Healthy ways to accomplish relaxing/decompression brought about by destructive habits?
August 14, 2006 9:13 AM   Subscribe

What healthier alternatives have people swapped into their lives that, to them, adequately (or mostly) fulfilled the deeper-level relaxation/decompression/whatever that food, drink, cigarettes, or drugs had formerly fulfilled?

Without meaning any disrespect to those who have to deal with serious alcohol or narcotic addictions or to the severity of those addictions, I've recently come to a realization that one of the reasons I have a fairly bad weight problem is because for well over a decade "comfort food" has served the purpose for me that I think cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs have fulfilled for various other individuals: a way of comforting, relaxing, and de-stressing during periods of loneliness, hardship, stress, and intense negative emotions. It has calmed me down and taken me from fairly intense negative emotions (loneliness, high stress, etc.) down to a more relaxed state, much more quickly than mental relaxation techniques had, and to an extent that those techniques had not accomplished.

People give up alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and consequently need to find a substitute for the feelings those habits gave them. I have a feeling the substitutions that those people make might be of use to not only me but others who might read this thread.

If someone wished to answer the question anonymously, I imagine Jessamyn (or perhaps Matt) might be willing to post such comments.

Also, to make it clear, I'm not just looking for generic relaxation techniques, but specifically for anything that people have found useful enough to assist them in decompressing, relaxing, de-stressing, or in any way accomplishing any of the same effects that were once fulfilled or accomplished by a destructive or unhealthy habit.

On a small side note, I'm aware of Overeaters Anonymous, but don't know if, as someone who is not Christian and is not certain of a Supreme Being, any system that was based on trusting in a Higher Power would work for me.
posted by WCityMike to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Almost nothing works better for me than exercise. The harder the exercise, the better I feel afterwards.

Sometimes I also watch favorite, feel-good movies/ TV shows.

My relationship also helps a lot. As does quality time with good friends and family.

sometimes eating healthy food helps me. For example, I often feel rejuvenated by a smoothie, or sushi.

I also enjoy massages, pedicures and hair treatments. Actually, acupuncture has made me feel good too.

Doing good things for others makes me feel good too.
posted by Amizu at 9:20 AM on August 14, 2006

Though they co-existed side by side for a while in my life, surfing has totally replaced smoking pot as the way to relax.
posted by saladin at 9:20 AM on August 14, 2006

well, you'll undoubtedly get a lot of this, but it's all true - exercise, exercise, exercise. It's essentially a miracle drug - I've seen articles that argue that exercise is a potent antedote for all of the anxieties that you mention in your post (it has certainly helped me deal with them). To say nothing of the fact that, in addition to the endorphin rush, you'll lose weight, which will positively effect your self-esteem, I'd imagine.

Remember that it's okay to start small, you'll definitely work your way up to more rigorous exercise, but in the meantime you are taking incredibly positive and, if I may say, COURAGEOUS, steps by addressing these issues in a healthy, concious way.

In fact, that brings me to another point I'd like to make - I think alot of this is perspective-based, as you allude to in your post - you've become CONDITIONED to associating relaxation with your unhealthy habits. So, you know - work on that attitude adjustment. I think you can do that conciously. When I smoked, the bad health effects stressed me out as much as the nicotine relaxed me - made it easier to quit. Ditto eating junk food - it just makes me feel bad, whereas eating healthier makes me feel good.

Finally, meditation has had a very powerful effect on my life.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:27 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Whenever I need to de-stress I grab the acoustic guitar and play a bit. Completely relaxes me when I need it.
posted by gfrobe at 9:39 AM on August 14, 2006

Really any kind of exercise, even very mild. You get the endorphins.

Basically, something you positively ENJOY.

For me it's cycling, snowshoeing, snowboarding, swimming, lots of walking (while taking photographs). Relatively low impact... pleasantly tired... but it all adds up.

On a related note, acquiring productive non-career-oriented skills is also a life-saver. Something that requires you to focus will automatically displace whatever you're worrying about. For example, when I can't sleep for thinking about work problems, I play mental guitar scales up and down the neck of a mental guitar. It's impossible to worry while doing this.
posted by unSane at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2006

When I get home from work, I often pick up my ukulele and play music and sing for my young son. I can't think of a better way to unwind and put some distance between myself and the stress of daily life.

If you don't feel like playing music, listen to music! The Ditty Bops have been my choice recently when I want to hear something cheerful.
posted by Xazeru at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2006

When I quit smoking (among other things) I picked up mountain biking. I had always wanted to get back into mountain biking (I used to ride my rigid bmx on the trails as a kid) and it was the perfect thing.

Any time I get wound up over those little (big?) things I go out for a long ride. I got a nice bathroom scale and enjoy seeing my weight drop after just a few days of really hammering.

My advice to you is to find something you think you might like and give it a try. My first bike was a little $300 number I got off craigslits for 100 bux. It didn't last long, but I was hooked.

Lots of people swear by road bikes, I don't really road bike myself, but I understand many find it an excellent meditation tool. Mountain biking can be pretty rough and depending on your tolerance for pain and local geography you may prefer that route.

Good luck.
posted by crunchyk9 at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2006

Exercise, meditation, surfing, accupunture. Although not hard, these are all things one must go out and do, usually involving some amount of training or preparation or initial discomfort. All excellent things to do if you can, while attempting big lifestyle changes.

Replacing eating, cigarettes, or drugs with another readily availiable psychic pacifier to suck on throughout your day -- this is a somewhat different question. I am not sure such a thing exists. It sounds like your eating is a conditioned response to an adverse stimulus. There may or may not be a healthier or more socially acceptable conditioned response to adopt (and likely not one that has worked as well for you as eating). If this is the case, you might have more success if you spend your efforts avoiding those triggers that make you eat. In an extreme case, that might mean quitting your job or (temporarily) isolating yourself from family.

At least these are some of the conclusions I have come to while quitting smoking. When I read your statements about food, I immediately thought of my relationship to nicotine.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:48 AM on August 14, 2006

I quit smoking at the beginning of the summer, and started running and walking immediately. I also started chewing gum to satiate the oral fixation, which may help you as well if your vice is overeating. I also stayed with my parents for the first ten days or so to remove myself from anything that could trigger a desire to smoke.

I've been hiking up mountains almost every day since the beginning of the month, and it's currently my favorite thing to do in the world. I'm not sure what Chicago has to offer in terms of hiking, but if you can find a place to go for a walk in the woods, I highly recommend it.

Exercising and being active have changed how I view myself to the point where smoking is no longer compatible with who I am as a person, which I think has been the most important factor in keeping me from returning to it. It's not been a matter of replacing one activity with another for me, but replacing one self-concept with another. When you talk about finding a substitute for the feelings you get from your vice of choice, I worry that this approach is directed more at the symptoms than at the cause, although I may also be misinterpreting you.

I also felt my body growing healthier immediately, which further bolstered my decision to quit. It's also given me more self-discipline.
posted by alphanerd at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2006

I have traded the Snickers bar for the All-Bran Bar. Occasionally also for the Special K Bar.

I know, it doesn't sound like much, but sometimes I really want something with some sweetness to it, and the crunchy-chewy-honey goodness of an All Bran bar has just come to hit the spot. I've conditioned myself to think of it as a treat.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2006

Try to eliminate refined sugar from your diet, and eat protein for breakfast. This will automatically help you eat more for hunger and less for gratification.

I have found cross-stitching to be tremendously helpful. I know it sounds silly, but if excercise and straightforward meditation bores you, like it does me, you have fewer options. I find that stitching relaxes me immensely, it seems to put me in an entirely different mental space, the space I used to get to via smoking and eating sweets.

Probably any attention-focusing repetitive work would be effective: maybe painting, or wood-working, or gardening, etc. Look to the things you enjoyed as a child for ideas.
posted by macinchik at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2006

Well I know people have mentioned exercise, and I must agree, but more specifically I would have to suggest yoga of any kind. I found that taking Hatha to learn the basics and then progressing to more intense levels of yoga have done wonders to fulfill the needs that my body has. I honestly believe in the meditation and focus that yoga brings to the mind. For me personally I have had less anxiety, fewer panic attacks, and you will find that doing all of those "bad" things to your body(overeating, drinking, smoking, drugs) just are not as fulfilling as they once were. You come to the point where you no longer want to toxify your body or mind anymore. Good luck!
posted by meeshelle39 at 10:23 AM on August 14, 2006

I'll recommend Yoga for relaxation. You don't have to believe in any kind of higher power to get health benefits from doing yoga, and if you look around, you'll find that some studios are more no nonsense than others.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2006

600 mg of calcium with vit D twice a day pretty much kills my carb/sugar craving/addiction. I can really tell a difference when I forget to take it. I also cut the caffiene (I do drink a diet drink here and there like sprite zero). sugarfree gum has helped too. Oh watch out with those bars..I cant eat one.. I can eat one whole box, so I just dont bring it in the house. When I just have to have chocolate or sugar I buy a single serving from the gas station. Just one serving.

Uni of TN did a study on calcium and sugar cravings... thats where I heard about it.
posted by meeshell at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yoga, yoga and more yoga.
posted by Lynsey at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2006

I'll second (or third, I guess) the recommendation for yoga - it's helped with both depression and weight loss. And there are lots of men at my yoga studio, if you're worried about that...
posted by echo0720 at 10:59 AM on August 14, 2006

I'm big into turning to food for comfort, so when I had to diet I had a tough time. I found out that if I can get a food that's the same consistency as the food I'm craving then I can enjoy a healthy alternative. For example, baked tortilla chips instead of potato chips, or a chewy granola bar instead of a candy bar. I also drank lots of flavored carbonated water instead of soda.

As for an activity to substitute, I often read books or drew pictures. Anything that would take some concentration.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:28 AM on August 14, 2006

The thing about exercise is this: it isn't instant, there's a lag time -- unlike Haagen Dazs, a cigarette, or porn.

Until recently, I was pretty completely sendentary. So I'd get on the stairmaster, and, as I always had in the past when I tried to get an exercise routine going, hate my life. Think of a million other things I could be doing.

But I found that this is only true for the first twenty minutes. If I could tough it out for twenty-one minutes, I was golden -- I felt like I could stay on that stairmaster for the rest of the day. So if you try it, and don't feel the beautiful exercise high everyone talks about -- just force yourself to keep going, get past the lag, and you will. (My motivation: I make playlists of the songs I am currently crazy about, and only listen to those songs at the gym -- my current favorite song goes at minute 19, of course.)

One other strange thing: people will hit on you more (outside the gym) when you are exercising regularly, and not because you are so dramatically better-looking (yet). I don't know why -- sweat pheromones? Groovy relaxed attitude? Who knows? But it is nice, especially if you have had body-image issues in the past.

And you know what else? If you are going to the gym regularly, you can give yourself permission to eat anything you want. I quit smoking two weeks after joining the gym (12 days ago -- yay me). The day I quit, I bought four cartons of Haagen Dazs. I ate them all, and everything else that would fit in my mouth, the first few days of non-smoking -- and I continued to lose weight all the same.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:28 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Exercise in general and yoga in particular are the big things for me, and to some extent just because they take up time -- when I'm sitting at home by myself in the evening with nothing to do, I end up pouring myself a glass of wine and eating too much; just being at a yoga class keeps me from doing that.

In addition, a quicker fix is just taking a few deep breaths or drinking a glass of water. The breathing can help dispel that anxious/restless feeling that often leads me to eat, and the water can often quench minor hunger or thirst.
posted by occhiblu at 11:30 AM on August 14, 2006

Gotta put a vote in for knitting. Chicks dig it, you get a useable product at the end, it's pretty portable (especially socks), it builds concentration and otherwise helps the brain and improves hand eye coordination. Did I mention that chicks dig it? Crocheting is also a good thing.
posted by bilabial at 11:39 AM on August 14, 2006

I've found cultivating a degree of food snobbery and an interest in truly excellent cooking has helped me get over some of my comfort eating. If you spend some time treating yourself to fabulous, high-quality food, and get into the mindset that you shouldn't ever eat anything unless you're actually enjoying it, you can short-circuit a lot of calories just because... they're kind of gross. Your mileage may vary, blah blah.

In terms of decompressing and relaxing, I've discovered weeding my garden is pretty useful. It's mental enough that you have to concentrate on it and take your mind off of other things, and constructive while feeling pleasantly destructive. (Take THAT, you pernicious chickweed!)
posted by Andrhia at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

My change isn't anywhere near as major as what's being suggested, but it can be a useful little fix. If you're used to eating mindlessly while you're working on the computer or watching TV, grab Silly Putty, or a paperweight with an interesting shape, just to keep your hands busy. You can also substitute a bottle of water -- when you would be snacking, you can be sipping.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2006

I agree with Andrhia's 'food snobbery' comment.
I am very active (exercise like mad for fun and social reasons), but tend to fall on coffee/food for relief from stress and exhaustion. I would often overeat to compensate for a missed meal, or a particularaly exhausting day. The results of all this was that I maintained a lovely layer of padding overtop my ever-strengthening muscles. When I switched to more quality foods and more experimental cooking (my family is Ukranian, and the cooking style does not encourage a slimming diet), I found I couldn't stand the taste of most of my regular junk food.

I also keep a bar of super rich dark chocolate in the fridge and have three or four squares when I hit sugar/caffeine/emotional lows. It's too expensive for me to snack on all the time, and rich enough that I don't need a lot to get the boost I want. To take care of the 'must have something in my hand' issue, I got this huge, awsome, ugly mug thing that I keep filled with water. I also toss ice chips in there. Sure, the enamal on my teeth is going to hell, but I love me some ice chips to chew on.
posted by billy_the_punk at 1:19 PM on August 14, 2006




(not necessarily in that order.)
posted by LordSludge at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2006

I haven't seen anyone study this but my experience is that I eat more junk when I'm sleepy. My theory is that the body is trying to make up for the lost sleep by adding calories (energy).

A full, restful night's sleep can do wonder for all of the areas you describe in addition to making it easier to exercise and do other good things.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:27 PM on August 14, 2006

I think it's important to point out that 12-step programs are NOT Christian. I am a member of Al-anon, for families and friends of alcoholics, and I really don't believe in god--as defined by any religion. However, I find plenty of room in the program for me, if I'm willing to hear the word "god" and translate it to my own conception of a higher power, which is simply the strength found in myself and others at our best. The people there have absolutely changed my life and many of them feel the same as I do about god.

If you feel powerless over eating, then OA might be for you.

But my favorite is walking. I have no fitness expectations (stress!), just want to smell the air and feel what the weather is doing.
posted by aimless at 2:51 PM on August 14, 2006

for me lately it's camping. even those cheesy campsites that you pull your car up to and pitch tent (they'll usually have bathrooms and showers too). There's just something about having all that time and nothing to do (there's obviously lots to do when your camping but it's all different, you'll find it entertaining to 'waste' half an hour just sitting there whittling a stick or something). If you don't have anyone to go with, just go by yourself.. it's only one afternoon/night/morning if you want to start slow. And don't let anyone tell you 'that's not camping', start slow and see if you like it. For me, someone who'd recently never been (city slicker), it's camping enough (for now).
posted by imaswinger at 4:04 PM on August 14, 2006

Being highly organized, making lists and crossing things off of them, and doing "brain dumps" at the end of the day of things that are nagging me has helped me manage stress and feel less neurotic about things. I also try to keep up with daily chores and cleaning. Physically tiring and aesthetically gratifying.

I find the feelings of purpose and accomplishment perversely relaxing and reassuring. It scratches my perfectionist itch and relieves some of the anxiety about problems I used to avoid through other less-healthy means.

I heard Wendy Williams say on her radio show that she helped beat years of drug abuse by swapping it with an addiction to being a compulsive perfectionist and control freak. It works.
posted by Marnie at 4:55 PM on August 14, 2006

yeah, sex for sure
posted by yodelingisfun at 6:05 PM on August 14, 2006

Like bilabial said, I find knitting and other crafts very relaxing, as long as you make something for yourself or others where it doen't require a deadline.

I gave up caffine, chocolate bars, and pop by knitting socks during my breaks instead of gorging at the snack machine. It's something that keeps my hands busy, but leaves my mind free to roam and solve the little problems that stress me out.

I also get to know that I've finished something!
posted by cathoo at 7:06 AM on August 15, 2006

I lost weight by seeing a shrink (binge eater) and she told me she had a lot of male clients who developed new addictions to online porn. So, sex, but more specifically, onanism.

Oh, for me? TV.
posted by clairezulkey at 7:16 AM on September 7, 2006

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