Can Urge Surfing Help Modify Destructive Behaviors?

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If you’ve heard anything about recovery, you’ve likely heard about the cravings that come when you get sober. Part of your rehabilitation program is learning how to navigate those cravings and resist the temptation to relapse. Have you ever heard of “urge surfing?” This technique can allow you to learn a whole new approach to resisting cravings. If you’re in recovery, this is another tool you can learn to help stay on track and prevent relapsing or use in other behavior modification.

What Is Urge Surfing?

Cravings, or urges, often act like waves. A wave begins, rises, peaks then falls. Urges follow the same pattern. They are usually triggered by something that happens and makes you want to react impulsively. Urges may be triggered by some kind of event, a feeling, or memory. We see the urge as something that follows the same pattern and if we can just hold on and ride the wave, we can maintain our recovery.

What kind of things cause these urges? Feeling bored or lonely may create an urge. Waking up in the morning or getting ready for bed may trigger an urge. Are there certain habits you have for when you first get home from work or something that’s less routine like the end of a relationship that’s creating urges? Does criticism set off an urge to behave in a certain way?

All of these situations can set off an urge and so you have to figure out a way to manage those cravings. With urge surfing, the focus isn’t trying to stop the craving so much as to learn to live with it. With urge surfing, you’re trying to change your response to cravings rather than eliminate the craving itself.

How Can I Use This Technique?

First, you have to accept that the urges are going to occur. That means letting the urge come and adjusting your behavior to it. This is the hardest at first and you may slip up on trying to resist a particular habit. You likely won’t be perfect from the very beginning. Also, accept that it’s stressful at first allowing yourself to experience these urges but that, in time, your response will change.

Second of all, you want to observe what triggers the urges to begin with. Are there certain things that create the urge? Observe the wave and try to change your response, not the urge itself. Studies have shown that when you try to suppress the behavior, you are actually more likely to engage in it, so urge surfing can be a better approach to the problem.

The next step involves refraining from taking action, which can be a challenge. You might try to set small goals of delaying the action for a longer period each time. Focus on your breathing and stay present in the moment.

As the urge comes to a peak, continue to visualize it as a wave and focus on your breathing. The peak is the hardest part of your urge and by distracting yourself with the observation and occupying your mind with that thought, but it’s important to remember that after the peak, your urge will start to subside, just like a wave recedes into the ocean.

The whole process culminates in active mindfulness by focusing on your breathing and the moment of letting the urge subside until it goes away. Just focus on taking deep breaths and breathing slowly.

Does It Get Any Easier?

The more you practice urge surfing, the easier it gets. You can practice mindfulness outside of your urges to help train your brain to be better equipped once the wave, or urge, hits. The more we practice learning how to use this technique to navigate through urges and uncomfortable experiences, the easier it will get. Mindfulness comes down to learning to observe our thoughts and emotions rather than acting on our impulses.

At first, you may need to find other distractions while you try to surf the wave. Try taking a warm shower or calling a friend. Put on your favorite playlist or watch a few videos (but give yourself a time limit and don’t go down that rabbit hole). Try something that will alter your state of mind like holding ice against your neck or forehead. The shock of the cold can distract you from your urge. Indulge in some aromatherapy; lavender is one of the most popular fragrances to calm your nerves and promote a sense of well-being. In time you may find you don’t need these distractions, but it could be helpful when first learning to urge surf.

You can embrace mindfulness and extend the technique to what people are calling urge surfing. You see your cravings and urges as waves that cycle to a peak and then fall away. By riding the waves of urges instead of trying to stop them altogether, you can learn how to better manage those cravings and be more successful at resisting them. This is one of many techniques that can be used to resist relapse or for training your mind to modify other habits in your everyday life. At Everlast Recovery Center, we understand the cravings and urges that can come along with substance abuse and how they can help trigger behaviors associated with mental illness. Here at our Riverside, California, facility, we treat both. With our low staff-to-resident ratio, we offer detoxification if you need to withdraw from a substance, followed by rehabilitation and aftercare programs when you return home. Through different holistic therapies, you can learn how to manage stress and those cravings in conjunction with urge surfing. Take a yoga class or take a walk in nature to regain your physical and mental health. If you’re suffering from addiction or mental illness, we can help. Call us today and learn how we can help at 866-DETOX-25, (866-338-6925).

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