Cravings, Needs and Soft Addictions - How Our Behaviors Affect Our Health - More Than Just Habits
Addiction in Harmless Habits
You can be addicted to almost anything. Addicted people become physically and psychologically dependent on their habit. Often we think addiction refers to drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling and other destructive behavior. Sometimes, we can be addicted to things that seem harmless.
It is those harmless habits, done in excess that can adversely affect our health. Hooked on coffee, the internet, video games, and more lifestyle habits, they are known as soft addictions.
These patterns affect our lifestyle by draining our energy and get in the way of leading a fulfilling life for ourselves.
Often we choose consciously or unconsciously to adapt these habits as away to escape from our uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes people reach for that cup of coffee. In time that coffe becomes a relief from the stress at work. Soft addictions can give us a short temporary emotional high or a numbing of our feelings.
Hard addictions usually involve alcohol and drugs. The health risks are far more serious with hard addictions. Soft addictions, although they can affect our health, our not as life threatening.
Soft Addictions and Our Everyday Activities
In a Harris Poll of about 1,000 participants, nearly 90% had some kind of soft addiction.
Common soft addictions:
- watching tv
- social networking
- drinking coffee
- mindless snacking
It is detrimental to to put these addictions above the people in your life. Soft addictions can impact relationships, interfere with our productivity, and compromise our well being
Soft Addictions and the Reward Centers in Our Brain
Soft addictions are often related to some kind of stress that may be going on. Soft addictions increase in poor economic times. People will keep candy like M&M’s nearby and eat them by the handfuls without even being aware they are doing this.
It is important to be aware of soft addictions to avoid, for example finishing the M&M’s without being aware. It is not the bowl of M&M’s. It is the idea that you can control your behavior so that you can get more out of your life. The very activities that seem innocuous, harmless in nature, can and do get in the way of our happiness. You can change things and make them better for yourself.
Soft addictions affect our brain. Our brain has reward centers that respond to things we like. They are called pleasure centers located in the middle part of our brain. For example, while shopping you find something you like and buy it. To make things even better, it is on sale. You get a temporary high which makes you feel momentarily better about other things that are bothering you. Our brain tags this feel good moment. Every time we reinforce this good feeling, we strenthen the connection between doing the pleasurable experience and what feels like a survival technique. Stress makes us turn to the soft addiction more.
Caffeine Gives a Temporary Relief to Stress
Soft addictions can block intimacy similar to hard addictions. Instead of dealing with the feelings and emoitons, we busy ourselves in the pleasurable activity, like social networking on the internet. In reality these habits can promote procrastination, over snacking can add needless pounds, shopping can ruin our finances. Staying awake because we are playing video games or watching tv, can cause us to lose sleep, increase our anxiety and make us more irritable. These can lead to interfering with our relationships, and lack of sleep can affect our health.
Caffeine can trigger a stress response by stimulating the adrenal glands that make stress hormones. These stress hormones, epinephrine ande norepinephrine, set off physiological responses in our bodies. From muscle tension, to increased respiration, rapid pulse, and elevated blood sugars. Temporarily you feel an acute mental sharpness because your brain is responding to the adrenaline. Should the stress hormones stay high, the body is thrown into a state of persistent stress. People who sip coffee all day long are imposing the adrenal glands to continually pump out these stress producing hormones.
The Real Issue is Balance
The majority of people can admit they have a soft addiction, and many will even laugh about it, but the question is, should we limit these activities so that they do not cause additional problems and issues.
Let’s say, you would like to quit your soft habit. What can you do? Start with thinking about what made you susceptible. What feelings may have been evoked that led you to feeling vulnerable?
- become aware how you feel before, during, and after the activity
- note the feelings, confront the emotions, identify your thought processes
- what do you think you need, what relief are you seeking before you shopped, or went on Facebook, etc?
- be in touch with your needs so that you can seek a healthier substitute
- try to connect with a real person instead of relying on the soft habit
- soft addicitons are energy draining, but human connections can create new connections that will lead to the pleasure center in your brain.
It really is okay to go on Facebook, and enjoy shopping, tv and video games. The issue is balance. If you are doing too much of one thing or always relying on that cup of coffee or M&M’s for temporary relief may lead to bigger problems.
Remember, it is balance and moderation. You don’t have to cut out what you are doing completely. Just make sure you are not doing in excess, that it is not assisting you to procrastinate, and not interfering with healthy relationships sleeping, and increasing your anxiety. If the soft addiction helps you to be more productive because it was a break, than it is good. If the soft addiction monopolizes your time as a way to delay or keeps you have from having a more fulfilling life, than it pays to make some changes in your patterns of behavior.
Do You Have a Soft Addiction?
How to know if you have a problem with a soft addiction:
Question: do you hide your shopping purchases from your spouse, or buy what you can’t afford or don’t need?
Solution: budget yourself on a weekly basis and cancel your credit cards if you need
Question: Doy your eat mindlessly? Do you eat when you feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed?
Solution: Keep a log before you begin eating about what you think you are in the mood for. Write down how you are feeling, or call a friend. Try to delay eating for at least 15 minutes. Often the craving will go away. It may return in a short while, try to deal with your feelings and reach out to someone. If you must eat, try to eat healthy snacks.
Question: Do you need the television to fall asleep with?
Solution: Limit yourself to one hour of television per night. Try to read instead. One night a week, have a family game night
Question: Do you spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, HubPages, and other forums, and internet sites? Do you surf the web instead of getting other things done?
Solution: Limit the time you spend on the web, and use your time constructively. At the end of the day pat yourself on the back for getting something useful done.
Question: Do you need coffee to start your morning? Do you reach for coffee at work, when you are stressed?
Solution: If you are consuming too much caffeine in the course of the day, it is probably best to wean yourself off of the coffee. Too much caffeine can have many detrimental health effects. If you are addicted to caffeine, you may suffer some withdrawl symptoms such as headaches, mood changes, irriability, fatigue, drowsiness, slight depression and muscle stiffness or pain. Sometimes people can even feel nausea. The symptoms of withdrawl can happen anywhere from 6-18 hours after you have stopped drinking coffee.
Question: Do you always have your cell phone, ipad, blackberry, close at hand? Do you use it while at the dinner table and the big no no, while driving?
Solution: Turn off your electronic devices when you eating dinner, after 8 p.m. if possible, and in social situtions. Don't bring it on vacation, and check it only when it will not interfere with other things that take precedent at the moment.
Even Exercising Can Be a Form of Addiction
We all have soft addictions, even exercising can be considered an addiction. Compulsion and need characterize addictions. Even with soft addictions, there is an aspect of withdrawl, as there is with hard addictions, so if you are trying to change your habits, even with soft addictions, be kind to yourself. It is not an easy feat to make changes, especially ones that give a sense of pleasure. It may even be helpful to talk to a psychotherapist so that you learn about the underlying reasons you do what you do.
Having a responsible attitude is thing you can do to create a balance in your life so that you can keep enjoying pleasurable activities without them being in excess.
Gain Control in Your Life
There are many support groups you can join that can help with getting over soft addctions.
- reStart Internet Addiction Recovery Program
- Overeaters Anonymous
- Clutterers Anonymous
- Debtors Anonymous
We also imitate what we saw. If your parents relieved stress by eating, cleaning, shopping, etc., you may very well do the exact same. If your behavior is having a negative impact on other aspects in your life, it may be time to make a change for the better. Becoming aware, and admitting that there is a problem with the behavior is the first step towards change. By making yourself accountable, you will feel more like you can change things. Trying to delay the behavior is a good start. If you think about it, you will be more in control of your choices. Allow your rational thinking to be in charge. By substituting the behavior, you for another behavior you can give yourself more control over your choices. It is never easy, but it is worthwhile to make constructive changes in your life that will help you feel like a more contented person.