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  • Michael Philp

Choosing to take the long path to well-being

Updated: Aug 8, 2019


How many times have you thought "it's been a rough week, I'm going to have a couple of drinks tonight"? I'm willing to bet that you've had that thought or a similar thought many times in your lifetime. And there's a simple reason for that - alcohol works extremely fast, is easily accessible, and is fairly reliable in changing the way that you feel. Conversely, how many times have you had the thought "it's been a rough week, I'm going to go home, turn my phone off and meditate for 15 minutes"? I'm also willing to bet that I could count on one hand how many times you've had that thought.

So here's the dilemma, and it's one I see often in my practice at Grove Psychology - alcohol and drugs are extremely quick and effective at changing how you feel in the short term. If you want to feel better, different, or not feel (or think), alcohol and drugs will provide short-term relief (you can substitute drugs for sugar or salty foods, they light up the pleasure centre in our brain in the same way). If they didn't do those things, we wouldn't use them. On the other hand, more adaptive strategies such as meditation, regular exercise, eating well, seeing friends, engaging in meaningful activities, finding meaning and purpose, take far longer to see the pay off, and only work if they are regularly utilised. I've lost count how many times I've heard "I tried to meditate but it didn't work". To which I usually ask "how many times did you try?". "Once or twice" is the common response.

The problem here is that alcohol and drugs work quickly, so we are more likely to use them as a way of coping, but the effect is short-term. After a while, the effect wears off and you are left with the underlying stress. Overtime, it loses its effect. Constant use leads to additional problems - addiction, decreased motivation, broken relationships etc. Meditation and exercise, however, have less immediate effects. You have to practice or engage in these activities regularly for weeks before you notice a significant improvement. You'll know when you've hit that point because your mindset changes - from feelings of apathy towards exercise, to looking forward or even disappointment when you can't attend. You'll notice feeling better, more alert, less stressed. But these side effects don't come straight away. You need to make an active choice and be prepared to wait for the benefits. It might also mean sitting with the discomfort of the underlying stress for a while. That's the harder choice. But it's also the more satisfying and sustainable choice.

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