Have you ever resorted to old, unhealthy habits in the name of self-care? I found myself doing that over the weekend.
My ex-husband does a lot of stupid things that I can do nothing about, and I hate it! I know I can’t change what he chooses to do, but because we share children, he will always be a part of my life. I know I can only change me, so I’ve been deliberating what I can do differently so my whole life doesn’t feel thrown off course every time we have a negative interaction. But I’m not there yet, and I let it ruin my weekend. How stupid is that?
As part of my morning routine, I take some personal time out for myself before I let social media or other people’s needs into my life. I focus on something spiritual, mental, and physical to get my day started off in a positive way. As part of this routine, this week I’ve been reading The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg.
The Habit Loop
A habit requires 3 things:
- Cue – A trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use.
- Routine – The “habit” which can be physical, mental, or emotional.
- Reward – Helps your brain figure out if this particular habit is worth remembering for the future.
Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward, cue, routine reward — gets stronger and stronger until it becomes a habit. An example would be if you’re tired (cue), you drink a cup of coffee or a diet soda (routine), and you are rewarded with a burst of energy.
Stick with me here, I promise this is going somewhere.
Over time, the cue and reward become so intertwined, that the habit forms. Because of this, unless you make a conscious choice to fight against a habit, it happens automatically. The only step in the loop that you can change is the routine. When a cue occurs, you have to choose something different than what you’re naturally inclined to do.
Applying the Loop to Life
When I had an interaction with my ex-husband on Thursday, it automatically cued in my brain all the old feelings I’ve had ever since I’ve known him. His treatment of me is one of the main reasons I put on so much weight in the first place. He has always made me feel that I’m not worth anything. If that is the case, then why even bother taking care of myself, right? So the old emotions and habits surface and I immediately want to take care of myself by eating a whole batch of cookies and bury myself in a book to escape the realities of my life and the things I can’t change. I tried to justify poor decisions by telling myself I had been working hard and deserved a free day. I even went so far as to label my “break” as some strange sort of self-care.
Wrong! Curling up with cupcakes and 12 hours of reality television is NOT self-care. If your self-care can be labeled avoiding, numbing, or distracting, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself what it is you really need.
I’m not saying it’s not okay to take a break from your exercise routine, or even to take a free day and eat something you normally wouldn’t. What you need to do first is figure out what you are really craving.
Is it a break? Some extra love and attention? Or simply reassurance that you’ll be okay even when life is hard?
Do something that is legitimately self-care:
- Take a bubble bath
- Write in your journal
- Have a meaningful conversation with a best friend
- Go on a walk
- Watch the sunset
- Cuddle with your partner
- Snuggle with your kids
- Go to bed early
When you experience a stressful situation, the important thing is to find a way to soothe your emotions, rather than trying to escape them. Remember that there is always a moment of choice. Anytime a cue arises that would normally cause you to turn to unhealthy habits, take a moment and make the better choice.
Do you find yourself turning to old unhealthy habits when life gets stressful? If so, how do you handle it? I’d love to hear your ideas to increase the tools I can use the next time it happens to me.
If you ever need a listening ear or someone to talk you out of an unhealthy choice, give me a shout out on my facebook wall. I’m always happy to help!
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Photo courtesy of Marcus | freedigitalphotos.net