Monique DeMonaco at YourTango help us decipher why some of our off-duty habits might not be doing as much good as we think.
We’re all guilty of at least one of these . . .
Self-soothing is a natural human need and response to stress. Even newborns self-soothe
Stress has reached a national epidemic and just like any pain or discomfort, the natural human response is to avoid it and try to settle ourselves down and find comfort. Nearly everyone can benefit from some stress management and positive, healthy practices.
But beware, all are not created equal and even healthy self-soothing can become dangerous when taken to extremes.
Here are twelve examples of how you may be going to unhealthy extremes in order to self-soothe and unwind.
1. Exercising excessively.
You have to live under a rock to not know that exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle.
It’s become a popular part of our culture and we are bombarded with “exercise lifestyle” messages. For many of us, it influences how we spend our money, engage in social activities, and even our fashion choices . . . think of how yoga pants have become a wardrobe staple when you participate in the latest local 5K fundraiser.
The problem comes when exercise becomes excessive, resulting in a problem rather than a solution.
Exercise can be tricky because it can become a socially acceptable way to engage in extreme behavior.
A general rule of thumb is 30+ minutes of cardio 3-6 days a week along with a sensible muscle-building program. If you are working out less than 10 hours a week, you are probably right where you need to be.
However, if your exercise routine is interfering with other important areas of your life, such as sleep and quality time in your relationships, you could have a problem.
I have known women who regularly cut their night’s sleep to 5 hours or less so they can exercise two or more hours before they begin their day.
High-quality restorative sleep is one of the best ways to stay healthy and combat stress — so don’t cut your zzz’s.
2. Wine-ing your way through life.
Soothing your stress away with a bottle of wine may bring temporary relief, but chances are, you will stress out even more when it wears off, leading to a vicious cycle.
You don’t have to become a teetotaler, though.
Some studies suggest that kicking back with a glass of wine or two can be beneficial when combined with positive social interactions.
But there is also new evidence that even moderate drinking can cause brain damage, like memory problems and dementia.
A good guideline for determining if your drinking habits are harmful is to ask yourself if you find that you “need” wine or another drink to relax. Because needing a drink is not a healthy way to manage stress.
In addition to that, if your interferes with your life, or if your doctors are concerned about your health as a result, it’s a problem.
3. Shopping until you feel like dropping.
There is nothing wrong with an occasional bout of “retail therapy,” but when it becomes your “go to” method to self-soothe, it’s a problem.
Shopping can give you a quick “high”, and it can certainly distract you, but in the long run it creates more problems and adds to your stress. Which then, of course, means you need more self-soothing.
If you find yourself randomly shopping more than 6 times a year, consider the possibility that you have a problem.
4. Eating your feelings.
Many of us were comforted with food as children.
Every week, a client reports some form of the, “Don’t cry honey, here is a cookie” rendition from their childhood. Is it any wonder over 50% of adults and nearly a third of children in the U.S. are overweight?
If you struggle with overeating, for one week keep a journal of what and when you eat . . . every time, no cheating. You may be very surprised at the patterns that emerge.
5. Grabbing another latte . . . and another and another.
All coffee, even decaf, is a stimulant. Even though it may feel like it’s relaxing you, it raises your heart rate, increases your blood pressure and puts you on high alert.
Back away from the caffeine and grab a flavored water or herbal tea instead.
6. Checking out by checking in with social media.
It’s easy to distract yourself with the latest Facebook post by watching the rest of the world showcasing only their best “filtered” self or by becoming obsessed with the “perfect” Pinterest projects of the wildly talented and carefree.
While a stint on social media may distract you, it’s a time-killer and usually leaves people feeling unfulfilled at best — and like a slacker at worst.
7. Making takeout a habit.
There is nothing wrong with a quick takeout meal even once a week, but it’s just too easy to get into the habit.
The outcome can easily undermine a healthy diet and rack up expenses — all leading to more stress.
Instead, cook a real meal and take time to enjoy it . . . better yet, enjoy sharing it with others when you can.
There are some great options for meal delivery kits, such as Blue Apron, that deliver everything you need so that you can enjoy the experience.
8. Sleeping your life away.
Sleep needs vary from person to person. That said, experts agree that 7-9 hours a night is within the healthy range.
It’s not unusual for anxiety, depression and Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) to lead to oversleeping. Aside from that, escapism can also be a common reason for oversleeping.
We all go through periods when life feels overwhelming and we just can’t cope. Escaping to bed, while tempting in the short-term, has no redeeming long-term value.
Instead, it can lead to weight gain, lethargy, and undermine motivation to dealing with the issues at hand or reaching our goals.
There is no “fairy godmother” to swoop in to solve your problems, you have to do it yourself — so wake up and get busy.
9. Playing the introvert.
Some days it can be a struggle just to get through the day.
Wiling away the hours watching cat videos or binge watching Netflix, while eating Ben & Jerry’s, can get pretty tempting.
We tell ourselves, “I’m an introvert” and that’s supposed to make us feel better, but the truth is, what we’re really doing is hiding.
Being a true introvert is a beautiful thing and we all need to honor ourselves for who we really are, but even introverts need meaningful connections and time to get out and take risks while engaging in activities that stimulate our bodies and minds.
That said, some of you (you know who you are) “play” the introvert by hiding out and making yourselves scarce, because it seems like too much work to put on your “game face!”
Brain science tells us that engaging in new activities, meeting new people and taking risks (even small ones) have a positive impact on our brains, so it’s important you make an effort sometimes.
It’s okay to give yourself an occasional evening or even a day of being a “shut in,” but a little goes a long way.
Call a friend or family member, volunteer for a cause that matters to you, or even go online to Meetup.com and find others who have the same interests or share the same struggles as you do.
It’s easier than you think, and you will be glad you did.
10. Exhausting yourself until you totally collapse.
As appealing as it may seem to just let yourself go, it can lead to depression and lack of engagement with life.
There is something to be said for taking an occasional weekend to do nothing, but a little can go a long way.
Research tells us, you are better off to build consistent relaxation into your regular routine rather than running yourself ragged and then hibernating.
11. Spending too much time with escapist friends.
We all know at least one person whose life is messy and who enjoys a steady diet of gossip, drama and chaos.
While spending time with this person may make you feel better in the moment, we tend to become most like the people in our closest 10 relationships.
Second-hand stress is as detrimental as second-hand smoke. Your brain reads other people’s expressions and body language, and will mimic their stress, so make a point to spend high quality time with people who share the same goals and values as you do and you will feel better.
12. Abusing prescription drugs.
With over 60 million prescriptions for drugs such as Valium, Xanax, Soma and Ativan being handed out each year, chances are you or someone you know is abusing their prescription.
These medications, taken as prescribed, can be relatively safe, but all too often it becomes too easy to “pop a pill” or take it with a “martini chaser” which can lead to devastating consequences.
At the very least, it creates a higher tolerance and makes the drugs less effective which leads to increased dosages.
It can be very easy to get into a downward spiral in just a few months or even weeks.
However, studies have shown that lifestyle changes such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness and visualization can be just as effective for dealing with anxiety, stress and even depression with no risks of side effects.
Many people aren’t aware of how they self-soothe because they’ve been doing it so long, it’s a habit.
Sometimes these habits go back years, decades or to early childhood . . . they can even be a part of our family culture.
Building awareness is the first step to creating healthy new habits because you can’t do something about anything you are unaware of. Once you build awareness around the negative ways you self-soothe, you can learn healthy alternatives.
None of us are at our best when we are stressed, so take time to learn your stress triggers and plan for how you are going to handle them.
Some common stress triggers are:
- Transition times, such as when the kids are coming home from school
- Paying bills
- Dealing with a difficult person
Once you know yours, plan in advance how you are going to deal with them BEFORE you find yourself in those circumstances.
We don’t make our best decisions when we are stressed, so have a game plan and you will significantly increase your success rate.
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