How to resist urges, and cravings.
The Problem of Immediate Gratification
You weren’t born with an addictive behaviour. It took your mind a lot of effort and practice to get trapped into this. Understanding how this happened can help overcome this behaviour.
A trigger leads to a thought or a craving (such as “I want to have a drink”). Once we go with the craving, which has built into an urge, we feel temporarily better, or normal for a short while. This temporary relief or pleasure reinforces the pattern and strengthens the habit. The problem with this immediate gratification is that it seems to the mind to be more desirable than healthier delayed rewards. And each time it is repeated it strengthens the habit. Then more, less important situations cause discomfort which trigger more urges and cravings…. The minor stresses in everyday life that you used to dismiss are now becoming a major annoyance giving your mind greater reason to turn to the habit. You then begin to feel you cannot escape the cycle of addictive behaviour. But there is hope, millions of people have permanently stopped their compulsive actions and moved on to healthy satisfying lives. It can happen for you too.
So What do I do Becky?
It starts with stopping. If you don’t give in to urges they become less intense and occur less frequently. Fewer things start to serve as triggers, so you will have fewer urges.
Learning to tolerate short term discomfort and accepting that urges only feel bad for a few minutes will help you to control your behaviour. Very quickly you can learn to accept short-term discomfort as part of normal living, a healthy life. Urges fade away, the behaviour loses its grip and you find that that behaviour is your choice, and not an inevitable reaction to discomfort. You are then already retraining your brain.
Identify and understand the triggers that lead to cravings, journal what they are, make lists - feelings, situations, reactions, strength of urges - when, where. The more you do this, the more aware you will be of potential difficulties and be prepared. You can then plan ways of avoiding the common traps.
Here are seven basic strategies to cope with urges:
1. Avoid - stay away from the triggers that lead to urges. Avoid situations, sensations or stimulations. The earlier you identify high-risk cues that trigger urges, the earlier you can start avoiding them or escape when unexpectedly faced with them.
2. Escape - get away from the situation, immediately.
3. Distract yourself - concentrate on something other than the urge. Distract with activities you enjoy, especially if the urge is intense. Simple activities such as counting objects, saying the alphabet backwards can fill up your attention so that you have nothing for the urge. Focus on the things you value most in your life.
4. Develop coping statements - instead of thinking, “I deserve a drink because of dealing with X problem,“ tell yourself, “ even though it sucks, that I have to deal with X problem, drinking isn’t going to help me.” You could distract yourself with creating a whole list of these!
5. Review what it costs you to revert to the habit. Look at the reasons you want to change - recall the moments of clarity when you realized the habit was a problem, the moment you knew without question that changing your behaviour is the right thing to do.
6. Recall negative consequences of continuing the habit. When you feel an urge, you only think of the short term benefits. To create a more accurate picture, continue the thought to the negative consequences that follow - the hangover, the family upset, the damage to relationships, the shame, the physical consequence to your body.
7. Picture your future, use the past - Visualise yourself in the near future feeling good about resisting the urge. Imagine getting up on a Saturday morning without a hangover! And recall the successfully resisted urges of the past. Remind yourself that the urge will ass and how you routinely resist them.
Change the words.
Words are incredibly powerful on our subconscious, so changing the beliefs about urges is a very powerful strategy. We have so many beliefs that are often picked up from others, from negative experiences and from childhood imprints. Often they are untrue.
For example, you may think to yourself “My urges are unbearable.” But actually the reality is that they are uncomfortable, but they won’t kill you. If you keep telling yourself the feelings are unbearable, you set yourself up for failure. Urges are just uncomfortable, and inconvenient. Be willing to be inconvenienced for a while. Tell yourself you can cope with this.
Another thought may be “ These feelings only stop when I give in” but urges often only last a few seconds or minutes. Sometimes the feelings come in clusters but here’s the truth. They go away. Always. Here’s why - your nervous system eventually stops noticing stimuli. For instance, when you go into a hospital, it has that special hospital smell. After a few minutes you stop noticing it. So it is the same with urges. Learn to ride the waves, and it gets easier with time. Tell yourself “I can accept these temporary feelings, and allow them to wash over me, and pass on.”
“Giving in to this urge this once isn’t doing any harm” is a typical thought that pops up, trying to deceive yourself. Giving in prolongs the presence of urges as it reinforces the pattern you want to break. It makes stopping harder, the next urge will come more quickly and may be more intense. You are prolonging the dependence on the habit.
Be mindful of the thoughts that run through your mind when feeling an urge and spend some time questioning the validity of the thought. You are not your thoughts and you can change them.
Finally keep telling yourself that you matter, you are worth it, and that you can do this, you are good enough. Because you are.
When you work with me, you will soon see that you are, and you will start to believe in yourself again.