It is 2020, if you thought you were not dealing with stress, by now I am convinced that you already have the awareness of your stress. How healthy am I? Will I keep my job, my business? Will the government take control of my health? What is freedom? Do we still have it? Will I be able to feed my family? Is all news fake? Can I trust business-driven science? Am I being manipulated by the media?
It is known that the rate of suicide, including health care providers, increased in the last couple of months, as well as domestic violence and sexual abuse. People are becoming aware that we are social creatures, we need each other. Polarization divides us and makes us weak. Weakness generates a sense of powerlessness, which in turn compels us to search for coping mechanisms to survive. Under pressure, outer or inner, real or perceived, we start finding ways to deal with the situation to alleviate our mental, emotional, and moral pains; and sometimes, even physical pain. Gastritis and ulcers, for instance, are also developed when we feel powerless, without choice or autonomy.
Because we live in a patriarchal society that disregards emotions as “bad” or “female weakness,” we don’t learn in school, churches, or any institution how to deal with them. We categorize them as “positive” or “negative” because we live in duality. In reality, all emotions are good! They are a type of language that, unfortunately, we didn’t learn to talk. What we truly need is to learn how to deal with them. The paradox is that we don’t value emotions, we go against them. However, all the marketing and advertising system is based on how to use human emotions from selling bubble gum to the presidential election. People don’t vote or buy a product because of its good qualities. If it was this way, more than 50% of what is sold would vanish because they are not healthy and they don’t cause any good, just problems, for example, cigarettes. Nonetheless, people still smoke. Why? Because of the sense of “fake pleasure,” at least initially, before nicotine travels through the reward path in the brain.
How many people started biting their nails while in quarantine? How many people started smoking during this time? Or started drinking more than they “should?” What I call undesired habits are those habits that we don’t want to start in the first place because at the mental level they don’t cause us any good. However, we keep them as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and the feeling of hopelessness or powerlessness. Sometimes those habits are the only thing we subconsciously think that can keep us alive.
How do those undesired habits originate? I divide them into two categories: accidental undesired habits and deviant habits. The following is an example of an accidental habit. You had a bad day, you are tired, and after dinner, you decide to soothe yourself with a piece of chocolate. That feels good. Now you feel rewarded and even calm. The next day, you are okay, but the traffic was horrible back home. So after dinner, why not eat another piece of chocolate? After all, you deserve a treat! After a week you are eating two pieces of chocolate. After a month you are eating the whole box, and when you least expect you are eating two or three boxes of chocolate a day. Despite sugar not being healthy, you keep eating it. Why? Because it soothes your emotions and it becomes a reward for your brain too, even though you put several extra pounds over your skeleton and your adrenals are screaming “Stop, please! I need a break!” It also can start out of curiosity or fun. How many people started smoking out of curiosity? It happens with sugar, nicotine, pot, cocaine, heroin, sex, alcohol, television, shopping, internet, and so on.
Undesired habits can also install as what I call a deviant habit. This is a kind of habit we develop to cope or alleviate a profound emotional and even moral pain. Here I would like to clarify what I mean by moral suffering or moral pain. I had clients telling me they need to omit or change information to keep their jobs, which causes them a strong moral conflict. I heard from veterans how much they suffer from moral pain. They learned their whole life to be like Jesus, to love their neighbors, brothers, and sisters. Suddenly they are killing their neighbors, brothers, and sisters. They never heard about Jesus saying that it was justified killing people. Unfortunately, they blame themselves for that. It is not a coincidence that the use of a substance is high among veterans. According to the National Veterans Foundation “As military members return from deployment suffering from physical and mental health problems and disabilities due to their experiences while deployed, substance abuse becomes more prevalent. Combat today is vastly different than it was even 40-50 years ago, and the new war on terror has increased the trauma and emotional toll combat has had on our service members.” The moral pain is just as devastating as the emotional trauma.
You don’t have to go to war to be traumatized, it can happen with a natural disaster, a life-threatening disease, the death of a loved one, car accident, divorce, bullying, and even hearing about a traumatic event. If you are a sensitive person or an empath (person who can feel other people’s emotional or physical pain) you need extra care. You must learn to deal with your emotions to recognize which are yours and which are not. Unfortunately, brutality, atrocity, violence are becoming normalized in our society. Somehow the traditional media is directing people to see life as meaningless, normalizing what is not normal, punishing the right actions, and promoting unhealthy values and attitudes. According to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the technical name for that is Nihilism.
Everything seems to be overwhelming! But how to change those undesired habits? How to develop a meaningful life? I could write a book about it. But my goal with this article is to give you some tips and food for thought. According to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habits, to install a habit we need a cue, a routine, and a reward. He writes “We know that a habit cannot be eradicated – it must, instead, be replaced.” Now you ask me how? The cues will be there and you will need also a reward. The secret is to change the routine. However, doing it alone can be very hard. Yet, if you have a peer or group that supports you, it becomes much easier to deal with change. Human connection and support operate miracles. We are essentially social creatures. He explains that a support group works as a Higher Power and cites AA meetings as an example. But we know for a fact, that AA is not for everybody. Unfortunately, as it happens under a male’s perspective, nothing was mentioned about hypnosis and the subconscious mind.
From the conscious mind stand-point, you can start changing your undesired habits by changing your routine. The cues (tiredness, boredom, anxiety, depression, etc.) are there and the need for a reward too. So instead of eating a piece or a box of chocolate, how about having fresh fruit for dessert? Or prunes? The changes can be gradual, but constant. Duhigg mentioned a female smoker who stopped smoking because she switched cigarettes with jogging. The endorphins released after jogging were a powerful reward for her. But not anyone can stop during the day and go for jogging. Yet you can change your routine, for example, don’t hang out with other smokers. Instead of smoking, go for a short walk around the block. Reward yourself by listening to your favorite song. Dance if possible. Listen to a stand-up comedy video or a couple of silly jokes, they are the best to change your energy frequency. Have some hypnosis sessions with a reliable professional. By doing that you are educating your subconscious mind to be opened to new routines. Hypnosis helps you to overcome self-sabotage, your biggest enemy and obstacle. Bedtime and when you wake up in the morning are important moments where your subconscious mind is still active and your conscious mind is not fully engaged. The best way to harness those moments is by doing positive affirmations. Thus the subconscious mind can retain them. The affirmations made by the conscious mind don’t last because the memory banks are stored in the subconscious mind. The conscious mind influences just 10% of human behaviors.
Remember that you don’t have to do everything by yourself, even Jesus didn’t. He had 12 helpers. Unconditional love-based relationships are two ways: giving and receiving that alternates or overlaps according to the circumstances. And a group of people with a common goal can work together beautifully! It is about human connection!
Duhigg, Charles, “The Power of Habit – Why We Do, What We Do In Life And Business” 2012.
Grant, Jon E., Odlaug, Brian L., Chamberlain, Samuel R., “Why Can’t I Stop?” 2016.