Guest Blogger: Nadia Sheikh
When a craving creeps up on me, it takes over my body, my brain, and my life. Some people have no problem with cravings, some people find relief by ignoring it, calling a friend, or praying. Here are five ways that help me distract myself and let a craving pass—because it will always pass.
Whether you’re a recovering alcoholic who’s feeling thirsty or a former smoker wanting a cigarette, get up and move. Go for a walk. Take off on a run. Blast some music and dance. Jump in the pool for a swim. Not only will moving take your mind off of the craving, it can give you the feel-good you’re looking for. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins. What are those? When our body is under stress or experiences pain, our brain releases neurochemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are structurally similar to the drug morphine and are considered a natural painkiller, activating our opioid receptors and bringing on feelings of euphoria. Sounds good to me.
Or paint. Write. Knit. Build a birdhouse. Engaging our brains creatively is another neat trick to divert our thoughts from a craving. There is also a phenomenon that occurs in the mind when we are creative, which psychologists are starting to call “flow.” This phenomenon is comparable to the mindset of someone while meditating. When our brain is in a state of “flow,” we are so absorbed in an activity we lose all sense of time and self, feeling that we are accomplishing a meaningful task which quiets the external chaos in our life. Beyond that, our brains are hardwired with reward centers that produce dopamine when we do something pleasurable. So find that special something in your life and get your daily dose of your body’s natural anti-depressant.
Maybe you think you can’t carry a tune, but have you ever turned the radio on full-blast andbelted along with it? Have you felt the vibrations of the music run up and down your spine, goose bumps covering you from head-to-toe? Singing, like exercise releases endorphins, which are great. But, singing also releases oxytocin in our brain, which can alleviate anxiety and stress, as well as build feelings of trust and bonding. If you can sing in a group, even better! Studies have shown that heart rates may sync up during group singing, lessening feelings of depression and loneliness.
You may have heard that, early in recovery, it’s good to keep some candy and sugary treats on hand to help with cravings. This advice is fine at first – the sugar intake helps to alleviate the intense cravings for alcohol and drugs, which are metabolized by the body as sugar. Our bodies are adjusting. However, keeping the sugary habit can cause later problems because sugar releases large amounts of dopamine in our brain, just like alcohol and drugs did. While eating candy is better than taking a drink, it’s not a habit that’s healthy to keep.
There are, however, lots of foods that can release healthy amounts of dopamine and give us nutrients at the same time: meats have amino acids, which are needed to create dopamine. Apples, bananas, and berries are known to stimulate dopamine production, along with avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Natural yogurt, milk, and cheeses also contain chemicals which the body can use to produce dopamine.
When I think I’m too worked up to meditate, it is exactly the moment when I need to sit still and be quiet. Meditation is still hard for me. I used to try to pressure my brain into stillness: “stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking, ohmmm.” This did no good, and now I try to let my mind wander to its own point of serenity, on its own time. Meditation is a practice in mindfulness—remaining present in the moment, increasing your awareness, paying attention to sensory input and the color of your thoughts. It is basically sitting and being with yourself. And you don’t have to be seated in the lotus position, levitating 5 inches from the ground. You can lie down, walk, run—however you get your brain to its happy place.
Numerous studies report the amazing effects of mediation on the brain and body: increased thickness in areas of the brain that govern learning, memory, and emotion regulation; decreased cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress; improved mood and general well-being in participants who experienced these very brain changes. Taking the time to meditate may cool your jets and steer you away from a craving, and it might do your brain a few favors in the long run.
By Nadia Sheikh
Nadia Sheikh is a content writer and web developer for Sober Nation. She loves words, grapes, and outer space.