When we think of cravings and triggers, we usually think of addicts and alcoholics unable to control their need for their drug of choice. Almost all of us experience triggers and cravings of some sort throughout our lives, whether for food, behaviors, or even random emotional states. Have you ever woken up in the morning and “needed” a cup of coffee to start your day? Craving! Have you ever had someone cut you off on the freeway and all of a sudden you were way angrier than you should have been? Trigger!
So what is a trigger and a craving? And how the heck am I supposed to manage them in a healthy way? To talk about it here are a couple definitions:
Triggers – A trigger is anything that brings about a heightened emotional state that is stronger than it should have been for the activating event.
Craving – A craving is an excessively strong desire to do or have something. You can crave drugs, sex, food, intimacy, violence, just about anything can be a craving.
Now that we have the definitions out of the way, we can talk about some tips and strategies to manage these cravings. While there are medications and therapeutic techniques to help with triggers and cravings, I am going to talk about specific things YOU can do that can alleviate them on your own. The key to remember is that no matter what you do, if you do not give in to your trigger or craving, it will go away eventually. In no particular order, some strategies are:
Talk About Them – One of the best ways to deal with any kind of trigger or craving is to talk about it with someone who knows you and that you trust, ideally someone who has been through a similar situation. While essential for addicts and alcoholics, it also can be very useful for anyone struggling with triggers or cravings.
Vigorous Exercise – Exercise is one of the best strategies for dealing with most stressors, but with triggers and cravings, it is even more beneficial. It is difficult to focus on any other problem when you are exercising vigorously. 30 minutes of exercise can help you mind and body to reset itself, activating the natural internal chemicals, restoring balance.
Meditation – Meditation is one of the number one skills for stress management, and it is no different for triggers and cravings. It can be difficult to meditate when you are triggered or craving, so you need to practice regularly and then it becomes a habit. There is an old saying “you don’t learn to meditate in a hurricane.” Practice before the storm! For example; Pick a spot in the sky or in a room to look at, then focus your breath, put your attention on following the inhale, all the way in, and the exhale, all the way out, 5-10 times, can be a quick and simple form of meditation when you are in the midst of a trigger or craving.
Drink a Glass of Water – Our bodies are nearly 70% water, is it any wonder that sometimes when we are thirsty our body can think it needs something else. Studies have shown that drinking 16oz of water immediately upon waking up has more of an effect on wakefulness than drinking a cup of coffee. Drinking a glass of water when feeling anxious, can reduce anxiety in a matter of minutes.
HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired: whenever our body is in need of something it wants to let us know with signals in the brain. If you are an addict, or you have struggled with certain kinds of triggers and cravings, often times it is easy to confuse one signal for another. When I work with addicts, and they talk about craving, I always tell them to check the HALT first, if they are Hungry, eat; Angry, talk to someone; Lonely, call someone; Tired, sleep.
Do Something Fun – When a person is triggered or craving it is the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for pleasure that are sending signals that something is needed. If you do something pleasurable often times it can appease these urges long enough for the trigger or craving to go away.
Think Them Through – Sometimes the trigger or craving is not going away on it’s own, and our brain keeps running in circles of why we should engage in whatever behavior we are trying to avoid. In these cases a strategy that 12-step groups call “playing the tape through” is to consciously follow the behavior to its logical end. For example, a person trying to lost weight might be craving ice-cream and when they follow the thought through they realize in the end, it will not really satisfy them, it will just set them back on their goal. This one is often best combined with talking to someone about it.
Feel Them – After enough times managing your triggers and cravings, a person realizes that they always go away. Sometimes the quickest way to make them go away is to acknowledge that you are feeling them and that you will not act on them.
Distraction – Sometimes doing anything that requires intensive concentration or activity, such as cleaning, cooking, homework, your job, watching an intense movie, etc. can distract you from your craving long enough that it will go away.
Play With an Animal – For most people, no matter what triggers or cravings they are feeling, going outside and playing with an animal, in the sunshine, for at least 15 minutes, will alleviate most if not all of the symptoms of your trigger or craving. If you can’t go outside in the sun, even playing with a favorite pet can do the trick. Taking yourself, out of yourself, and putting your attention on something you love, and that relies on you, is an amazing way to help manage even the strongest triggers or cravings.
In short, the motto of all of this discussion on triggers and cravings is this, they will always go away, they are manageable, and they don’t have to control you. It doesn’t matter if it is trying to lose weight, trying to quit drugs, or trying not to lose your temper. Triggers and cravings are a normal part of life, and they can be managed.
If you try all of these strategies and you still cannot manage to stop your triggers or cravings, or if someone you know is struggling like that, it may be time to seek out some professional help. Sometimes people with severe addictions, PTSD, major depression, impulse control disorders, or anxiety, are unable to manage their triggers and cravings on their own. They can learn to manage on their own, but they may need just a little bit of extra help to get there.
If you or anyone you know has questions or is having trouble, feel free to call us at (760) 942-8663, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jeremy Larsen
Business Development and Practice Manager
Coherence Associates Inc.