In this article, I discussed addictions, and the fact that nearly everybody has one. Any behavior can become addictive, if it is something that is used to help our mind feel good, when it is unable to feel safe.
So what can you do, if you notice that you have an addiction? Since the addiction is fulfilling a role--helping the mind deal with a source of stress or anxiety--simply forcing yourself to stop the behavior will not work. When you focus only on the addiction and on stopping it, your mind will desperately seek out a new addiction. That is why people who stop drinking often start smoking, and why people who stop smoking often start overeating.
The key to overcoming addiction lies in understanding and resolving the underlying issues. It lies in understanding WHY your mind feels unsafe. The following are some steps that you can take, to move beyond addictive behaviors:
1. Focus first on harm reduction.
While it is crucial that you understand and resolve the underlying issues, safety needs to be your first concern. Is your addiction harming you or anyone else?
If it is, then you need to set some boundaries. Make sure that you are meeting your basic needs for food, hydration, and rest. Also make sure that you are fulfilling your responsibilities at work and at home.
If your addiction is harmful or illegal, then you do need to replace it with something safer. You may wish to seek professional help with this, but remember that recovery is not the final step. Once you are no longer engaging in a harmful addiction, you will still need to take steps to understand and work through the underlying issues.
2. Be okay with it.
Once you have set boundaries to insure that you are not harming yourself or anyone else, understand that your mind needs the addiction for now. Without it, your mind will feel very unsafe, because you have not yet developed the tools to help it feel safe. Judging your mind will only increase the feelings of fear.
Observe the times that you are feeling the urge to engage in addictive behaviors. Even use the addiction as a reward for getting your other responsibilities done and meeting your basic needs.
3. Try a calming activity.
Addictions are soothing to the mind, so it can be helpful for you to try a different soothing activity when you feel the urge to engage in your addictive behavior. When the mind feels unsafe, it triggers the fight-or-flight response, and calming this response can help the mind feel safer.
It is important to find a calming activity that works for you. You will likely need to use some trial-and-error before you have success. Try breathing techniques, yoga nidra, prayer, meditation, or even taking a walk.
4. Use visualization to soothe your mind.
Understand that your mind is in fear when you feel the urge to engage in your addictive behavior. It is seeking distraction from something that is overwhelming to you. Visualizing yourself soothing your mind can be quite helpful in this situation.
Begin by picturing your mind as a crying baby. Hold and soothe that baby. Speak softly to it and reassure it. If the image of the baby does not work for you, find an image that does. Understand that your mind is not something that you need to fight. It is only frightened and confused.
5. Begin to notice your triggers.
The next step is to hold off for just a little while when you feel the urge to engage in your addictive behavior. Notice that you are feeling the urge, and see if you can figure out why. What emotions are you experiencing? Why do you feel that way? What thoughts are behind it? What doubts and fears are you experiencing?
Beginning to look at your thoughts this way will help you to better understand why your mind is feeling unsafe. You can start to see what it is that your mind is seeking distraction from. After you've take a good, hard look, it is all right to go ahead and reward yourself with the addictive behavior.
6. Start to address the underlying issues.
After you've identified the triggers, really examine why they are triggering. What is it that your mind needs? Do you need more information on something? Are you misunderstanding yourself? Is it possible that you have misunderstood someone else's intentions?
This is the most difficult--and yet the most important--step in overcoming an addiction. In fact, if you keep your focus on working through the sources of your stress and anxiety, you will find that your addiction naturally fades over time.
In my next article, I will examine some of the most common underlying issues.
If you need help overcoming addictive behavior and resolving the underlying issues, consider an individual e-mail, chat, or video session
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