How To Battle Cravings When You’re Stuck At Home
As we enter a new week of quarantine, you might be feeling a bit antsy. Or maybe A LOT antsy.
The mixture of uncertainty, boredom, and helplessness is a massive trigger to fall back on old comforts. Whether it’s drinking, smoking, eating junk good, or something else, it’s hard to fight cravings when you have fewer options for coping with them.
So with that in mind, here are a few go-to strategies I use when the urge to do something I shouldn’t hits.
You can apply it to any vice you want (for the most part).
1. Force yourself to get out of your head for a minute.
For me, cravings have a massive snowball effect. They start mild enough. Like there’s an inkling I should do something I know I shouldn’t. But it’s just kind of there, nagging me, like a pebble in a shoe.
Then whatever stupid idea I have gets loud. Maybe this sounds familiar.
Before you know it, you are fully engaged with a stressful back and forth inside your own head. The panic sets in. You feel like if you don’t cave, you might explode.
It is precisely in that moment that you want to mentally step away.
And you do that by snapping out of your thoughts for a second. Take a deep breath. Look around you. What is happening in this exact moment? Do you hear birds chirping? Cars on the road? A fan blowing?
Getting present immediately deflates the storm inside your brain.
It won’t eliminate the craving completely, but it allows you get your wits about you so that you can deal with it.
What if the present moment IS the thing that’s fueling the craving?
I get that.
If you’re stuck inside a house with a bunch of raucous kids that are THIS close to making your head explode, you might need another tactic.
Or if you’re having an argument with a significant other and no one can really go anywhere, because, well, quarantine, that poses an added challenge.
If you can physically remove yourself from the situation momentarily, do it.
Whether it’s going inside a room and closing the door, stepping outside to get some air, or whatever else is available to you, get some physical distance.
And then once you do, get present from there.
I get really worked up about the future, especially now that everything has changed.
How will I get a job? Will my husband’s visa be further delayed? How much longer till we can get our own place now that COVID-19 has shut the whole world down?
And do you know what I want to do in those moments?
Slam a can of coke and stuff my face with whatever carby, salty, fatty food sounds good in the moment.
That’s when I have to stop. Listen to what’s going on around me. Say to myself, “okay none of that stuff in your head is happening right now. What’s happening right now?”
And usually the answer is: nothing bad. The sun is out, somebody’s probably watching TV, and my kid is singing songs in front of the mirror. We’re fine.
Which leads to tip #2.
2. Remind yourself what is in your control.
If your cravings are born out of anxiety about the future (totally understandable), the next step is to give yourself a reality check.
What is going on right now in your world? Are you safe? Do you have food and water? Shelter? Right in this moment, are you okay?
My guess is that the answer is, yes.
Now you might not know if that will be the case next week or next month. Maybe you don’t know how you’ll make rent this month because you’ve been laid off. Or someone close to you is sick and you feel helpless. What will happen to them?
All those things are mostly out of your control.
My family and I just relocated back to the States and were trying to get set up on our own when this mess hit. Now, I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re living on savings now and what modest income I get from this blog, riding this wave of uncertainty along with everyone else.
But I can’t control that. And neither can you.
Here’s what I can do:
- I can appreciate that in this moment, we are safe and wanting for nothing.
- Be mindful of spending and make a concerted effort to meal plan with finances in mind.
- Keep taking my classes and looking for opportunities to earn money right now.
- Play with my kid and make sure she’s happy and her primary needs are met.
Everything else is beyond my control.
Do I live every minute of my life in this present-minded zen state? Absolutely not. I live in this state maybe an hour a two per day if I’m lucky. The rest of the time, I worry and get lost in my head like everybody else.
The point is to recognize when your mind is off on a tangent and try to center yourself in the present moment and reality as best you can. If you allow yourself to live in a constant state of panic, you are more likely to search for an escape like alcohol.
Having a hard time checking out of your head and into the present? Try meditation or mindfulness. They are excellent tools to help you start. (Not miracles, but a start.)
3. Play the tape forward.
You’ve probably heard me suggest this before, but that’s because it has been a life saver for me on numerous occasions.
Let’s say you’ve done the first two tips and you STILL want to cave. You still feel freaked out, irritated, lonely, or some other emotion and you just want out.
You want a beer, or a cigarette, or an entire pizza. Maybe all three.
Play the tape forward.
If you cave to your cravings, what is going to happen next? Say you decide to get drunk. It probably feels like a sweet release at first, but after three or four, you’re going to be a mess. You’ll disappoint yourself and your loved ones. Maybe even do or say something stupid which is way harder to deal with when you can’t exactly go anywhere.
And then what?
Tomorrow you have a terrible hangover, all of the same fears and worries, and now you’ve flushed your sobriety down the toilet.
Is it worth it?
If you sit with that question honestly, the answer is going to be no.
None of those terrible vices are going to fix a single thing that’s irritating you right now. In fact, they will only add to your problems.
I’m sure we’d all like to escape the uncertainty for a few hours, but that’s now how life works.
For me, I ask myself questions like, “is having another can of coke going to make me feel better than fitting back into my jeans?”
And then I play the tape forward.
Every bad food choice accumulates and I think about what my body will look and feel like if I continue to pile on extra calories and eat nutritionally poor foods. I think about how mad at myself I’ll be, or bloated and uncomfortable. What my energy level will feel like.
Doing that helps me say no when I need to.
4. Find something else to do with your time.
Depending on your living situation, this is significantly harder than it used to be. Maybe the fact that you’ve lost access to your go-to distractions is fueling your cravings.
Find something else.
Now if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “there’s nothing I can do,” challenge that thinking immediately. Having a defeatist attitude is only going to increase the chance you submit to your cravings and honestly, it is a cop out.
You’re more powerful than that.
I live in an area where I can still go outside for a walk and so I do. When I’m feeling pent up and overwhelmed, I do a gentle yoga routine on YouTube and it helps me feel better. Been tearing into some Sudoku puzzles and library books as well.
Sometimes I hop on Pinterest to find a fun activity to do with my daughter because I have zero aptitude to think up those things on my own. (God bless the elementary and preschool teachers of the world.)
Find a productive way to stay busy.
You know what’s NOT an example of that? Immersing yourself in social media or the news. Do that for long enough and you’ll only work yourself up more.
Unplug as much as you can.
You’d be amazed how much of our anxiety is fueled by our virtual experiences. Get out an old puzzle, learn how to do a craft, play board games with your family.
Find a way to keep your hands, body, and brain busy that will help take your mind off things. It’s on you to decide what, but be open to trying.
Again, we can’t control how long we’re stuck in our homes. We CAN control how we use this time.
5. Ask for help.
If you’re in a REALLY bad place, ask for help. Every kind of recovery meeting out there is online now. If you’re struggling with sobriety from alcohol, nicotine, food, whatever your vice, there is a meeting for you.
Ask for help.
If you have a therapist, schedule a virtual session with them.
No matter how severe or frequent the cravings get, so long as you continue to prioritize your sobriety/health/peace of mind, you are doing good.
If you do slip up and relapse, as long as you keep trying to fight like hell to prevent another one, you are doing good.
But you need to ask for help.
If you’re interested in online meetings, you can go to my article Sobriety In The Time Of Quarantine to find an extensive list of options.
Maybe most importantly…
Be kind to yourself.
We’re all out just doing the best we can. We’re going to screw up. Have days when our fuse is short. Days when we just hide under a blanket and watch way too many shows on Netflix.
Just don’t drink.
Or whatever things you’ve been fighting so hard to avoid.
Cut yourself from slack and give yourself permission to start fresh the next day. We’re all in this uncertainty together and, as always, the Soberish community is available to you if you need us (even if it’s just to commiserate over goofy memes).