A good half of the art of living is resilience.
~Alain de Botton
What a devastating year. With twists and turns, grieving and loss, countless curveballs. And wine.
When confronted with change, anxiety, and discomfort we do anything and everything in our power to numb unpleasant emotions. It is part of our vulnerability as human beings.
Our household’s wine consumption increased significantly during lock down; my husband’s enthusiasm as a collector ensured a steady supply – bless him. The two of us are less and less surprised by our capacity to finish a bottle of wine while having a standard Tuesday night supper. Hours spent exercising has increased as well. For the greater part of lockdown, I drank more wine than ever before, and trained harder. Wine, coffee, exercise, and…….repeat.
Early historians confirm our taste for addictive psychoactive substances – be it to socialize, heal, or engage in religious practices. Widely consumed drugs across the world include nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. According to Jewish and Christian tradition, Noah’s first action after coming out of the ark was to plant a vineyard. Oh boy can we relate!
The definition of addiction is the emotional and physical inability to stop consuming a drug or substance, even though it causes emotional and physical harm. The inability to stop partaking in activities, such as gambling, eating, working, training, sex, are classified as behavioral addictions. When taking a long hard look at what we consume and what we do, during lock down, some frightening patterns could emerge.
Misuse and addiction are two different things, the first referring to incorrect and ineffective use of substances, the latter to the long-term inability to cease intake. We are all aware of the fine line between normal and pathological use, but of particular interest from a sensory coach’s perspective, is the role one’s sensory system plays in susceptibility to both normal and pathological self-medication.
Vulnerability to addictive behavioral patterns is influenced by genetic composition, mental health disorders, peer pressure, exposure, and trauma, among others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that scientists estimate 40-60% of a person’s risk in developing addiction is based in genetics. Best pay careful attention to said genes. A crucial element of that genetic make-up is one’s sensory profile. You cannot eliminate your gloriously inappropriate drunk uncle(s) from your family tree, but you can empower yourself with knowledge and awareness around your own unique sensory profile.
Research have established a significant link between addictive behavioral patterns and sensory seeking profiles. If you require more frequent and more intense stimulation before registering sensory input, you have high neurological thresholds, or a sensory seeking profile. Drinking 5 cups of coffee instead of 1, overeating, seeking the adrenalin rush associated with extreme sport, needing “more” to feel alive, connected, okay. The connection to addiction makes sense… (excuse the pun).
Individuals with low thresholds over-process the environment with heightened awareness and irritation around sensory input and are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. We all know that anxiety and depression causes us to self-medicate; doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t, whether you have a seeking or sensitive profile.
If we investigate behavioral addictions, sensory sensitives may resort to e.g. diligently tidying (controlling and managing the environment) while sensory seekers may establish dysfunctional all-consuming rituals providing the kick they are after (adding extra va-va-voom to their world).
Individual fluctuations within your profile provides added colour (confusion!) and will facilitate certain tendencies, e.g. if you seek visual stimulation, with sensitivity for touch, you may be extremely vulnerable to digital addiction (think: smooth screen plus addictive blue light stimulation). If you seek out smell and taste, with an avoidance of touch, you may binge on take-aways to avoid preparing healthy food choices but still satisfy the need of oral-motor stimulation.
And so, the list goes on.
Self-care, and more importantly, scientific, and sensory smart self-care is what is needed during times of crises. Not ineffective round-about habits, rituals and yes, addictions, aimed at airbrushing the unpleasant covid19 picture.
If you are aware of your sensory cravings and irritations, you are empowered to lead a healthy, happy, and productive life, free from ineffective substance misuse and/or behavioural patterns. Stop blaming auntie Maple and start unpacking the unique sensory code that is “you”.
Unhealthy seeking or avoiding rituals can be replaced by effective sensory strategies satisfying the same sensory pathways, especially if you look at your individual system scores together with childhood preferences. What did you do ALL THE TIME as a child? Dancing, swimming, the sandpit, baking, singing, karate?
Be honest, be sharp, be creative, be the master of your own destiny.
Sensory profiling and consulting will not cure true addiction but should form part of the holistic therapeutic journey towards healing and wellbeing. Whether you suffer from debilitating addiction or are confronted for the first time due to covid19, with your ineffective misuse of substances and/or activities, be courageous and untangle your genetic neurological wiring.
Unlike a global pandemic and other genetic factors, it provides the opportunity to be empowered and equipped, knowledgeable, strategic, and pro-active. Let’s discuss it over a glass of wine.