their capacity for homeostasis and resilience. When people feel triggered, stressed, or upset, there are three questions they can ask themselves to help them better understand what stress feels like.

  • What is my stress level now, and how do I know? 
  • What is happening at this moment and how does it feel in my body?
  • Is my stress level helpful?

These questions seek to help people notice what their unique experience of stress is, so they can recognize it when it appears. This means that they can begin to develop means to deal with stress, as it arises. This helps it dissipate quicker, which means the body relearns how to reach homeostasis. It also helps to value the stress response. If we befriend the stress response, we can work with it. That means finding our way easily back to homeostasis.


Rebuilding Family Relationships On The Road to Recovery

March 16th, 2022

Addiction infiltrates families. Relationships with parents, siblings, grandparents, and more, are often damaged. The recovery process is so much harder for people who no longer have the support of their families. 

But the road to recovery can be a way to rebuild familial bonds. And, what better way to rebuild relationships than through the recovery process? It can be the beginning of a new relationship built on mutual respect and trust.

If you work with people in recovery, then here are some tips to share with family members who are ready and able to support their loved ones. 

  • The best thing family members can do is be supportive and helpful. This doesn’t mean being a pushover but doing what they can to support recovery. This might mean driving them to appointments. It might mean helping them to create a schedule for medication. It might mean sharing online meetups, helping to build and create a network of support. Nobody should force anyone to do anything they don’t want to. But if a family member/friend asks for support in the recovery process, it’s important to let them know they have it. It makes the road to recovery much less daunting. It helps them to know they don’t have to do this alone. 
  • Encourage family members to engage with the therapeutic process of recovery. Say hello to family members when they drop off and collect their relation at therapy. Demystify the therapeutic process. You can encourage your client to recruit the support of different family members. You might even invite family members to some sessions, depending on the modality you’re using. 
  • Often, people seeking recovery will try lots of different treatments. Not all of them are going to work. But that doesn’t mean people should be discouraged from trying! Encouraging support is a beautiful way to rebuild relationships. It will help the person in recovery to believe that they can keep trying different options, knowing they will be supported even if it doesn’t work out. 
  • Many situations can be triggering for people in recovery. Being sensitive to their unique needs will help them to stay in control. Family members should avoid inviting the person in recovery to situations where alcohol or drugs are present. Especially during the early stages of recovery. At the same time, it’s important for people to feel safe, capable, and in control around alcohol. Family gatherings can support this, at the right time. Celebrating (soberly) with family who may be drinking can be empowering for people in recovery when they are ready. 
  • Have your client discuss their stress triggers with their family. This will help the family to identify when the person in recovery may be dealing with extra pressure, so they can offer more support. This support might mean making it clear that they’re available if the person needs them. Or, it might be a more active intervention to help manage the stressor. This will help your client feel resourced and may help prevent a relapse.