Stress... Do you eat yours?

We have to deal with a surprising array of emotions as an adult and we don't always have the skills or ability to know how to deal with them.

At some point we have or will experience what’s called ”emotional avoidance”.

Have you ever had a rubbish day at work and had a drink to deal with it? Felt overwhelmed and eaten a whole pack of biscuits? Drowned your sorrows in a pint of beer? Or cried into a tub of ice cream?

Emotional avoidance is a way for us to avoid dealing with or sitting with feelings that we find uncomfortable. Numbing these feelings with food and alcohol is very common and can manifest in different ways such as:

  • Eating or drinking more than we usually would

  • Eating or drinking faster than normal.

  • Eating or drinking alone or trying to hide it from others.

  • Choosing high calorie/nutrient poor foods & drinks (e.g. junk food, sweets & alcohol)

  • Feeling a sense of relief from eating/drinking

  • Having a lack of control or overwhelming urge to eat & drink (have to eat the whole packet /drink the whole bottle)

  • Justification of what we’re doing as not wanting to waste food or attributing blame to someone or something else

  • Making ourselves feel bad after the event, negative self-talk, restriction or removal of food/drink/nice things/events.

One of the problems with this is that by avoiding negative emotions we don't learn to deal with them and we then create a habit of coping negatively in the same way every time these feelings arise.

We are very lucky that there are plenty of resources out there today that can help us manage and deal with our emotions: @nhs @minduk @rethink @mentalhealthuk

There are also some self-directed, practical things we can do to help:

Try to identify our stress/emotional triggers

By identifying the things that trigger us to have that bottle of wine or jumbo bar of chocolate we can begin to PLAN how to deal with, not only the feelings but also how we break or change our ”response habit”.

Find an opposite action to retrain our response habit.

An opposite action involves doing something else that can become a positive habit to move us away from our usual response, for example:

  • Brushing your teeth or gargling mouthwash

  • Going for a walk/run or any other exercise

  • Reading or listening to a book, magazine, podcast or the radio

  • Chopping vegetables

  • Talk to/Phone/text a family member or friend

  • Drinking a pint of water

  • Putting your pyjamas on and having an early night

Make the habit hard to do.

We are always up for an easy route and if something seems hard or requires effort it’s amazing how quickly our brains will decide not to bother. By making our usual habits harder to do we will be much less likely to keep doing them. If you usually pop into the pub or take away on your way home change your route home; get rid of food or drink items from your house that you would normally reach for; pile your fitness magazines on top of the chocolate box; keep your bottle opener in the shed; keep cake, chocolate & biscuits in the freezer; move all of your healthy options to the front of the cupboard; clear your online shop favourites of unhealthy items; always buy a piece of fruit when you go to the shop; say out loud what you are there to buy when you enter a shop or restaurant; say out loud what you are going to eat/drink and what you’re not when you enter your kitchen.

Practice your healthy habits when you’re feeling good

Practice really does make perfect, especially when it comes to habits as they are formed through repetition. Why make it hard for ourselves by only practising positive changes when we are feeling stressed and less able? Make your plan for your emotional triggers and give them a rehearsal or two.

What are our values/beliefs/goals, how do our emotional reactions steer us to or away from these?

What are the things that are important to us? Do we want to spend more time with family? Do we want to expand our career? Would we like to live a more active lifestyle? Is our health important to us?

Having a think about what really matters to us and then looking at whether our behaviours are helping or hindering can be a revelation and help us to gain focus and control. By making a list of what would actually help to get us where we want to be we are making a commitment to try.

The ups & downs

Just like our emotions when we try something new there’s going to be ups & downs. Be prepared to not always get it right or be successful. Allow yourself the opportunity to to get it wrong sometimes and to learn from that. What do you learn if you are always getting things right?? Mistakes guide us through the process as long as we recognise that they are mistakes and not failures.

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