Stress habits or self-medication


Anxiety, frustration or anger, excess energy, depression (or low mood), and several other things just plain drive many of us to it. What? Stress habits and self-medication.

Peter picks the tips of his fingers until they bleed. Joan drinks a bit too much alcohol to unwind. I clench and grind my teeth. Jack binge eats on occasion. Sonja drinks an excess amount of coffee each day. Gloria picks her scabs and pulls out hair from her arms. Elaine sometimes slaps her own face when she does something wrong. Do you do anything like these things?

As strange as they may seem, stress habits and self-medication become a peculiar means of comfort, coping, and maybe even pleasure. Some are obviously more serious issues than others, but I think a lot of people do something like the above for one of these stated reasons. In this post I want to emphasize that the topic is not about serious addiction, but lesser habits that still affect us negatively.

“Cindy, you’d better stop grinding and clenching your teeth, or you’ll seriously damage them some day! The wear is quite evident.” That is basically what my dentist told me on a few occasions. Even my psychiatrist said that I have to take better care of my teeth by stopping this stress habit. Both the dentist and psychiatrist suggest I buy a mouth guard. But I only grind and clench my teeth during the day. Who in the heck wants to wear a mouth guard during the day? Actually, why can’t someone (particularly my psychiatrist), help me get rid of the root cause of the problem so I DON’T grind and clench my teeth!

Stress habits and self-medication can be a bitch to stop. I can’t just tell myself “Cindy, stop grinding your teeth!” Yeh, as if it could be that easy! Telling a person to cut down on their drinking or sweets when they think it is the only pleasure in their life, is usually even harder. In the case of stress habits, perhaps a change in life could do the trick. In the case of self-medication, usually a lot more must be done. There could be a more serious underlying issue that needs discovering.

Proper support, planning, getting to the root of the problem, courage and action is necessary to stop stress habits and self-medication. Sometimes medications can help, but believe me, from my experience they don’t always do the full trick.

There is actually a lot of support out there for people who wish to stop destructive habits. These range from open 12-Step group meetings, various types of doctors, therapists, hospital or school sponsored programs, self-help books, weight programs, online support groups, etc. Having a serious sit down talk with your close family and friends can also be beneficial. In fact, I’ve found for many destructive habits that family and friend support can make the difference. If they are committed to help you, you can often strengthen your commitment. Their reminders, cooperation, willing ears, and sometimes ultimatums make a difference.

So back to my teeth grinding and clenching. No, there hasn’t been a perfectly effective medication to make me stop, but I do know that by using proper coping tools the habit eases. I talked to my therapist about coping tools. I also found some good tips online. When I actually USE them, I find them helpful to at least a degree. The challenge is for me to use them more and more frequently, and at the same time try to ease the root problem. I know that in the past when I’ve done so, I suddenly find that I haven’t indulged in the habit as much. Sometimes out of the blue I realize that the habit is gone. It can get better or stop.

Note: If you think that you or someone you care about has a full-blown addiction or serious mental health or life issue, or even if you feel you just have a stress habit that is especially hard to stop, please contact a doctor or therapist for the best care.



12 thoughts on “Stress habits or self-medication

  1. Emma Shearer May 6, 2017 / 9:36 pm

    I clench and grind my teeth also. I also pick scabs and spots but don’t pull hair out my skin. I guess everyone has their own ways to deal with stress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 6, 2017 / 10:09 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Emma. If you find a way to stop these things someday, please do share.

      I had teeth grinding and clenching in the past and then it suddenly stopped for a while. Then it came back again perhaps two years later. I wish I could figure out what was going on that made the difference. Actually, I perhaps it ceased during a time when I was hypomanic for a while (I have bipolar disorder). The last time I had it I had high anxiety. My anxiety went away with the hypomania. Nowadays I have agitation and periods of frustration and irritability. I think a lot of that was triggered by some situational issues I’ve been dealing with. I wish I could change these situational issues. I’ll try.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jessica Bakkers May 7, 2017 / 3:19 am

    Night grinder. My brain won’t even unwind while I sleep apparently. And cuticle picker. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Raegina May 7, 2017 / 11:49 am

    I’m a clencher and grinder too! My enamel is shockingly lower​ so that I have pain when i eat sweet things. I start a night guard and hope for the best during the day

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 7, 2017 / 1:59 pm

      Hi Raegina. Thanks for sharing. I hope the night guard isn’t too uncomfortable. Daytime bruxism and clenching is a real challenge, isn’t it? I try to remind myself that I must look strange when people catch me doing it. With that in mind I tend not to do it so much when I’m around people. Mine is at its worst when I’m alone, especially when I’m concentrating on something. Good luck to you in tackling this, too!


      • Raegina May 10, 2017 / 11:31 am

        I try to leave my jaw slack so I must look very funny doing it! My husband laughs and points it out as heavy breathing every time. I guess we just do what we need to do to try and save our enamel!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Joanna Maguire May 8, 2017 / 9:21 pm

    I’m a clencher too! I have a night guard and during the day I can often be found with my jaw resting open in a surprised style expression as that seems to help (only do this in the privacy of my home of course!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 8, 2017 / 9:38 pm

      That’s for sure! Actually, I also try to keep my jaw open. Otherwise people would see it shifting back and forth. I once caught sight of myself doing that in the mirror and I looked HORRIBLE!


      • Joanna Maguire May 9, 2017 / 4:35 pm

        Suppose I am lucky in that my clenching is not obvious to others, only to me. Causes so much tension pain in my face, neck and head though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight May 9, 2017 / 4:44 pm

        The pain is definitely no good. I get that sometimes, but I truly do contort my face with my shifting of my jaw. Hubby tells me about it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s