Why is it that when we get bad news or have a really bad day we often turn to self-destructive habits?

In the movies, a pint of ice cream on the couch follows the breakup…in country songs, we drown our sorrows with Jack or Jim. Sadly, many take it even further.

Negative emotions seem to bring about an apathy that replaces self-love and care with “I just don’t give a damn,” and even when we know we’re going to pay the next day, the escape or comfort we receive at the time is so powerful, it keeps us coming back.

Reasoning points to the simple fact that harmful coping mechanisms often feel better, can numb emotions so you don’t have to deal, may be a form of punishment, or reaction to a lack of control over ourselves or our situation. It can often be a cry for help, or simply a steadfast habit that in our minds has become a part of who we are.

I used to turn to a Whopper and fries or a bottle of wine to ease my pain, and (not so) ironically, I always said that it would probably take cancer for me to give these things up.

Then I got cancer.

Now, animal protein, alcohol and sugar are on the long list of things I have given up. But I recently realized that I still haven’t given up my coping habits.

This week I received some not-so-great news and the first thing I wanted was a cheeseburger. Fortunately, I retained enough self-respect to settle for a veggie burger with gluten-free bun and baked veggie fries (a very satisfying alternative I have to say).

And, of course, I still wanted that bottle of wine, so I replaced it with a sparkling water (in a wine glass) and a sugar-free cannabis edible (I KNOW…).

Deep down, I realize that I’m still using these habits as a comforting escape and that learning to fully process negative emotions without these influences is what I should be doing.

While I will never know why I got cancer, if I had to point to something, it’d be my past love of fast food and alcohol consumption (bad for me with Epstein-Barr while others can indulge to their delight).

But maybe, just maybe, it’s actually my inability to healthfully process negative emotions…

I’m working on it.

As author and poet Nayyirah Waheed said, “It is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible.”

THE BALANCE: Identifying the reasoning behind self-destructive habits and making positive changes today can only help on your path to good health.

I invite and encourage you to please share your trials, tribulations and triumphs on this topic… 

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Comments (8)

  • Lauren, thank you for this article because we all recognize ourselves in how we deal with things in self-destructive ways. Every decision, made during the day for whatever reason, definitely has the potential to impact our health. By making better decisions we can influence our body’s ability to manage the outcomes. We can start today by understanding why we make the choices we do and decide we are going to love ourselves instead.

  • Ebb and flow. Yin and yang. Expansion and contraction. The balance of opposites is the nature of this human experience. We all need to be soothed, often. Sometimes it’s gonna be ice cream, and that okay (coconut is even better).

    Im looking for space when I feel stress. Stress feels like contraction to me. As you say Lauren, it’s deep self compassion for our own suffering, in the moment of the suffering, that soothes the beast. And I find that if I can get my tush to my meditation pillow before taking action when I’m feeling defeated, I will find some spaciousness there.

    Love your honesty and the conversations it inspires.

    • Lauren Del Sarto

      Thank you for those eloquent words, Laya. Beautifully said. And I dont know where I would be without my morning meditation…
      All the best always,

  • Laurie, there’s something vaguely reminiscent about your article on self-destructive behavior when you get not so good news. Was it that teenager whose romantic bubble that just burst or “I don’t yet have a date for the prom!”! Perhaps it was when Mom and Dad said , “NO”!

    Anyway, you were always loved and still are,

    Your old Dad

  • This is so on the mark for 90% of the population! Coping with negative emotions starts from childhood and catching oneself before the slide into fast food/ alcohol/ sugar/ smoking whatever your vice is can be daunting. Learning tools to stop the instant gratification is the key. I found during my year dealing with major loss of loved ones I went often for foot massage instead of Vodka! As you know , I still have vices to contend with now that I picked up while dealing with all of fear and emotions of care taking and this article is a reminder of making good lifestyle choices!!!

    Lauren I really appreciate your insight and honesty and cherish our friendship! We as desert health news advocates learn from each other and support each other, even if we choose a healthy lifestyle, life still happens.

    • Lauren Elizabeth Del Sarto

      Thank you, Dr. Diane. You are so very right…No matter how hard we try, life still happens.
      Having friends like you to laugh and cry with makes all the difference. (: