There are times when you need activities that bring your relaxation and allow for release. Exercise, writing, playing, creating, and reading are all examples of healthy behaviors that provide an escape—but only to a point. Some pursuits can quickly turn costly if the behavior causes harm or is used as a coping or escape mechanism or if it becomes an unhealthy obsession. If you find yourself engaged in costly addictive behaviors, then it’s time to create a positive change.
Here are some tips on how to identify addictive behaviors and get rid of them.
1. Heed the Warnings
Right off the bat, I’m going to urge you to gauge whether this behavior has become harmful to you or someone else. While this article is not designed to address or diagnose unhealthy addictive behaviors, it is a wake-up call.
If you or someone you know is compulsively engaging in a detrimental behavior, heed the warnings. Your first step should be to contact your local mental health provider or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline1-800-662-HELP (4357). Addictive behaviors that call for integrated treatment require more than self-help mechanisms and should always be handled by a professional.
2. Identify the Addiction
If the addictive behavior is something you can self-manage, then the first step is to put a label on it. Overeating, overworking, or spending too much time engaged in a hobby to the detriment of obligations are just a few examples.
I want to stress once more that even though these may often require professional support, some activities can help you thoughtfully manage them. Start by defining what that addictive behavior is. If you are over-stressed but find that eating gives you a pleasurable escape, then overeating may have evolved into that addictive behavior. If you are constantly on your phone or find yourself searching social media platforms all day long—and it’s not your job to do so—that could be a sign of another addictive behavior.
3. Understand the Addiction
The next step in getting rid of an addictive behavior is understanding whether or not it is classified as an addiction or simply a bad habit. If the behavior has a pull so strong that you cannot separate yourself from it for very long, odds are it’s an addiction and will require professional support.
If you can, say, turn your phone off for several days without feeling anxious, depressed, or acting out or uncomfortable, then it may be something that you can control. If it is simply a bad habit, then practice separating yourself from the behavior for stretches of time until you no longer turn to it as an instant stress-releaser.
4. Know the Risks
Poor health, lost finances, and broken relationships are just a few of the costs associated with addictive behaviors. One of the most compelling reasons for change often lies in understanding the risks involved. Gambling is an addictive behavior with enormous costs, but some cannot see the risk behind the potential reward.
If you are challenged in identifying why change is necessary, talk to someone and let them help you see how costly the behavior can be if left unchecked.
5. Understand Your “Why?”
Working too many hours, while seemingly a noble activity, can be a sign that you’re avoiding other activities in your life. It could mean that you are unprepared and disorganized or lack confidence in your abilities. Filling your void in your life with work, substances, and activities is either a sign that something is missing or a mask to avoid facing the truth. Working with a trained professional can help you uncover your “why” and healthily process the systemic issue that could be causing the addictive behavior in the first place.
6. Avoid Toxic People
People are often surprised to discover that relationships can also be addictive behaviors. Deep connections with friends or loved ones that partake in unhealthy addictive behaviors can be a slippery slope to adopting one for yourself. This kind of affiliative or peer pressure style addiction can prey on a weakness or need to feel a sense of belonging. Even the relationship itself can be unhealthy. Allowing a relationship with a negative or addicted person to continue is fostering a pattern that may eventually result in emotional pain.
7. Clarify Your Triggers
Triggers can be internal or external, and they can occur at any time and in any place to reinforce the addiction. Triggers cause stress which provokes addictive behavior that serves as a coping mechanism for calming the nervous system.
For example, if one is sensitive about their weight, unhealthy internal and external dialogue can lead to overeating or avoiding food altogether. Work-related stress such as having an overbearing supervisor could be the trigger that causes someone to either work themselves sick or shut down and fail to perform. There isn’t always a drastic reaction when a trigger takes place, nor does the trigger need to be catastrophic.
A friend shared that he ate most of his meals while watching television. He lives alone, so it helps him relax and he feels less guilty watching shows while eating because he’s doing something, rather than laying listlessly on the couch. But television also became his trigger. Every time it was on, he wanted to eat. So, watching and eating became an addictive behavior that he eventually needed to address.
8. Find a Substitute
Socially responsible addictions—like consuming caffeine and sugar—are still difficult behaviors to change. And they do have their downsides. While you may not see the immediate downsides, failing to take into account the long-term effects of overindulging can be detrimental. Occasionally substituting decaf, tea, or fruit instead of candy is a gentle way to get rid of the addictive behavior without going cold turkey.
9. Find Some Support
People need people. And when it comes to addictive behaviors, the best way to get rid of them is with the support of others. In addition to professional care, connecting with others that share the addiction can be comforting and supportive.
Communities exist in your neighborhood and online for all types of addictive behavior and there are plenty of people to support your positive change and hold you accountable to your goals. Remember, this also includes your friends and family. While they may not share the same addictive behaviors, they will be there for you when you need them.
10. Apply Healing Techniques
Some mild addictive behaviors can be thoughtfully managed without the support of a professional. But it begins with understanding your “why.” When you define the underlying reasons, you might find there are healing techniques at the ready to help you overcome.
Take social media addiction. For some, the compulsion to always be on Facebook or other platforms can be tempered with practice, accountability, substitutions, and support. But digging a little deeper, you may find that your “why” is centered around a need to be liked. Applying positive self-talk, biofeedback, positive reinforcement techniques, exercise, and meditation may help shore up your confidence and self-image.
11. Build Your Willpower
It’s a known fact that when you can build your willpower through less daunting challenges than overcoming a more substantial one—like addictive behavior—it’s more likely that you’ll succeed. Navy SEALs in BUDS training go through grueling tests, challenges, and exercises to build up their stamina and willpower so that when faced with real-time adversaries, they are conditioned to respond at a high-level.
While you don’t have to become a SEAL to overcome addictive behaviors, you may find that smaller willpower-building exercises will help you manage bigger challenges over time.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you are struggling with addictive behaviors is to get the support that you need. That begins with identifying whether or not the behavior needs professional care. And of course, building on that professional care by employing personal management strategies, like those listed above.
Remember, if left unchecked, addictive behaviors can grow more engrained and may have bigger costs over time. Therefore, it’s important to identify them early and work on getting rid of them.
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Featured photo credit: Umur Batur Kocak via unsplash.com