Whenever I am sad or get mad, I tend to want to drink more or eat more or even binge watch TV. Is this just normal behavior for most people? I am not depressed, but I do get angry at myself when I let something happen that I could have prevented. This is when I always overindulge, any suggestions?
Dear Seeking Normalcy,
Many individuals, when they feel some form of pain or anger or sadness, drop everything and attempt to numb out whatever they are feeling. This comes naturally and we all choose different numbing agents or activities.
For most, the goal is to get back to “feeling good” again as quickly as possible, even if it means substances or deluding themselves with excuses or returning to their erroneous values. Learn to sustain the pain. Usually the pain is temporary!
Distractions and goals help with these emotions of anger and sadness. But like anyone else, our stress switches can turn on anger in milliseconds and we aren’t immune from becoming impulsive, fearful or reactive when we are in this mode.
The technique that works is the “STOP” technique. S=Stop T=Take a Breath O=Observe what is happening around you then P=Proceed with newfound information after taking a moment to evaluate. It is always easier to NOT make a decision than to correct a bad decision.
Take the time to stop being angry. Think about why you are angry, observe what is really going on and process what to do next. People cut us off in traffic, co-workers drop the ball on their half of a project, family members post enraging political posts on social media and a significant other knows exactly how to push our buttons – anger happens to all of us. How you handle it is what matters. Deep breaths through the nose and out of the mouth will start changing your brain chemistry from fight or flight to flow and let go.
There is an old phrase that says, “Buried feelings never die” and this is particularly true of anger.
I’m a big believer in the combination of dancing and music. Cranking up the music and singing along works wonders. Now with Alexa, it’s easy to simply give a command and instantly hear your favorite tune.
Keep in mind that there is usually an assumption or judgment that you’re making about the situation or person that made you upset. For example, if someone cuts you off while driving, you might assume that person is an inconsiderate jerk. Instead, try to think of alternative reasons why the person cut you off. If instead, you assume that person is rushing off to the hospital to see a loved one, the anger dissipates.
Before overindulging or splurging next time you are tempted to numb out what you are feeling, try asking three questions to yourself:
- Does this need to be said or done?
- Does it need to be said or done by me?
- Does this need to be said or done by me now?
By the time you answer the third question, you will be less inclined to react and that “time gap” is critical.
Accept pain and don’t rush to feel better fast. Just try the “STOP” method then choose your activity or distraction for numbing with full revelation of the consequences.
Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.