IMPORTANT NOTE: Sometimes reading or hearing someone talk about cravings is enough to cause them, so if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by this article, please stop reading and speak with a trusted peer, loved one, or crisis counselor.
What Can Trigger Cravings?
Almost anything can cause a craving to start, from driving past a place you used to frequent to speaking with an old acquaintance. Your senses are linked closely with memory which means that cravings are often triggered by something you see, smell, taste, hear, or feel. There are various coping skills that you can use, but one that works well for many people is using an activity to distract yourself from the craving until it naturally dissipates.
How Distractions Can Help
By choosing to do an activity that takes focus, you can take some of the power away from the sense memory causing the craving. Distractions can put those unwanted thoughts and sensations into perspective by jolting your brain out of that overwhelmed headspace. Sometimes allowing your senses to take in the textures, smells, and sounds around you can be enough to remind you of how far you have progressed in your recovery. Other times it takes a little more. Some people find it helpful to have a box or folder of reminders like lists of future goals, pictures of family members, and encouraging messages.
6 Activities to Distract Yourself During Cravings
Engaging in an activity, whether physical exercise or mental distraction, can help you through those moments until the cravings end. Below are six activities that common ways people may distract themselves from cravings or other stressful thoughts:
- Physical Exercise: You can do any kind of physical activity, from walking around the block to swimming, biking, yoga, or other calming exercises. Your brain releases endorphins when you exercise, and this can sometimes remove the hold of specific cravings.
- Seek out Social Support: Talk to someone you trust about how you feel or, if you do not feel comfortable sharing, seek social support as a distraction by chatting with a loved one, going out to eat with a friend, or hanging out with a healthy peer group.
- Calming Activities: If you find any activities personally calming, try doing those to keep your mind occupied. Examples of everyday calming activities include playing with a pet, coloring, drawing, writing, reading, or listening to music.
- Practice Mindfulness: By focusing on the moment and the sensations you are experiencing from your environment, you may find the cravings or sense memories that triggered them diminish. Mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation are good ways to calm the mind and body, allowing you to focus your thoughts and make better decisions.
- Attend a Group Meeting: This step does not work for everyone and, for some, may have the opposite effect. However, if you find that talking about cravings can decrease their impact, attending an in-person or online group meeting can be helpful. You can express what you are experiencing and get support and encouragement from peers who intimately understand the mental and physical toll. Utilizing crisis chats or call lines can have the same positive effect.
- Stay Busy: Having a full daily and weekly schedule while incorporating plenty of mental health breaks can be a great way to overcome cravings. There are fewer opportunities for your mind to wander if you keep yourself busy doing things that give your days purpose and meaning. A few examples are hobbies, exercise, volunteering, group meetings, and one-on-one therapy, and local in-person or online social events.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
If you try all the exercises and coping skills you know and nothing is helping, then do not be afraid to reach out for help. Your health and safety are worth the effort of reaching out to local community-based or private resources if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by cravings or other side effects. Some people refuse to ask for help because they feel shame or guilt. Others simply do not know where to find help. Plenty of free and low-cost options are available where you can get judgment-free assistance from compassionate people who want to help you.
Below are some valuable resources that can help when you are experiencing cravings or stressful emotions:
- Crisis Chat: you can reach these trained crisis chat counselors by texting “HOME” to 741741
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): you can contact this national hotline at 1-800-662-4357
- Check your state and county websites for local hotlines and clinics.
- Reach out to community-based or private facilities like Everlast Recovery Centers
Recovery comes with many challenges. Unexpected or intense cravings are some of the hardest to overcome if you are not prepared. However, there are plenty of things that you can do to keep yourself from succumbing to temptation. National and local hotlines are available 24/7 if you ever find yourself feeling like you may slip up. You can also reach out to Everlast Recovery Centers, where our staff is waiting to help you learn the skills you need to stay on track. You can also make some lifestyle changes that can make it easier to cope. One easy change is to make a list of valuable skills that can keep you distracted during difficult cravings that linger. Research has provided strong evidence that things like physical exercise can lower the risk of relapse due to cravings. To learn more or get support today, reach out to Everlast Recovery Centers by calling us at (866) 338-6925.