Why Developing Bad Habits Is So Easy Under Stress — And How To Take Control

The bad habits you have now will have a high price later.

Why Developing Bad Habits Is So Easy Under Stress — And How To Take Control Harry Cunningham/unsplash

We all have bad habits from stress.

What are you really craving when you go to the fridge… again?

When we are empty, we look for something to fill us. When we are hurting, we look for something to numb us.

RELATED: 6 Steps To Calm Stress When The Coronavirus Crisis Has You Feeling Frazzled


We are all grieving. 

During this time of quarantine and isolation due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a time filled with fear, loneliness, weariness, and uncertainty — we are all grieving in some way. And grief is not linear.

Some are still in denial about the changes that are required to win this battle, save lives, and get back to some form of normalcy.

Meanwhile, others are stuck in the bargaining stage of "if only" and the "would have, should have" thoughts that are wasted and change nothing.

Others are angry, seeking someone or something to blame for losing their lifestyles, jobs, and freedom.


Still, others are depressed and victimized by the events, feeling helpless, hopeless, and defeated by the changes forced upon them, leaving them apathetic and lethargic.

All this while those on the frontline of the war against the disease are operating their daily lives in survival mode, doing whatever it takes to keep going and continue helping, putting both grief and self-care on hold.

They will need us, so if nothing else, we need to take care of ourselves so we can be ready to help them.

It's not what happens to you in life that defines you — it's how you respond to it.

How are you responding to what is going on? 

I swear when I opened my fridge door at 1:30 a.m., I could hear it ask me, "What do you want now?"


I had to stop and look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching or speaking to me. They weren’t, so I shrugged and reached for the Double Stuf Oreos that were strategically hidden behind the blueberries and raspberries.

As I went back to the sofa and sank into the cushion with the perfectly-shaped cheek imprints customized to my behind and pressed play to resume my viewing of that buzzy Netflix documentary "Tiger King," it hit me.

I was binging. Mindless eating for something to fill me. Mindless watching for something to numb me.

How many days were we into this? 23, 25? More?

When would enough be enough?

Was that really my fridge speaking to me?


Listen to your inner cheerleader. 

Actually, that was the little voice in my head — my inner critic, or actually, my cheerleader — and I needed to listen. I decided right then, enough was enough.

I returned the Oreos to the fridge — after indulging in one — turned off the TV, and made a commitment to myself that tomorrow night would be different.

Anesthesia always wears off and the pain is greater.

We all know anesthesia is designed to numb pain. We all have anesthesia of choice right now. We are hurting for the world, for our country, for our community, for our neighbors, for our families, and for ourselves.

We are concerned about the basics of survival — food and shelter. We are worried about the ability to sustain long term.


To avoid feeling the pain and anxiety of worry, we anesthetize ourselves with the agent of choice. It’s human behavior to do so!

When we are overwhelmed, we engage in an "over" behavior — over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, over-netflixing, over-sleeping, or over-drive. Do any of these ring a bell for you?

What will it cost you if you continue?

Sure one of these "over" choices is a temporary way to deal with stress, but its longterm effects are detrimental to your health, your bank account, and even your relationships in some cases.

RELATED: 6 Easy Steps To Relax Stress & Calm Down When Coronavirus Anxiety Strikes

Depending on your choice of filling and numbing agents, you could pay for your newly acquired bad habits in:

  • Weight gain and other associated health risks
  • A dependency on alcohol, sleeping aids, or other drugs
  • Debt from all the online shopping that proved unnecessary but sure looked appealing while spending hours on social media being bombarded with ads for the latest and greatest.
  • Infiltrating your daily vocabulary with a series of explicative adjectives that seem to be every Netflix screenwriter’s required protocol that your mother would have washed your mouth out for having uttered even in a moment of excruciating physical pain.
  • Becoming so lethargic to the point that you find yourself completely de-motivated to leave the bed to even shower and your own dog won’t even come near you.
  • Maybe you are one of those people who go into overdrive and just gets stuff done — closets, garage, cabinets — bulldozing through until you burn out.

You can also learn how to break bad habits and cope with a stressful situation in 5 healthy ways.

1. Acknowledge the reality of what you are experiencing.

2. Identify the emotion you are feeling, and validate it.

3. Recognize the action or behavior you have been engaging in because of the emotion you have been feeling (i.e., overeating, over-Netflixing).


4. Ask yourself what you are really craving when you make those choices.

5. Ask yourself how you can get what you need in a different, healthy way?

For example, perhaps what you are really craving is time with a loved one. Perhaps, the pain you are trying to numb is really the inability to control your personal situation.

Some healthy options to try are:

Try scheduling a family reunion on a video conference platform. Maybe not your typical Sunday dinner, but it’s the next-best thing to being there. And maybe you'll get more satisfaction than any Oreo could ever bring.

Let go of what you cannot control. Influence what you can, and take control over the things that you can and that will matter when this is all over.


Look for ways to create life balance with budgets for your time, money, and calories.

Develop goals and plans for your personal and spiritual growth. Enjoy building relationships with family and friends in whatever way you have available to you.

Your emotions are driving your choices right now, and if you are reading this, they are likely rooted in stress and have led to stress-based behaviors.

Your thoughts create your feelings or emotions, which drive your actions and behaviors (or lack thereof).

If you are allowing your thoughts to be consumed with victimization or conflict thinking, your emotions will range from apathy to anger, and your behaviors from lethargy to resistance or fighting.


And the price you pay may be higher than you are willing to budget or risk.

All change first begins with awareness of what is happening before making a conscious, mindful choice to think differently.

That may be a tall order right now, but you can do it.


Find a new perspective.

The opposite of fear is hope, of hate is love, and of helpless is capable.

Find a new way to look at what is happening and that will change how you feel. When you feel differently, you will behave differently.

It really is that simple, and that difficult. It takes effort and commitment.

Your life could depend on positive thinking.

Your body cannot fight stress and illness at the same time. Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. describes in his book, "The Biology of Belief," how stress hormones shut down our immune systems when our basic survival seems threatened.

Our body responds in that primal adrenaline-driven state of "fight, flight, or freeze" mode leaving us vulnerable to diseases of any kind. Right now, we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic trying to avoid a specific disease.


We must protect ourselves from stress to also protect ourselves from this virus.

The anecdote? Positive thinking.

Dr. Lipton’s teachings in the science of psychoneuroimmunology explain the research that has revealed how positive and negative thinking controls the immune system.

Think you have control over nothing right now? Think again. And, think positively.

RELATED: 6 Strategies To Relieve Stress During The Coronavirus Crisis

Ann Papayoti, CPC, is a Life Coach and Personal Development Professional helping people help themselves through losses and transitions as a Relationship Expert. Connect with her on her website.