We all want to bring some calm into our lives. Addressing the stressors in our lives can be a real challenge and it can often be hard to see symptoms of stress in yourself, especially when you have lived with them for years.
If, like most people, you have a few problems or difficulties in your life, then it’s important to try and reduce the bad habits you may have developed to help you cope. This is because often, the coping mechanism is actually making the situation worse and is not doing anything to alleviate the cause of the stress at all.
Here are some bad habits that can be a result of constant stress. Which ones can you identify with?
1. Consuming too much caffeine
Most of us enjoy a daily caffeine intake, and while the occasional coffee isn’t likely to do great harm, it’s important to remember that caffeine is, in fact, a drug, and it’s possible to have a full-blown caffeine addiction. More likely and common, however, is caffeine dependence, where people use caffeine to jump-start their energy in the morning and use it throughout the day to stave off a ‘caffeine crash’. More often than not they then find their sleep disturbed by caffeine, causing them to wake up tired and therefore really need that caffeine jolt to get going again the next day. As the cycle continues, caffeine affects stress levels as well
What to do: Gradually cut down by replacing your tea, coffee or caffeine-laden soft drink with de-caffeinated drinks or good old water. In the mornings, try replacing your high-sugar energy drink with a soluble vitamin. Try and limit your intake to just a couple of caffeinated drinks a day and aim to only have them in the morning.
For smokers, a cigarette can feel like a good stress reliever. In fact, during times of stress, a cigarette feels almost necessary, and quitting the habit can seem virtually impossible. We all know that cigarettes can be costly, both financially speaking and health-wise. Smoking creates far more stress than it alleviates, so kicking the habit is more than worth it.
What to do: Develop a quitting plan with the help of your pharmacist or doctor. Think about your approach first and decide on a day you’re going to stop. Think about why you’ve failed to quit in the past and come up with a list of reasons to quit that are important to you.
3. Excessive drinking
Many people find that a glass of wine can be a good way to unwind at the end of a stressful day, and most physicians and researchers agree, citing studies that show that red wine has benefits for heart health. However, drinking can be a slippery slope, as excessive drinking can cause problems in virtually every area of a person’s life, leading to more stress in the long run. If you are someone who has trouble limiting alcohol consumption to one or two drinks, and even if you can drink very moderately, but find that this is your only regular stress management practice, it would be worth identifying other ways to relieve your stress.
What to do: Limit your alcohol intake to just a couple of standard drinks per day. Try to have one or two alcohol-free days a week and never binge drink. If your partner or friends also drink excessively and you are part of their habit as well, then develop a plan to cut back together. Instead of following your usual routine, try and break it up a bit. Go for a walk or bike ride instead of the pub, or find other ways to alleviate that post-work stress.
4. Compulsive spending
People have many ways of relieving stress or of filling a void inside themselves. While buying yourself a gift once in a while can be a nice pick-me-up, compulsively buying things to relieve stress or to feel good about yourself is not a good way to keep your spirits up. Worse, spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need can cause more financial stress in the long run, and lead to feelings of shame not to mention a cluttered home. All of this will only add to the stress you were trying to alleviate.
What to do: If you’re in a financial hole, then seek some help or devise a plan to get yourself out of it. Pay your bills off (slowly if you have to). Give yourself a budget (including an allowance for treats) and stick to it. Don’t go to the shops or spend money on anything when you know you don’t have it to spend or have already spent your allowance. Make a list of inexpensive or free things to do and go and do them — visit a gallery, go for a walk, drop in on a friend. When you go out, leave your ATM and credit cards at home and take a very small amount of cash with you, or none at all.
5. Emotional eating
At some stage, most of us are happy to turn to our favourite tub of ice cream for comfort during rough times, but if eating the wrong thing becomes a main coping mechanism for stress, it can lead to compromised health, excessive weight, and additional stress stemming from these effects. A poor diet can also cause additional stress by leading to blood sugar imbalances that make stressful situations seem more overwhelming.
What to do: Allow yourself a few treats here and there but don’t buy things you know you’ll just eat in one sitting. If you like to snack when you’re edgy or nervous, then keep a stock of healthy, low fat snacks on hand at home and at work. Drink water to fill you up (you’ll feel less like eating) and try to distract yourself from excessive eating when you feel the urge! Go for a walk, clean your desk, mow the lawn or call a friend instead.
Being stressed isn’t great and feeling like your security blanket has been taken away during times of stress can be even worse. Try and concentrate on reducing your dependence on one habit at a time. Most important of all, ask yourself: what’s making me depend on these habits and what can I do about these issues? With stress, like most things, treating the root of the problem is always the best approach.