The connection between stress and unhealthy behavior is well-established. From smoking to overeating to binge drinking, there are a number of ways people choose poorly when looking for ways to feel better.
It’s not hard to see why. When stressed, a satisfying snack delivers the necessary rush of dopamine we crave. We may know that stress eating or lying on the couch all night watching TV is unhealthy, but the comfort these behaviors provide can help reduce stress — at least in the short term. But left unchecked, they can develop into bad habits.
Understanding how stress affects habits is an important part of controlling your behavior. As the National Library of Medicine notes, “Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health.”
Stress can take several forms, from acute (like oncoming traffic when you’re trying to cross the street) to chronic (think bad financial situations or problems at work). Chronic stress can be particularly harmful, leading to health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
If you find your bad habits show up when you’re feeling stressed, then dealing with the source of that stress can help you resolve the habits. That may mean tackling a stressful project head-on or making a plan toward a better financial situation.
Some things are out of your control, but that doesn’t mean they don’t stress you out. Taking some time to stop and breathe can definitely help alleviate stress in the moment. Focus on the things that you can resolve or ameliorate and make a plan to do so.