Stress can feel impossible to deal with. As a result, many of us turn to temporary solutions, addictive behaviors that stave off the negative feelings of a high-pressure world.
With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem only got worse. In fact, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a coping mechanism in response to the pandemic. Whether your drug of choice is alcohol, cigarettes, or harder drugs, these substances offer temporary relief but long-term problems.
Recognizing the problem, then moving past the short-term solutions can set you on the path towards a healthier, fully realized life. Whether you seek to attune to a more spiritual side of yourself or just want to feel better, hope and help are out there.
Recognizing the Problem
We all feel stress. We are evolutionarily programmed to react to situations with a fight or flight response created by a cortisol release in the brain. While some of us experience more stress and anxiety than others, everyone can relate to feeling stressed out.
In attempting to manage this feeling, it is all too easy to pick up an addiction. From caffeine to cocaine, we each have our vices, some more damaging than others. But these solutions are Band-Aids and nothing more. Additionally, they typically create more long-term problems.
The effects of smoking, for example, are widely known and documented. But even excess caffeine consumption can lead to problems like headaches, insomnia, and irritability. Recognizing your addiction and how it’s affecting your ability to function and feel good is the first step and a journey towards wellness.
Here are some of the signs that can help you recognize your addiction and how it’s hurting you:
- You experience a lack of control or inability to stay away from a substance or activity.
- You avoid socializing or abandon commitments because of a substance or activity.
- You ignore risk factors and problematic behaviors to fuel your vice.
- You experience physical effects and withdrawal symptoms when going without your vice.
Maybe you already have recognized these problems in your own behavior but taking the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle feels too daunting. After all, feeling like you’re not doing enough to improve yourself can be its own kind of pressure.
Fortunately, however, you can begin to move past short-term relief towards long-term solutions at your own pace and in your comfort zone.
Moving Past Short-Term Relief
Taking the first steps away from addiction when dealing with stress can be difficult. After all, our vices are our vices for a reason; they comfort us and can even help us get through dark times. But left unchecked, addiction can be life-destroying and toxic.
Regardless of your means or your schedule, you can begin the journey towards wellness. Consider these tips for moving past short-term relief:
- Seek out help. While therapy and rehabilitation programs can be expensive to get into, cheaper alternatives are emerging all the time. From more accessible telehealth services that offer greater privacy to the SAMHSA National helpline, you can find the resources you need even on a budget. For free, 24-hour help, call 1-800-662-4357.
- Start a self-help regimen. If you insist on solving the problem yourself, there are ways to go about successful recovery. Safely quitting drinking on your own, for example, comes down to sticking to a routine and timeline, keeping a journal, avoiding situations in which alcohol is present, and developing a community of non-drinkers to socialize with.
- Gain community support. You can harness the support of a community without having to spend a dime. Search for addiction resources and support groups in your area, and establish a helpful routine. From Alcoholics Anonymous to virtual message boards where others struggling with substance abuse can share their experiences, there is a community out there for you.
- Develop new habits. Addictions take our time, effort, and energy. Without something to fill the hole they leave behind, it can be all too easy to fall back on old habits. Find and develop new hobbies that can sustain you through your withdrawal period and beyond. These hobbies should be activities you truly enjoy, that make you feel fulfilled and satisfied. Consider learning a musical instrument, writing a novel, or going on backpacking trips.
- Practice self-compassion. Addiction recovery takes time, and no one is perfect. You might relapse or encounter new and challenging obstacles. But no matter what, show yourself some compassion and avoid comparisons with others. Your journey is your own and your struggles are just as valid as anyone else’s. Try reciting compassionate self-affirmations or doing something just for you every day.
While no strategy is guaranteed to work for everyone, trying out these suggestions can help you move past short-term relief into new and healthier territory. With better coping mechanisms, you stand to reap the benefits of a longer, more fulfilling life.
Developing Better Coping Strategies
Stress is difficult to cope with, which often leads to addictive behaviors. Compounding life circumstances can make it even harder to develop healthy and beneficial habits. For example, the stress of a limited income after an accident can have you feeling unable to progress. Fortunately, however, there are still ways you can invest in your future.
Turning your short-term relief into a healthier life requires taking the time and energy to develop better, stress-busting coping strategies. From meditation to taking vitamin supplements, healthy behaviors will help you maintain a happier lifestyle and avoid falling back into addiction.
Start by recognizing the problem, then explore all your avenues for help and support in eliminating your addictive behaviors.