Monday, November 24, 2014

Recognizing Addictions And Forming New Habits

         
I've heard people say that it only takes 21 days to break a habit. Congratulations to all of you who can do that! The fact is, every one's brains are different as well as their personalities which are big contributors to their ability to break these patterns of behavior. Some people have a more "addictive" personality by nature than others which make it more likely to form these habits, as well as making it more difficult to break them. Often a person will stop one bad habit, but then substitute it with another equally unhealthy, such as smokers who quit and then turn to food to compensate and gain a lot of weight. Although weight gain can cause all types of illnesses (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc..), it is still a better choice than getting lung or throat cancer from smoking.
           The reality is, habits are easier to make than they are to break. If you repeat a behavior often enough, those synaptic pathways are going to get worn in. The human brain is a very adaptive piece of machinery. Breaking a habit is a lot more complicated, because while parts of those worn-in pathways can weaken without use, they never go away [source: Rae-Dupree]. They can be reactivated with the slightest provocation [source: Delude] (www.howstuffworks.com). Most recovering alcoholics will say that they cannot have JUST ONE DRINK without causing a setback. I know many people who have stopped smoking for YEARS and then for whatever reason smoke one cigarette and are right back to being a smoker.
           Being a person who suffered with Bulimia on and off for 20 years, I've learned that a certain amount of sugar is my trigger which in the past caused me to eat everything in the house and then throw it up to undo the damage. At that point my sugar level was completely thrown off, my self-esteem was shot because I had "lost control" of myself, not to mention I gave myself a hernia and stretched out my abdominal muscles and fascia causing me to need abdominal surgery to repair the damage.
           Although it's been about 7 or 8 years since I stopped being "Bulimic" and had surgery to repair the physical damage, I know I have an "addictive personality" and still have tendencies to eat excessively at times, but I try to avoid my "trigger". Becoming vegan (to help save tortured animals) has actually helped save me from myself since most baked goods/ice cream have eggs or dairy in them and my desire to eat them is completely erased when I picture in my head what the animal went through for those eggs or milk. This is a form of replacing one mental process (wanting the food) with a repulsion for it (imaging tortured animals).      
         Exercise can be an addiction for some people due to the "rush" they get from endorphins (produced in the pituitary gland in the hypothalamus). Endorphins are produced during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm, and they produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being. It consists of two parts: endo- and -orphin; these are short forms of the words endogenous and morphine, intended to mean "a morphine-like substance originating from within the body." The term "endorphin rush" has been adopted in popular speech to refer to feelings of exhilaration brought on by pain, danger, or other forms of stress, supposedly due to the influence of endorphins (www.outsidetheratrace.com). 
          An example of this is the "runner's high" that keep "runners" consistent, or "endorphin rush" which has the same affect for "cardio junkies" like myself that will start getting depressed after missing two days of a good cardio workout (spin class, kickboxing, high-intensity aerobics, etc...). Many "exercise addicts" cannot stop working out, which is a good thing, but sometimes can be the result of underlying issues such a depression, since endorphins are the "happy hormones" and give a temporary elevation in one's mood (replacing anti-depressant drugs).
          Drug, alcohol and food addictions are very common and therefore have many therapy programs available to help overcome the problem and learn to form new habits to replace the old ones. Even "sex addicts" have therapy to help them since their habits make it impossible to keep a relationship and often lose their families. While researching some facts on "addictions" I came across what is referred to as "love addiction" and not something widely spoken about.
          With love addiction, romance and sexuality are typically beset with painful emotional highs and lows rather than any sort of lasting intimacy. Essentially, love addicts long for that special someone, the one person that will make them feel complete, and they constantly worry that they’ll never find that individual or that they’ll find that person but then be deemed unworthy. Sadly, most love addicts repeatedly bypass opportunities for the truly intimate connection that they think they want. This is because they are much more strongly attracted to the intense experience of dating, falling in love, fixing their partner and riding the highs and lows of the problem relationship than to peaceful intimacy (www.sexualrecovery.com).

          Fortunately, this same habit-forming process that occurs in the brain also works in a positive way to form "good habits". The term "practice makes perfect" is true to an extent. It might not make you "perfect" but it's the repeated actions over and over which becomes a learned behavior that will lead to improvement in that particular act you're practicing.  It's like learning to ride a bicycle. Your balance might not be as good if you haven't ridden one in 20 years but you won't have to learn all over again how to ride one.
          With the Holiday Season upon us, it is even more important to start focusing on goals, self-improvement, and changing bad habits because this is a time when most people are feeling, emotional, excitable, and more vulnerable to caving in to temptations. Starting new resolutions does not have to wait until January 1st!

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