Here you will find ideas, information and techniques which are of value and are known to make the recovery process more manageable. Depending on your symptoms (agitation, burning, twitching, etc.) you may find that some techniques will not work, but if you explore with an open mind you will find at least a few which feel ‘right’ and will help you to cope well.
This is a popular, well-received clip of Recovery & Renewal’s author, Bliss Johns giving tips on coping with withdrawal:
Some people find it challenging to focus for more than minutes at time during withdrawal and this makes learning something new quite difficult. If a new technique, positive self-talk, non-resistance or other recommendations are too much for you at any time during withdrawal, this is one other very important practice that, if used properly, will have a positive influence and help to calm your nervous system. Yes, if you can find just one simple breathing technique that works for you, you will be equipped with one of the most powerful coping tools. Here are some, a few of which are very simple.
Noticing your breath is a good place to start
Let your mind focus on your breath as you take air in and out slowly. You will begin to create a rhythm as you become more aware of your breathing pattern and it becomes steadier. One way to create a rhythm is to breathe in to the count of 1-2-3, pause 1-2-3, and slowly exhale to the count of 1-2-3-4-5-6. This is an easy process 3-3-6 which can eventually be increased to 4-4-8 as your find your rhythm and it begins to feel unforced. Another highly recommended pattern is the 4-7-8: breathe in to the count of 4, hold for 7 counts and exhale to the count of 8; again, it should feel unforced and natural.
Pursed lip breathing
This is another very simple, effective technique which you can use to control your breath and calm you:
Breathe in slowly through the nostrils to the count of 1-2 (not deep, a normal breath)
Purse your lips (as if blowing out a candle) and breathe out slowly through your pursed lips to the count of 1-2-3-4.
Overbreathing or hyperventilation occurs when one breathes deeper or faster than is necessary, often as a result of stress or anxiety. It is also a classic withdrawal symptom.
Many people are unaware of their overbreathing and do so even when they are relaxed. When a person overbreathes the body does not have enough time to retain the carbon dioxide and they end up having too much oxygen but are unable to utilise it due to this lack of carbon dioxide.
This can cause many problems including light-headedness, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, numbness and tingling in extremities, chest pain, sweating and even fainting. If you become aware that you are overbreathing there are several things you can do:
Breathe into a paper bag
Use a paper bag or a similarly expansible container and breathe in and out of it. This will force you to regulate your breathing and re-inhale the carbon-dioxide which you need.
Try diaphragmatic breathing
Sit or lie comfortably and place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. As you inhale feel your stomach move out against your hand and as you exhale your stomach will go in. Try to have a longer out-breath than in-breath. You can also breathe out with pursed lips through your mouth. For more detailed instructions please visit the Cleveland Clinic website (you will need to scroll down).
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
EFT is a psychological acupressure technique pioneered by Gary Craig. It evolved from Thought Field Therapy, created by US clinical psychologist, Roger Callahan. EFT is easy to learn and is reported to be effective in the treatment of pain management, respiratory problems, healing past traumas, neurological conditions, stress, phobias, eliminating cravings (weight loss/addictions) and many other disorders and emotional issues.
It is a very effective yet gentle method of directly balancing the body’s energy system. Using EFT involves ‘tuning into’ the issue you’d like to deal with and then tapping with your fingers on specific acupressure points with your fingers. For example if you’re concerned about a symptom, you would be asked to think about them, and notice how you feel. Having ’tuned in’ to it, you are shown which acupressure points to tap, and what words to say as you do so. You tap (firmly but not too hard) with your dominant hand using the fingertips of the index and middle fingers. The complete EFT manual by Gary Craig can be downloaded for free here.
Paula Kovacs specialises in benzodiazepine withdrawal and mental health recovery and has had personal experience with benzo dependency. She offers an easy listening audio CD (endorsed by Prof. Ashton) with very useful information for anyone preparing to taper or in the process of withdrawing. For more information please visit Paula’s website.
Here is a video of Paula Kovacs demonstrating how EFT can be used to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being in touch with the present moment. You intentionally observe and become aware of your subjective experience – your thoughts, sensations and feelings – without judgement. You can be mindful when eating, breathing, thinking, hearing, sitting, and in many other ways.
By sensing your breath, your body and your immediate environment, you remain fully present and aware, and mental distractions are effortlessly removed. Mindfulness is an excellent skill to practise when coping with withdrawal – a time when you may be prone to worrying thoughts about symptoms and recovery. It can be used to take a step back from your situation and to reduce the impact that withdrawal may be having on your life. It is also a valuable tool to use in everyday life.
A Simple Exercise
The following simple exercise will give you an idea of how mindfulness works. It is not used to stop the mind but it will help you to gently release any thoughts of the past or future and redirect your attention to the present moment by focusing on the breath.
- Find a comfortable position and close your eyes.
- Focus your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention first to the sensation of your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils.
- Feel your stomach/abdomen rise and fall as you breathe in and out… (rising when you inhale and falling as you slowly release the breath).
- Continue to focus your attention on the flow and rhythm of your body as you breathe in and out.
- If thoughts enter your mind (as they probably will), gently acknowledge them and return your focus to your breath.
- Do this for as long as you feel comfortable… for as long as it feels right for you.
The more you practise, the more natural it will feel and the longer you will be able to do it.
Move attention to the body
You can further extend this basic exercise by moving your attention to the body as you breathe. Place your awareness on one area at a time and notice the sensations. Does it feel cold, warm, tight, sore, tingling? Simply observe, again, without judgement. Just be present. Then start listening to the sounds around you, with no analysis or thoughts. If you find yourself doing this, gently acknowledge and bring your focus back. All you need to do is listen. Then when it feels right for you, prepare yourself to open your eyes and slowly do so.
Mindfulness can also be a good way of grounding yourself
After completing the above exercises, you can ground yourself by doing this: Slowly open your eyes and look around as if you are seeing for the first time. Settle your eyes on an object for about 15 to 30 seconds. Don’t analyse or evaluate it; just observe it. As you do this, maintain an awareness of your breathing, your body and any sounds around you. Then let your eyes rest on another object for a minute or two, until you are ready to get up.
This is much more powerful than you could ever imagine. Learning to speak positively or to use affirmative statements during withdrawal is extremely empowering. This has been the experience of many who have tried it. How you speak to yourself during withdrawal will strongly influence how well you cope. Being aware of your inner dialogue and gently changing a negative thought to a constructive and positive counter-thought is a good way of remaining optimistic.
Contrary to what some believe, there is nothing mystical or ‘new agey’ about this. We all use affirmations every day, whether we acknowledge that we do or not. A negative thought is as much an affirmation as a positive one. Repeatedly saying or thinking: This symptom just won’t go away, or I feel terrible are classic examples. Even the common ‘Affirmations don’t work’ is in itself an affirmation.
If nothing else, on a cognitive level, affirmations drown the worry thoughts and make room for more positive ones that fuel health and well-being. Even if you are unable to connect with your feelings because of emotional bluntness, instead of the energy going to thoughts of fear and dread, the focus will be on your healing and you will benefit.
Feeling your affirmations can be extremely powerful. The more energy you but into saying them, the better. By the time you’ve repeated a few affirmations, you will notice an amazing energy shift and the fear will be replaced by a knowing or acceptance that you are going to be well again. Despite the symptoms being present you will be responding differently. This is because you are now resonating with how you want to feel rather than being overwhelmed by fear and a focus on how you do not want to feel. This coping technique is very effective.
Try to get into the habit of noticing your thought patterns – not obsessively – just gently being aware of the worrying, anxious ones. (This works for withdrawal-induced thoughts as well.) Once you identify thoughts straying towards the symptoms, concerns or other fears, you can gently acknowledge them and, without judgement, say something such as: “It’s okay that I’m having these thoughts. I also know I am getting better.”
Here are a few positive affirmations. You can also make up your own. Affirm only what you want and don’t mention the symptoms; the focus is on wellness.
~ ‘My mind is sound and my body is healthy.’
~ ‘I am getting better and better each day.’
~ ‘I am grateful for my healing.’
~ ‘It is normal for me to be well.’
~ ‘Every nerve, cell, tissue, organ and muscle of my body is now repaired and healthy.
~ ‘I radiate perfect health.’
Sometimes it can be challenging to believe that such a simple technique can be so powerful. The man mind is indeed powerful and it is good that we can choose our thoughts. As you begin to explore the use of affirmations and they start to feel ‘right’, you will feel lighter. A fun element will creep in where you end up enjoying using them in every area of your life.
There are many other techniques which are proven to help with managing anxiety, insomnia, depression and other conditions for which antidepressants and benzos are prescribed. Below are a few ideas and resources which we hope will help you to find a useful, drug-free way of coping. Those listed here are reported to help with anxiety and stress related issues. The links have been included so you can check them out if interested.
For anyone experiencing feelings of anxiety, depersonalisation and/or derealisation, the following are good, effective techniques which may help you to feel grounded and more connected:-
Feel your feet on the floor (take your shoes off if appropriate), and become aware of your bottom on the chair – mentally note the sensation, the weight and the connection and stay with it for a while.
Look around you – notice the colour of the wall, are there any paintings, any plants in the room? If there is a clock, notice the time and then remind yourself of what day of the week it is and the date.
Focus on your breathing and take deep slow breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth.
If you are outside, bring yourself to the present by becoming aware of the feel of the sun on your skin, or the rain if it’s raining. If you can, lean against a tree. Inhale the scents of the grass and other plants. Listen to the sounds around you.
Keep at least 3 items of different textures – something soft like a stuffed toy, something smooth, rubbery, rough etc. As you hold them let the feel register and connect with them through your sense of touch.
Imagine that your feet have roots that sink into the ground/earth. As you stand or sit really feel your feet making contact with the earth and deeply tune in to the connection. If appropriate, and you are able to take off your shoes when you do this it is even better.
Stroke your cat or dog and say what you’re doing while you do it… “I am stroking my cat..” Your pet may think you’re acting a bit ‘odd’ but who else is capable of such unconditional acceptance?
If you are finding your experience to be too overwhelming and are having thoughts of suicide or harming yourself in any way, please reach out to someone you trust and get help as soon as possible. You can also contact a confidential helpline: helpline worker (UK, US, worldwide) where you will be able to speak to someone who will listen without judgement. This website is also a very useful resource and you may find that it will to make you feel more hopeful and better equipped to handle feelings of despair. Whatever action you take, remember that thinking you are unable to cope doesn’t make it a reality. This is just a thought and nothing more. You do not have to act on it. Be assured that help is available and speaking to someone can make a remarkable difference. Look after yourself well, be gentle with yourself and take good care. This too, shall pass….