Breaking the Habit

Procrastinating, overeating, over-exercising, drinking, smoking, playing video games, shopping: we all have ways of dealing with stressful situations, and sometimes our ways of coping can be healthy or detrimental. Going to the extreme with any habit used to counter anxiety can become problematic. Learning a multitude of ways to deal with emotional duress is the best artillery one can have when bombarded with the unexpected.

I have always had an interest in mental health and counseling and because of this I have been given the opportunity to sit in on and even lead several smoking cessation classes at the health center where I serve. Although I lead the sessions on nutrition, a principal topic surrounding the classes is dealing with stress and learning to reprogram oneself from reaching for a cigarette. According to the instructor of the program, smoking is 80% habit, 20% addiction. Therefore, the patches, gum and other aids can only help so much. They suppress the cravings, but the habit remains unless new ways of dealing with boredom, stress, sadness or other emotions are developed. I think that awareness and the concept of mindfulness are both beneficial to breaking a habit or unhealthy way of coping. Seldom do we stop and think why we are reaching for that bag of chips or cigarette. Are we actually hungry for the chips, are they sitting on the table tempting us, are we stressed out or avoiding doing something? By being aware of why we are doing a particular behavior, we can feel a sense of control and perhaps identify and learn to sit with whatever emotional discomfort we may be feeling. This recognition allows us to realize the relationship between a situation and the reaction that follows. Mindfulness does not magically stop overeating or smoking, but it is a beneficial step towards breaking a cycle and developing healthier coping alternatives.

I have some unhealthy habits I am trying to break by applying this concept. However, I would like to highlight one coping skill of mine that serves quite productive considering this past week’s service opportunity at Mount Moriah Cemetery. In celebration of AmeriCorps week, several Philadelphia Health Corps members joined fellow AmeriCorps members in cleaning up the 300-acre cemetery. One of my go-to de-stressing activities in the spring and summer is gardening. I love to rake, pull weeds, plant flowers and enjoy the beautiful weather. This Saturday was a great way to not only improve my own well-being but give back to the community. I even made a friend in the most adorable miniature snake!

-Emily Jones, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

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