Dr. Daneen Skube, executive coach and therapist, discusses the need to quit bad habits to reduce stress, looking at the science of stress and strategies for combatting it.
Q: Over the last year and a half, I know I’m eating too much sugar, drinking too much, and not exercising enough. The more stressed I get the more my bad habits take over. I have a lot of friends that are also indulging. Are there simple ways to shift my poor lifestyle choices? I know my work is suffering!
A: Yes, experts and research on addiction tell us there are three critical factors in turning around destructive choices:
Replace substances with authentic human relationships (this is why the 12-step programs work).
Don’t try to give up bad habits in a day. Instead start adding healthier habits, as the better you feel the less you’ll turn to comforting but unhealthy choices.
Evaluate the sources of your stress and look for a mental health counselor that works with compulsivity to teach you healthier responses.
A year and a half into this pandemic, everyone is in an anxious limbo about when some sort of normal resumes. After vaccinations became available, we thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. This light ended up belonging to a truck called the Delta variant and is now running us over.
Science of stress
Living in a lengthy period of unknown threats puts our body in a state of fight or flight. Our bodies are flooded with cortisol (a stress hormone). We operate as if we always have our gas pedal on our bodies shoved down to the floor.
Alcohol and sugar metabolize similarly and act like anesthesia. When we move our bodies, we literally feel emotion, so remaining sedentary also is anesthesia. When we’re flooded with stress hormones, we may end up with a goal of being comfortably numb rather than being well.
Unfortunately eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and avoiding numbing substances means we fully feel our stress. Thus, we may tend to avoid the very habits that help us be resilient and healthy when we most need it.
Solutions to quit bad habits to reduce stress
If we can tolerate the discomfort of stress, we can identify the origins and problem solve. If we’re numb, the problems just multiply while we attempt to ignore them. As uncomfortable as negative feelings are, they are also our impetus to fix stressors.
We also need to find people and places where we can tell the truth about our experience. Addiction brain experts have noted that telling the truth raises dopamine in our brains, which helps connect us to our neocortex where we problem solve.
Any 12-step program is a free resource to speak your truth and raise your dopamine. You can also call any crisis line and you don’t have to be in crisis. They get calls when someone’s favorite sport team loses, so a mental health pandemic call is a lot more interesting.
You can also do a search for mental health counselors that go beyond listening and help you problem solve. Ask how many years a counselor has spent in weekly personal therapy before you sign up. An effective counselor should have invested a least a decade in weekly work. The pandemic means you can now access anyone in the nation you want to work with through phone or video remote work.
You’re correct that your work will suffer when you’re indulging in multiple numbing substances and activities. We do our best work when we are conscious, alert, and fully engaged with ourselves and others. Be willing to make your well-being a top priority and both you and your career will thrive!
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist, and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
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