Chronic Stress and Returning to Unhealthful Habits or Thought Patterns

Is chronic stress influencing you to return to bad habits or thinking patterns? A little pressure can be healthy, but too much of it can derail your most disciplined progress. Perhaps you were doing well with not smoking or overindulging in alcohol like you used to, for instance. Or maybe you made some significant positive changes physically, mentally, or spiritually. 

Whatever improvements you made, one thing’s for sure—they were working for you. So much so that you vowed never to go back to the dead ends you frequented before. The benefits of your more healthful lifestyle changes were just too great to do what you used to do.

Over time, though, you got tired, overwhelmed, and stressed out with life. And eventually, the unthinkable happened. You went back to the bad habit you vowed never to revisit. The return to unhealthful activities possibly brought momentary relief. But you finally reached the point, once again, where you were fed up with your unhealthy choices. You were also angry and discouraged that you gave up on what was best for you and those closest to you.

Why did you go back to that unhelpful habit you resolved never to revisit? And how do you regain your previous motivation to get back on track and stay there? Also, how do you prevent the symptoms of stress from derailing future positive life changes you make? Here are some ideas for when stress symptoms make it easier to backtrack on your progress.

You Didn’t Fall into Old Habits Because of a Lack of Willpower

Now, are there times a lack of willpower plays a role in reverting back to old ways that didn’t work for us? For sure. However, suppose high-stress levels are influencing you to go back to old unhealthful habits. In that case, the culprit is most likely the stress dynamic rather than how dedicated you are. Either you’re struggling to manage a reasonable or unreasonable amount of stress.

If you were dealing with manageable stress levels, you wouldn’t be so compelled to cope in ways that aren’t good for you. That desire for quick relief gives way to better long-term strategies when you feel overloaded.

There’s a mantra in the fitness world that says, “you can’t outrun a bad diet.” The point is that a healthy diet is imperative for optimal fitness. If you regularly eat unhealthy foods, eventually, no amount of exercise will counteract the lousy fuel you give your body. You simply won’t get the results you need from physical effort alone, no matter how hard you try.

In the same way, when stress levels are unhealthy, it’s like feeding your mental self bad fuel. No matter how hard you work at being diligent and disciplined, ongoing unhealthful stress levels are unsustainable. You eventually won’t be able to power through all that stress to accomplish the goals you want, or to keep those bad habits from resurfacing.

Yes, this may seem like disappointing news, but there’s a silver lining. You can stop blaming yourself for giving in and take a closer look at the stress you’re experiencing. In this case, you don’t need to work harder—just smarter.

Look for Ways to Lessen Your Stress Load

Have a heart-to-heart discussion with your loved ones and think about what is leading to such high-stress levels. All the stress management techniques in the world won’t help much if you regularly have too much stress in your life. Admit that your current stress levels are too high to continue doing what you’ve been doing. Recognize all that stress and compounding poor coping strategies will eventually break you down.

Then, troubleshoot with those closest to you about a plan to eliminate unnecessary stress from your life. Yes, there are some things we all have to do no matter what. However, there are also some tasks we place on ourselves that are more flexible and negotiable than we think. Look for places where you can lessen your responsibilities and simplify your life. 

There’s also the possibility that you feel all your stressors are non-negotiable and must continue on. However, if you’re living under unsustainable, consistent stress that’s causing you to revert back to unhealthful practices, that’s a problem that needs to be solved. If you don’t address it, that stress could badly harm the most important aspects of your life like family, health, and relationships.

Find Ways to Handle Stress Better

Once you evaluate how much stress you’re dealing with and where it’s coming from, you’ll be able to come up with ways to decrease your stress. This may mean setting a healthier work/life balance or working less.

This could also mean canceling one responsibility you have during the week so you have a little time to participate in a hobby you enjoy. We sometimes get so wrapped up in everything we must do to earn money or meet a productivity goal that we lose sight of the importance of doing something for the sheer enjoyment it brings. 

A good hobby can be healthy for you in so many ways. It can make you feel more alive and accomplished as a person, happier, and less anxious. Also, we all need something to look forward to. Life can feel really bleak when it becomes nothing but a never-ending list of “I have to.”

If stress is making it difficult to stay away from old unhealthful habits, it’s also a good idea to consider counseling. You’ll be able to determine if you need better stress coping strategies, require specific ways to reduce stress, or both. You’ll also work with your therapist on a plan to make those stress levels more manageable. That way, you’ll be able to return to your healthy lifestyle habits without them being constantly derailed because you regularly feel overwhelmed.

Remember That Stressful Times Can Also Lead to Healthy Change

In his “Psychology Today” article entitled Both Good and Bad Habits Are Boosted in Times of Stress, Art Markman Ph.D. shares the following:

“In times of stress, we fall back on our habits generally. When those habits are bad, then we experience what we see as a failure of self-control. But, we also fall back on our good habits. We don’t notice those as readily, because those behaviors are helpful.”

In your search to stay healthy during stressful times, remember that high-stress levels can sometimes lead you back to good habits. That’s encouraging news. Also, remember there is always hope if you fall back into a routine you don’t want to continue. 

Is Chronic Stress Triggering Old Undesired Habits or Thoughts?

If so, anxiety counseling can help. The OC Relationship Center can assist you with stress and anxiety-related struggles and offer evidence-based strategies to relieve stress. You don’t have to give up on those healthy habits you began. 

Please reach out if you’d like to find out more about how we can assist you through stress management therapy or counseling for anxiety. You can also schedule an appointment with us.

Our trained and compassionate counselors are here to help. Please call (949) 393-8662, text (949) 393-8662 for an appointment, or schedule online.

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