How do you cope with stress? This is an interesting question that I’d really like you to ponder. We tend to not want to feel stress or emotional pain, so we turn to what author Glennon Doyle Melton calls our “easy buttons”.
Recently at a dinner party, a conversation took place about why people become dependent on alcohol. I decided not to interject with my opinion or express any knowledge I may have on the subject of human behaviour, but instead sat back and listened to the thoughts of others.
They talked about alcoholism being hereditary; they discussed the idea of people being predisposed to it; they talked about addictive agents in alcohol. Interestingly, what didn’t come up was the one reason many of us turn to having a drink, which is to numb emotional pain.
We all do this. While your “easy button” may not be alcohol, there is most likely something that you turn to, to keep yourself from dealing with sadness, grief, hurt, betrayal loss etc.. This can in fact lead to addiction or an unhealthy ways of coping overtime, like alcohol dependence.
Having a few drinks (or more) may be how some of us numb the pain. Others may do so through behaviours like:
- eating too much/not eating enough
- working too much
- gossiping about others/comparing ourselves to others
- anger and/or rage toward others
- getting trapped in the social media vortex (i.e. spending hours scrolling through news feeds/messages on Facebook, Instagram and twitter)
Are you turning to any of these, or perhaps other “easy buttons” that are preventing you from being yourself? I’m certainly not saying we can’t or won’t engage in some of these behaviours sometimes – we are human afterall. It’s a matter of getting curious about how often you are experiencing these behaviours and why. For example, enjoying one decadent chocolate with a cup of tea after a long day, can provide you with comfort and allow you to have gratitude for the simple things in life, whereas, devouring a whole box of chocolates may leave you with a hangover of regret, shame and numbness.
One of the problems with “easy buttons” is that when we numb the hard, painful feelings, we also numb the good feelings that prevent us from living life to the fullest. We deny ourselves the opportunity to be our authentic selves.
So, what can you do instead?
The following are daily practices and challenges that can guide you to start living a more full, whole-hearted life. I’m not saying that it will be easy but, in the long run, these healthy practices can be what you turn to, instead of the (not always so healthy) easy buttons.
- Be your authentic self: Let go of doing things to please others – Being your true self can sometimes mean disappointing others, but in the long run, you will be more fulfilled if you stick to your own agenda and ultimately your own values.
Challenge: The next time you are asked to do a favour for someone and you don’t want to do it, you don’t have the time or it just doesn’t fit with your values – politely state why that isn’t something you can do right now. Saying no can be difficult but it beats resenting someone (or something) because you didn’t want to disappoint them.
- Be self-compassionate: Let go of needing to be perfect – We can all be a little kinder to ourselves when we don’t meet our own expectations. Think about it…would you treat a friend the way you treat yourself when they don’t do something perfectly? Of course not, your heart goes out to them and you give your friend comfort. As humans, we all make mistakes and struggle with problems, it is what connects us to one another. This can be a helpful, comforting reminder that no one is perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes.
Challenge: The next time you make a mistake, feel that you have failed or simply don’t feel great emotionally, take notice of how you are feeling and the self-talk that ensues. If it is self-critical, try and think of how you would respond to a friend going through the same thing. Give yourself some kindness and remember, you are not alone.
- Find what comforts you and what makes you resilient: Let go of numbing, avoiding and staying stuck –Comfort is taking time to recharge in a way that lifts your spirit. Comfort is watching one really great episode of your favourite show on Netflix; Numbing, on the other hand is binge watching the entire series! Understanding the difference between turning towards something that comforts you as oppose to avoiding or numbing, requires awareness and kind attention toward yourself. Remember, you can’t self-select numbing. When you numb the difficult emotions you also numb the feel-good emotions. This leaves us feeling ‘blah’ and unable to enjoy life.
Challenge: Make the following three lists:
- Make a list of what causes you to numb. This list may include things like: stress at work, stress at home, a difficult relationship with a friend/family member, etc.
- Make a list of ways that you numb/avoid. These may include overindulging in some of the behaviours listed above, like drinking alcohol, eating, shopping, even gossiping about others.
- Create a list of behaviours or things to engage in that give you comfort, things that allow you to distress in healthy, rejuvenating ways like:
- going for a walk, a run or for a workout at the gym
- doing something creative that brings you joy and allows you to get lost in the experience – writing in a journal, drawing or painting, dancing, mindful colouring, cooking etc.
- getting together with a good friend
- having one piece of chocolate, not 17!
These are just some of the practices that can help you enjoy more and numb less. These practices are just some of the guideposts highlighted, in Brené Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. If this information resonates with you, I encourage you to read it.
If you feel like you would like to explore some of this further or want to let go of some of your “easy buttons” but are struggling to do so on your own, please reach out to me. I’d like to help.