Coping

There’s been radio silence for the past few days here at Quit Snacking. I’ve actually written a few posts, but they are sitting as drafts as they are more like crabby, incoherent mind dumps.

The object of this blog is for me to provide my own encouragement while trying to give up a bad habit. While I’ve stayed true to my mission to get through the day alcohol and snack free, I’ve been really rather grumpy about it.

It’s hard to write encouraging stuff when you’re sulking. I am also aware, some readers are curious about how my project is going and might think I’m enjoying easy halcyon days and changing habits is a breeze. I owe these people an update, but having a bloggy moan wouldn’t be helpful to anyone.

It became clear I was getting a bit stuck and I wasn’t progressing. Here is what I learned about that situation.

Distract. Calm. Cope.

Last night I dug out a book called The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook. DBT is a framework where a person learns new behaviours while also dealing with one’s motivations to pursue harmful behaviours.

The process suggests a three-step cycle during a stressful event of:
Distract
Calm
Cope

Mostly what I have been doing when presented with a snack attack is distracting and occasionally calming myself. But I haven’t been thinking about coping skills.

This may be why I’ve been skulking around the house in a passive aggressive way the past few days.

How To Cope

The first part, according to the Workbook, of coping with an uncomfortable situation is accepting it for what it is, without judging it. This means not telling myself a dramatic story about what I’m experiencing to further whip up emotions. It is also important to accept myself without judgement in the situation. So I may be handling the situation with skill or perhaps lacking in skill, but by accepting myself I am able to cut myself some slack.

The not-judging part is not that easy. If I’ve become dependent on unhelpful behaviours to cope with negative emotions, the results of my behaviour loop me back to a judgement. The sequence looks like this:

Judgement (Those people are selfish by not social distancing.)
Emotion (Anger. Injustice. Outrage.)
Unhelpful behaviour (Pick a fight. Drink. Smash something.)

To cope, the first step is to catch myself making a judgement. Then, to short circuit the rising emotions, I take action to diffuse or release the judgement. I can tell myself:

“It doesn’t matter.”
“It’s not my responsibility to deal with this.”
“Lots of people are dealing with this problem too, not just me.”
“This situation won’t last.”
“Nothing bad is happening to me right now.”
“I can only take care of myself, and that will still make a difference.”
“I don’t have to have an opinion about that.” (My personal favourite)

The second step is to accept the negative emotions I’m feeling, again without judgement. I can tell myself:

“I feel angry, and that’s understandable.”
“I feel this situation is unfair, but I don’t have to fix it.”
“I feel powerless to fix this, but it won’t last forever.”

The last step is to reflect on whether my behaviours are effective in the circumstances. I do this by thinking about the outcomes of my behaviour. In the case of snacking, I knew from the start that eating in order to stop drinking was not going to be the most effective way of coping with my Covid-times emotions. I knew I would eventually have to face up to my coping strategies.

What’s interesting about the snacking situation was I went into it without judging eating as a personal failure. I could see the behaviour for what it really was: an attempt to interrupt a much more damaging habit which was drinking alcohol. In that context, snacking was actually the greater good.

If you are also concerned about your eating behaviours, you can also take this idea away, namely that you have also been eating because it may have been stopping you from doing something worse, like lashing out or smashing up someone else’s property. You might say to me, “Oh, I would NEVER do that!” Of course you wouldn’t, because somewhere along the way you figured out that eating was a better way to cope. See? You were already doing the better thing. But now maybe you’re at a place where you think, like me, the pointless eating business is not the MOST helpful thing to do.

My new circumstance is to figure out how to cope with understandable negative feelings from lockdown without chopping and changing from one unwise behaviour to another.

Effectiveness Means Knowing Your Values

The way to figure out how to be effective is to remember what my larger goals and values are when I start to feel overwhelmed. In my case:

I want to be close to my family, so I try hard to not let covid-frustration cause me to imagine I’m frustrated with them, then pointlessly criticise them and start fights. What I actually want to do is start a fight with covid, yeah! Except I can’t figure out how to do that.

I don’t like wasting things, so I remember to watch what I eat so I don’t grow out of my clothes, which I actually like.

I want to have conversations about politics and connect with like-minded people, so I use my art as a channel, instead of doomscrolling or ranting on social media. I’m so lucky because art actually gives me a huge platform and megaphone, though only once or twice a year. It also introduces me to really smart and accomplished people and I can learn lots of interesting things. Ranting is comparatively feeble even though I can do it non-stop every day. In the end, it isn’t productive or interesting.

I want to enjoy my home, so I clean and maintain it rather than endlessly buy things that don’t improve anything at all.

Three Steps To Embrace The Bad Feels

1. Catch your judgy self. There’s nothing wrong with critical thoughts. Your brain is wired to sift the world into the good, bad and ugly. But you can be the benevolent boss and tell your brain it’s okay. Thank you for doing all that attentive work, but it doesn’t need to have opinions right now.

2. Tip your hat to the negative feelings. Accept that it’s reasonable to feel that way. Give yourself permission to not act on those emotions right now.

3. Enhance your effectiveness by checking in on your goals and values. Self-care and distraction techniques are good for calming down, but they won’t help you move closer to your goals or align with your higher values.

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