Breaking Habits and Addictions: There IS a Way!

Breaking Habits and Addictions: There IS a Way!

Dr. Rick Petronella

Habits have a way of running our lives. Nearly everything we do on a daily basis is based on habits we’ve developed over our lifetime. Habits are behaviors that have become automatic, meaning we hardly need to think about them. We just do them reflexively. Like most of us, some of those habits are not serving us well. They may lead to trouble at work, in relationships, in our physical health, or with our finances. And even though we may want to break these bad habits, we continue to do them and feel like a slave to them. 

A habit can be summed up as a routine or regular behavior that gets harder to give up the longer the behavior continues. The best examples of habits can be seen in how we start our day. Morning rituals largely consist of a variety of habits, like brushing teeth, taking a shower, making coffee, etc. Over time, the sequence of these behaviors will become consistent for all of us. 
Addictions, on the other hand, are much more powerful than the aforementioned habits. In these instances, for the most part, people will make unhealthy sacrifices to achieve the chemically induced feelings of well being brought on by a mood-altering substance.

An article in Forbes discusses the ways people develop positive habits or “rational addictions.” These kinds of healthy habits can only arise, when people are aware of their own behaviors. The article was based on the context of a study that found “that ‘rational addicts can weigh the costs and benefits of their current behavior taking into consideration its implications for the future, and still choose to engage.” When people know more about how their positive behaviors, benefit their lives – and how their negative behaviors do the opposite, they’re much more likely to engage in healthy habits.

1. Being disorganized.
Do you struggle to keep your spaces neat and tidy? Are your rooms, desks, handbags, or wallets, closets, file cabinets, drawers, and other areas a mess? Being poorly organized means you’re probably unprepared for daily tasks and those tasks take longer for you to complete because you can’t find what you need.

2. Biting your nails.
Do you habitually nibble on your fingernails or chew them down to the quick until they bleed? Have you tried to stop but feel compelled to do it? Nail biting (onychophobia) is frequently associated with anxiety disorders. The act of biting the nails is linked with relieving feelings of stress, nervousness, loneliness, tension, or boredom. 

3. Procrastinating. 
When we wait until the very last minute to get things done, or we routinely put things off until another time (I’ll do that tomorrow”), it increases stress and often frustrates friends, family, and colleagues. Procrastination often leads to poorly done, incomplete, or unfinished work, and it is associated with fear of failure, low energy, and paralyzing perfectionism for fear of not doing something right.

4. Stress-eating or emotional eating
Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts. Do you snack on popcorn while watching your favorite television shows on the couch? Do you nibble on chips while you’re working? Do you keep snacks in the car so you can eat something while driving? Do you snack when you’re anxious or feeling blue? 

5. Complaining. Always Unhappy
Are you the type of person who can’t help pointing out what’s wrong with things? Do you complain about the weather, your job, your spouse, the service at a restaurant, and so on? Being a chronic complainer not only brings you down but also brings down everyone else around you.

6. Exercising or Not Exercising
Do you start every day with the intention to exercise and then come up with all kinds of excuses for skipping your workout? When you routinely choose other activities over exercise. Fitness addictions can cause someone to be more self-absorbed than normal. They only find happiness during the actual act of fitness training. Once the workout is over, they are thinking about the next time they can start exercising again. The other end of the spectrum is not exercising at all, which also can be harmful. Both extreme ends of this fitness spectrum are completely unhealthy and will affect your physical performance, body image and your longevity. Find a place in the middle of the fitness spectrum and build a daily habit of moving more, eating better, drinking more water and finding ways to destress and relax.

7. Being Chronically late.
Are you typically late for work, appointments, and dates even though you want to be on time? Does it cause problems in your life? Being chronically late is one of the primary symptoms associated with ADHD.

8. Constantly Checking our phones /Obsessive social networking
Are you glued to your phone? Do you get stressed out if you can’t check your messages or scroll through your social media feeds? Smartphone addiction is very real. They have hijacked our brains and stolen our attention. Scrolling social media, gaming, streaming content, and other phone-related habits can make you feel worse about yourself and increase anxiety, depression, and stress.

9. Abusing addictive substances.
Drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, or using other forms of recreational drugs are some of the worst habits we can have. These habits actually change the way our brain functions and increase vulnerability to addiction. 

10. Poor spending habits
You probably won’t be shocked to hear shopping feels good. When we buy something, the pleasure center in our brain is activated and releases dopamine when we’re excited about the reward we’re about to get.  But as we all know, what feels good is (unfortunately) not always good for us. Saving money might not give you that same immediate reward, but it pays off big time in the long run.

Why is Quitting So Hard?

Defining addiction can be difficult, but the American Psychiatric Association provides a simple explanation for what brings on certain addictive behaviors  “People with addiction have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.” As a result, people who are addicted to something experience different modes of thinking and altered brain functions. People who exhibit addictive qualities are sometimes aware of their mental health problem yet continue to engage in risky, problematic behaviors.

Probably the most important distinction between habit vs. Addiction is how choice, to an extent, is still possible with habit-forming behaviors. When it comes to addiction, people generally have a harder time making decisions because of their dependence on a substance or behavior. Typically, these factors are linked to the rewards systems in the brain, which helps explain their overarching power in stripping people from the ability to make rational decisions.

Addiction affects the frontal cortex of your brain and alters your impulse control and judgment. The brain’s reward system is also altered so that the memory of previous rewards can trigger craving or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences, in spite of negative consequences.

These changes in your brain can make quitting difficult, but it is important to remember that addictions are treatable. With the right plan and resources, recovery is possible.

The good news is that you can quit, although it’s a complicated process. There are many factors—physical, mental, emotional, and biological—that make quitting difficult.2 This complexity is why so many people find treatment helps guide them through the process of quitting. Even still, many people are successful in quitting on their own.

Because addiction causes changes in the brain, you might experience symptoms such as impulsivity and cravings. These symptoms can make quitting more difficult, but choosing effective treatment options can improve your ability to succeed.

Not all habits will lead to addictive behaviors in the end, but it’s still important to recognize the dependent nature of some substances and practices. It’s not often that people begin with full-blown addictions; instead, addictions develop over the course of time. 

Challenges When Quitting

]When your addictive behavior comes to the point of creating conflict, it is out of balance with other parts of your life. Even after making a commitment to quit and going through the withdrawal phase, these conflicts don’t simply go away.

It’s common for people with addictions to depend on their addiction to cope with stress. When you quit, you lose that coping mechanism. This is why it is so important to have other ways of coping firmly established, ideally before quitting.

We at Compass Consulting & Affiliates LLC can help you with these daily challenges. Without healthy coping strategies in place, you are likely to experience strong urges to go back to the addictive behavior “one more time.” Ask about Choices Treatment Program. It is a group therapy addressing these and other relationship as well as personal challenges. 

Relationship support can help you deal with and avoid conflicts without using your addictive behavior for comfort and escape.

Ambivalence, the mixed feelings of both wanting to continue with the addictive behavior and wanting to quit, is part of the addictive process even in the early stages of experimentation.
Often, this challenge is felt in terms of “right” and “wrong,” especially in relation to sexual and illegal behaviors. In some cases, feelings of guilt are appropriate; in others, they are not.

Remember – it can take a bit of work to break a bad habit. But once you replace your bad habits with good ones and integrate them into your daily routine, they’ll become second nature. These solutions make it easier for you to save money, spend smarter, and reach your financial goals faster.

Even though we may want to break bad habits, we continue to do them and at times feel like a slave to them. The good news is we can learn to overcome bad habits. Our brain is the key to doing it.

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