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Self-medicating is the process by which we use addictive substances and behaviors to numb the pain of our emotional issues, mental illnesses and difficult life challenges. We use drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling to cope with our anxiety, depression, panic attacks and other mental health issues. We use our go-to drugs of choice to try and escape our deeply rooted pain and fear. We develop patterns where we default to these behaviors rather than mindfully working to heal our pain. How can we stop self-medicating, especially when we’ve become so accustomed to using these substances and behaviors, and so dependent upon them, that we feel as though we can’t live without them?

A powerful way to stop self-medicating is to find healthy alternatives to the behaviors we’ve been using that are destructive and toxic for us. Let’s look at our symptoms more closely and think of things that would help us even more than our self-medicating behaviors would. Using anxiety as an example, what are some of the symptoms we’re having a hard time coping with, that we’re desperate to numb ourselves from? Anxiety can cause us to have racing thoughts and to overthink and over worry. We can find our breathing becoming quicker and shallower, and our heart rates accelerating. Our intense anxiety can lead to panic attacks, which can resemble heart attacks. We feel tightness and tension in our chests, lungs, heads and throughout our entire bodies.

What are some healthy ways to cope with these symptoms? Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help us to slow down our thoughts. We learn to have more control over our wandering minds, and we can direct our attention away from all the negative, panic-stricken thoughts that are overwhelming us. Having a gratitude practice can help us start to more easily be able to think of the positive in any given situation, and can help ease our anxiety. When we’re overwhelmed and anxious, listing the things we’re grateful for can immediately help us calm down and make us feel more at peace. Repeating calming affirmations also works wonders for anxiety. Breathing exercises and meditative visualization can help us soothe the mental, emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. The more we practice breathing deeply and connecting with our breath, the more we can regain control of our overactive, anxious minds. Similarly, exercise helps us to calm ourselves down, feel more in control of our thoughts and emotions, and cope with the physical manifestations of anxiety.

Finding healthy alternatives to our toxic coping mechanisms can be a powerful way to stop our destructive cycles of self-medicating.

Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you uncover the issues fueling your addictions. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.