Stress isn’t something new. With around 15% of Australians experiencing high or very high levels of psychological stress (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics) and it can be seen as modern society’s illness. While stress is often seen as a bad thing, we need it to survive, and it can be a good thing; keeping us alert when we sense danger and keeping us motivated. However, when we deal with stress for prolonged periods, it can have negative impacts. Many things cause us stress, from work to busy schedules to family drama. How we choose to deal with stress varies on the person, with many people turning to unhelpful coping mechanisms, also known as Vices.
A Vice is a moral failing or a bad habit. A habit is something you do regularly and often on autopilot, they develop over time with repetition and usually becomes something you do unconsciously. We experience good habits and bad habits, and a Vice falls under the category of bad habits. It can be easy to think of Vices as being something such as drugs or alcohol. The reality is that anything can be a Vice if someone views it as bad behaviour or moral weakness.
This means that Vices can be things such as;
- Eating sugar
- Fast food
- Video Games
- Staying up late
- Sleeping too much
- Online shopping
- Impulsive spending
- Speeding too fast
- Binge Drinking
- Limiting sleep
- Being Negative
- Wearing earphones for hours
- Couch potato
- Wearing heels
- Carrying a heavy bag
- Sleeping with your makeup on
- Eating while not hungry
- Lying a lot
- Popping medicines every day
- Eating junk food often
- Biting nails
- Not having sex
- Staying in an unhealthy relationship
- Worrying too much
- Checking Social media frequently
- Overindulging on Netflix, YouTube etc
- Video gaming
We rely on Vices during the tough and stressful times as they allow us to take a break and a chance to escape from the world around us.
This isn’t to say that all Vices are bad and what we may see as bad or as a Vice isn’t when we take a closer look. In moderation, many things are ok and are even good for you, such as sleeping in and letting your body wake up when it feels well-rested, instead of hitting snooze on an alarm too many times and then feeling guilty for oversleeping. This can interfere with your natural circadian rhythm and cause you to feel consistently jetlagged. It’s when we start to depend on Vices and they lead into addiction territory that there’s a problem.
An addiction is a physical or psychological need to do, take, or use something. One way to identify an addiction is to ask yourself whether you crave or have compulsions to use something despite the consequences, and you lack control over it. Addictions always have negative consequences whether that is on your health, relationships, finances, self-esteem, or something else.
Why some people develop addictions and others don’t while using the same substance is a point of much research. Genetics play a big role, and there is evidence suggesting that environmental factors, such as stress, trigger epigenetic changes these are changes that affect the way your genes work and are not changes in the DNA itself which can lead to psychiatric disorders including addictions, according to Harvard Health.
The interaction between stress hormones and the reward system in the brain can also trigger addiction. Substances produce a good feeling by triggering large amounts of dopamine in areas of the brain responsible for the feeling of reward, thereby reducing stress. This means that when certain substances reduce stress, the chance of addiction-forming increases. Addictions can also be inheritable, with links shown between people having certain addictions, and their relatives experiencing similar addictions.
Addiction and Habits specialist Candice King said the following about why some people develop addictions compared to others: "It might be that you need to numb your pain and emotions. You may have self-worth issues, or find it hard to face up to life’s responsibilities. Financial pressures and relationship issues can also lead to addiction, as can a need to ‘fit in’ with the crowd. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or ADHD can also lead to addiction because you might be looking to self-soothe and feel better."
It’s important that we recognize our Vices and are aware of them so they don’t turn into an addiction. While short-term they may be good coping strategies, long-term they may do more harm than good. To stop a bad habit or Vice from becoming an addiction, we need to have positive coping strategies in place to help us through the tough times and reduce stress.
These strategies can include :
- Watching movies or TV shows
- Regularly exercising
- Practicing breathing exercises
- Making lists/schedules
- Taking time to unwind
The Cleveland Clinic says that “experts agree that coping is a process rather than an event. You may alternate between various coping strategies to cope with a stressful event.”
Everyone has different coping strategies so it’s important to find ones that work for you, for example, Georgia says “I'm a really sensory person, so when I'm overwhelmed I need to remove certain stimuli and add in others. Different stimuli are needed/not needed at different times, but my body will tell me. Soft blankets and warm drinks are my usual go-to when I can't remove myself from the situation (eg uni stress)”
In Barty’s opinion, it’s important to accept that we all have Vices and, while they can be negative, they can also help us get through difficult times and provide us with valuable comfort. If you feel that a Vice is becoming an addiction, know that there is help available and that you are not alone.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Peer reviewed by Candice King - Kinesiologist | Addiction and Habits Specialist | Yoga Teacher | Relaxing Retreat Facilitator| Anxiety and Depression Therapist.
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