Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Drop Those Vices!

OK, maybe not all of them...

Most of us have some sort of vices that we often turn to in times of stress. While they seem to be relieving pressure, they often can be contributing to anxiety. A strong step toward living more stress free can often be to replace some bad vices with healthier ones. Smoking or drinking are ones that I have dealt with, and felt a lot of relief by cutting down on these things and turning to exercise as healthier alternative.


Many people turn to smoking during times of stress. It does seem to offer temporary relief during stressful situations, but that relief quickly fades away after that cigarette is out. Shortly thereafter, it begins to actually cause stress as your body begins to crave another one. That stress will persist until you smoke again.

What you have to realize: Smoking only gives stress relief to those who are addicted. The first time you smoked a cigarette, it likely gave you more of a rush rather than a feeling of calm (after all, nicotine is a stimulant). It was not until you became addicted that it began to offer you stress relief. The reason for this is simple, the nicotine craving is the cause of the stress. You simply feel relief from the nicotine craving. Over time, this causes you to falsely associate cigarettes with stress relief because the only time you don't feel the stress of addiction is when you are smoking.

The first step to quitting, for me, was this realization. I realized that once I got over a brief period of withdrawals, and no longer craved nicotine, I would feel the same level of stress relief that came from smoking a cigarette ALL THE TIME. I will talk more later about how I quit and what that did for my life later, but for now want to get on onto the next vice.


Drinking a beer can be a great stress reliever. Drink a bunch of them and you won't have a care in the world... until the next day. Alcohol dehydrates your body. This is why you feel that horrible hungover feeling the next day. Your body reacts with extreme anxiety when dehydrated. Water is one of the main things your body needs to survive, so when faced with a deficit of it, it reacts with high levels of anxiety. This is your body's way of telling you to drink less alcohol and more water.
I have had some of my worst panic attacks the day after heavy drinking.

I'm not saying you should cut out alcohol altogether, but just be aware that if you already suffer from anxiety or panic attacks alcohol hangovers can be much worse for you. I drink a few beers on a regular basis. Tequila Tuesday is a regular tradition in for my family and I. Moderation is key, though, and so is hydration. Most people overlook this one major factor when they drink. Try to order a glass of water with every drink. You will feel much better the next day if you do. And avoid drinking heavily if you have anything potentially stressful to do the next day.


Caffeine is a stimulant, so it's probably no surprise that it can increase stress and anxiety. Cutting back on caffeine and other stimulants can drastically help someone with anxiety. Small amounts of coffee can actually reduce stress, but if you drink lots of coffee in the morning and then caffeinated soda all day long as I once did, it can be less than helpful. It, like alcohol, dehydrates your body. When I look back on some of worst bouts with anxiety, some form of caffeine was usually present. Dropping coffee, pop, tea and even cutting back on chocolate helped me out a lot.

Now that all of your favorite vices are gone what can you do? Replace them with healthier obsessions. Working out can be an awesome stress reliever and makes a great replacement for some of those vices. Focusing on getting healthy will make you feel much better about quitting smoking. Cardio workouts in the morning can also give you increased energy, much like that cup of coffee and this energy will last further into your day without the crash. Exercising causes your body to release elation-producing endorphins, increasing your sense of well-being. Make sure that you hydrate well while exercising to avoid anxiety from dehydration.

Healthy eating is also a great alternative. The healthier your diet, the better your body will feel. Poor eating habits such as skipping meals can cause anxiety to increase. Much like dehydration, hunger is stressful to your body. Eating well can also give you something to be positive about, and along with exercise can contribute to your overall sense of well being.

Cutting out unhealthy habits, eating healthier, and exercising will also just help you feel better about yourself.
You will feel better about the way you look. You will feel more capable of doing things and you will feel more confident in your everyday life.

Your body will react negatively to anything that it perceives as a threat. That's what anxiety is. Your body's self preservation mechanisms cause negative reactions to things which are harmful to it and positive reactions to things that are good for it. Live your life with this general understanding and you may find other ways to live a life free of anxiety and panic. Good luck and feel free to share them here with me!

Some good resources on the benefits of exercise as stress-relief:

Mayo Clinic- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress
Natural News: How Exercise Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Active.com: 7 Ways Exercise Relieves Stress
Health.com: 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine
Men`s Health: The Best Workouts to Relieve Stress
Panic Away: Water Helps Ease General Anxiety 

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