Sometimes what we experience on the inside gets so strong that we need to find a way to do something about it. You might feel an incredible surge of anger and if you don’t yell or scream, what do you do with all that anger? Or you might feel a rush of deep sadness, which might in turn cause you to crave a drink. At the same time, one of the most difficult emotions to manage is shame, and it’s commonly the emotion that leads to substance use. Another challenging inner experience is an impulse to hurt yourself or to end your life or to hurt someone else. When you’re feeling difficult emotions, cravings to use drugs or drink, or an impulse to self-harm, there are ways to manage these inner experiences so that you stay safe and sober.
Managing Your Feelings, Thoughts, and Behaviors
The following are tips to use when you need to find a way to manage your feelings, thoughts and behavior:
- Talk about it. Call your sponsor, a friend, a relationship partner and get your thoughts and feelings off your chest. By talking it out you won’t feel as tempted to act out if those thoughts simply stay in your head.
- Distract yourself. Do something that will take your attention off the craving. Reading, going to a movie, exercise, or spending time with someone you love.
- Find something in your present environment to focus on.
- Play a mental game with yourself.
- Describe an everyday activity in great detail.
- Use your imagination.
- Say a statement to yourself that feels nurturing.
- Use humor.
- Count to 10 or say that alphabet.
- Run cool water over your head.
- Grab your chair or another piece of furniture as hard as you can.
- Dig your heels into the floor.
- Jump up and down.
- Do a body scan.
- Clench and release your fists.
- Walk slowly.
- Eat something and pay attention to the flavors.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Say kind statements to yourself.
- Think of all your favorite things.
- Picture the people you care about.
- Remember a safe place in your mind.
- Saying a coping statement to yourself.
- Plan a safe treat for yourself.
- Think of things you are looking forward to do.
- Change Your Thoughts: You can replace the thought, “I need to drink to feel better” with “I don’t need to drink to feel better; I can exercise, spend time with a friend, or spend time in nature to feel better.”
- Surf the Feeling: Imagine yourself as a surfer. You’ve got this feeling and it’s intense. As a surfer you can ride the energy of this feeling. Without letting it get the best of you, use its energy and have the best of it.
Now, you should know that doing any one of the above suggestions in place of drinking or instead of hurting yourself is going to take some practice. It’s going to take some practice just to remember that you have another option. However, the more you realize it later and the more that you can begin to remember right in the moment that you have another choice, the more you might actually do it. In other words, with time and with practice, you might take a walk instead of driving to the bar. In time, you might take a deep breath and surf the feeling of discomfort instead of getting high.