Did you know that there are six things we have control over that predict roughly 80% of the chronic illnesses we will face? Risky substance use is one of these pillars — and as seen in recent research, use of substances has been increasing during the pandemic.
It’s human nature to look for a short cut. And, when it comes to stress relief, many of us do—reaching for alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis to take the edge off. With more of us cooped up and isolated during the pandemic, research shows that more of us are relying on substances to cope.
Luckily, the stigma around talking about difficulties with substance use is beginning to soften. The popularity of no-drinking challenges, like Dry January, the proliferation of online programs such as ThisNakedMind and OneYearNoBeer, and a booming non-alcoholic beverage industry point to a growing market for moderation.
If you are interested in exploring your relationship to substances, try these tips.
- Experiment with substance-free days and use a notebook to track how you feel on those days and on days when you do indulge. Seeing how different substances affect your sleep, mood, and motivation can be helpful information as you decide if or when you do want to indulge.
- Ask yourself why you are using it. Is it to help you sleep? Is it a coping mechanism to manage stress, anxiety or depression? Or is it a way to relieve boredom in a time when our lives have lost a lot of the fun outlets we used to have?
- Replace it with a habit that will better help you reach your end goal. According to research done at MIT, habits work on a simple loop: the cue, the routine, and then the reward.
For instance, if you drink to fall asleep, the cue is nighttime, the routine is reaching for the drink, and the reward, falling asleep faster. Try replacing the drinks with another ritual—but one that will help you sleep better than alcohol does. Nighttime comes, you make a cup of chamomile tea and take a hot bath for instance. You give yourself a pleasurable, relaxing ritual to replace drinking. Over time, your mind will react to nighttime with the desire for a bath rather than a glass of wine.
If your cue is stress or boredom, here are some helpful ideas for creating a replacement stress reliever or building your social life.
- Make your goals bigger: Research into habit formation has found that it is helpful to make your goals about something positive, important to you, and specific—rather than just focused on the behavior. So, instead of a vague goal targeted to the specific behavior—such as “I want to smoke less”—make it about what you hope to achieve. For instance: “I want to be clear-headed and present at work in the morning,” “I want to have a deep, restful sleep,” or “I want to end my day with a fun activity.”
If you’re looking for practical ways to improve your lifestyle habits, we have you covered. Amazon Care is offering a free six-week email course full of achievable challenges to begin forming better habits.