As the news of another mass shooting unfolded yesterday, that helpless, crushing feeling started to creep up on me. The world feels out of control, with massive storms destroying homes and lives, random acts of violence becoming ever more random and destructive, and leaders who seem more focused on flexing their mouths than making real change.
When it feels like the world is full of chaos, it makes sense to look for a quick hit of, "Ahhhhhhhhhh...." Fastest way to get that dopamine hit? Drugs (including alcohol), sex or food. And I'm not talking about salads. Salt, sugar and fat are a fast, convenient and highly socially acceptable way to get a quick hit. In times of national catastrophe, I've watched clients who were making solid progress toward their fitness goals resort to the poor eating habits they were practicing before we met: Downing bowls of cereal late night, ordering pizza on the regular, finishing jars of peanut butter, stopping at coffee shops for pastries, and overeating all manner of starchy, fatty, salt-laden crap.
I am an emotional eater in recovery myself, and I understand the reason why this sort of self-soothing can make sense: "Hey, I'm not shooting heroin, I'm not hurting anyone." It's just a hit of lousy food. I understand the inclination to self-soothe.
It feels good to eat shitty food for a couple minutes.
But then you feel worse. The pleasure fades fast and and the same sadness, stress and anger you started with returns. Except now it's worse because you also feel guilt and shame.
There are other ways to get that hit: Connect with family or friends, volunteer, spend time with an animal, exercise, read, write. Find something that makes you feel empowered and pursue the hell out of it. None of these are as fast acting as food or drugs, but they're much more effective in actually providing longer term stress relief.