gambling problem

Gambling addiction

Addiction is a physical or psychological need to do, take or use something, to the point where it could be harmful to you. Gambling addiction involves repeated problematic gambling behavior with an uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life. Gambling addiction is also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder—is an impulse-control disorder 1). People with a gambling addiction can’t control their urge to gamble, even if they are losing a lot of money. They are willing to risk something of value in the hope that the return will be more valuable.

If you’re a compulsive gambler, you can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones. You’ll gamble whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed, and you’ll keep gambling regardless of the consequences—even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.

Of course, you can also have a gambling problem without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that disrupts your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences in your life, you have a gambling problem.

A gambling addiction or problem is often associated with other behavior or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To overcome your gambling problems, you’ll also need to address these and any other underlying causes as well. The first step is to separate the myths from the facts about gambling problems:

Facts about Gambling Problems

  • A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
  • Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
  • Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
  • Problem gamblers often rationalize their behavior. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
  • Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling gambling problems to continue.

Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. Unlike most casual gamblers who stop when losing or set a loss limit, people with a compulsive gambling problem are compelled to keep playing to recover their money — a pattern that becomes increasingly destructive over time. For some people gambling becomes an addiction — the effects they get from gambling are similar to effects someone with alcoholism gets from alcohol. They can crave gambling the way someone craves alcohol or other substances. Compulsive gambling can lead to problems with finances, relationships and work, not to mention potential legal issues.

If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.

People with gambling addiction often hide their behavior. They may lie to family members and others to cover up their behavior and may turn to others for help with financial problems. Some gamblers are seeking excitement or action in gambling, others are looking more for escape or numbing.

If you are addicted to gambling, the consequences can include financial losses, bankruptcy, homelessness and the breakdown of personal relationships. They can be serious not only for you, but also for members of your family, and for your friends and associates.

Any game of chance or skill that is played for money is gambling. Most forms of gambling are illegal for anyone younger than 18 years. However, gamblers find their own ways to gamble, including

  • Playing cards or dice games for money
  • Playing games of skill for money (for example, pool, basketball)
  • Buying lottery tickets and scratch cards
  • Playing casino- and arcade-type games (like pull tabs and slot machines)
  • Placing bets on sports events
  • Gambling on the Internet

If you have a gambling addiction, you are likely to experience some of the following:

  • the need to gamble with more and more money to achieve a feeling of excitement
  • constant thoughts about gambling
  • repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop or rein in gambling
  • irritability or restlessness if you try to stop gambling
  • resorting to gambling as a way of coping with anxiety or depression, or feelings of helplessness or guilt
  • ‘chasing’ losses: gambling to win back what has been lost, particularly after heavy losses
  • lying to cover up the extent of your gambling
  • losing a relationship or job because of gambling
  • relying on others for financial support after heavy gambling losses.

People with gambling addiction may be more likely than others to think about or attempt suicide.

Problem gambling is not easy to spot. Sometimes, by the time anyone realizes there is a problem, the person already has mental health problems and is close to financial ruin. Like other addictions, the longer problem gambling goes on, the harder it is to break free.

However, with help, you can overcome a gambling problem and get control back into your life. The sooner you start, the easier it will be.

Problem Gambling Warning Signs

There are warning signs that gambling has become a problem for someone you know. They may include:

  • Missing money or household valuables
  • Borrowing money regularly
  • Having multiple loans
  • Unpaid bills
  • Lack of food and household essentials
  • Withdrawing from family or at work
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Conflict with others
  • Feelings of helplessness, depression, or feeling suicidal
  • Unexplained absences from important events or commitments
  • Finding gambling “stuff” like lottery tickets, betting sheets, and casino chips
  • Excessive TV sports watching and an overly intensive interest in the outcome of sports events
  • Visits to a casino, despite being underage
  • Excessive “checking in” or spending time on the Internet
  • Unexplained debts
  • Flaunting large amounts of money or buying expensive items
  • Absences from school or work
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Stealing for gambling money

If you believe you have a gambling problem, it’s vital that you seek help immediately. Getting help early is very important as problem gambling can be like a whirlpool that drags people down, deeper and deeper.

A 2008 Australian study 2) found people with a gambling problem were:

  • nearly 20 times more likely to display severe psychological distress
  • more than four times more likely to drink alcohol at harmful levels than people without a gambling problem
  • nearly 2.5 times more likely to be depressed.

In addition, a 2009 Australian survey 3) found that 46 per cent of people with a gambling problem reported anxiety compared to 7 per cent of people who did not have a gambling problem.

It’s important to remember that each person is different and it’s often a combination of factors that puts a person at risk of both depression and problem gambling, including:

  • biological factors
  • genetic factors (e.g. a family history of mental health problems)
  • social factors
  • psychological factors (e.g. poor coping strategies and poor relationships).

There is also evidence that people gamble to deal with their psychological problems, but problem gambling may worsen existing psychological problems, and it tends to cause the most harm to those who are most vulnerable. It may also create psychological problems in people who did not previously have any mental illness.

Problem gambling impacts on every part of your life.

Problem gambling can ruin a person’s life socially, emotionally and financially. It may lead to the loss of relationships, home, health and career. It may cause stress, anxiety and depression. There are few people today who are not affected in some way by the impact of problem gambling on society.

  • Social impacts

Falling into debt and not having enough money for your everyday expenses. Increased conflict with your partner, neglect or mistreatment of your family members, and loss of friendships. Underperforming, failing subjects or losing your job.

  • Emotional impacts

Higher rates of distress and mental illness. In particular, high incidence of depression and anxiety. Episodes of irritability, anger, guilt, shame and loneliness.

  • Behavioral impacts

Higher chance of substance abuse and drug addiction. Higher rates of problem drinking and smoking. Frequently taking prolonged leave from work, home life and other normal settings.

Problem gambler questionnaire

Find out if you are a problem gambler.

In the last 12-months, have you:

  1. Needed to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement? Yes = 1 / No = O
  2. Felt restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling? Yes = 1 / No = O
  3. Made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling? Yes = 1 / No = O
  4. Often been preoccupied with gambling, such as reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble? Yes = 1 / No = O
  5. Gambled when feeling distressed in some way, such as anxious, stressed, lonely, guilty, or depressed? Yes = 1 / No = O
  6. After losing money gambling, returned another day to get even or “chase” your losses? Yes = 1 / No = O
  7. Lied to conceal your gambling? Yes = 1 / No = O
  8. Jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or school or career opportunity because of gambling? Yes = 1 / No = O
  9. Relied on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling? Yes = 1 / No = O

4 to 5: Indicates a MILD gambling problem

6 to 7: Indicates a MODERATE gambling problem

8 to 9: Indicates a SEVERE gambling problem

This questionnaire is not intended to replace professional diagnosis.

Adapted from: DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria: Gambling Disorder

Getting help for gambling addiction

Quitting a gambling addiction isn’t easy, but there are a lot of support services available if you think you have a problem with it.

Certain types of psychological therapy, for example cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may help someone overcome gambling addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves looking at the logic behind gambling such as the odds of winning, beliefs about luck and skill in non-skills-based games, and the likelihood of ‘chasing’ one’s way back to financial security.

Psychological therapies can also address underlying problems such as anxiety, depression or social isolation.

Some gamblers may find financial counseling helpful in offering alternatives to gambling as a way to financial recovery.

If you think that you or someone you know may have a gambling addiction, speak to your doctor in the first instance. If needed, your doctor can provide a referral to a psychologist.

Preventing Suicide

Problem gamblers are at increased risk of suicide. It’s very important to take any thoughts or talk of suicide seriously.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Often talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Expressions of having no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life; saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug misuse
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others

For immediate attention, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Do’s and Don’ts for Partners or Family Members with Compulsive Gambler

Do

  • Seek the support of others with similar problems; attend a self-help group for families such as Gam-Anon
  • Recognize your partner’s good qualities
  • Remain calm when speaking to your partner about his or her gambling and its consequences
  • Let your partner know that you are seeking help for your own sake because of the way gambling affects you (and possibly children)
  • Explain problem gambling to children
  • Understand the need for treatment of problem gambling despite the time it may involve
  • Set boundaries in managing money; take control of family finances; review bank and credit card statements

Don’t

  • Preach, lecture or allow yourself to lose control of your anger
  • Exclude the gambler from family life and activities
  • Expect immediate recovery, or that all problems will be resolved when the gambling stops
  • Bail out the gambler
  • Cover up or deny the existence of the problem to yourself, the family or others

Counseling can also be helpful for family members. Having a family member with a gambling problem can be difficult and distressful. Counseling can help you see your family’s strengths and see that things can change. It can also help you decide what actions to take and help manage stress, anxiety and depression.

Helping a family member with a gambling problem

While compulsive gamblers need the support of their family and friends to stop gambling, it’s common for loved ones to have conflicting emotions. You may have tried to cover up for the gambler or spent a lot of time trying to keep him or her from gambling. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. The gambler may also have borrowed (or even stolen) money from you with no way to pay it back, sold family possessions, or run up huge debts on joint credit cards. As hard as it is seeing the effects your loved one’s problem, you cannot make someone stop gambling. The decision to quit has to be theirs.

When faced with the consequences of their actions, a gambler can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among problem gamblers.

Four tips for family members:

  1. Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems or let his or her addiction dominate your life. Ignoring your own needs can be a recipe for burnout.
  2. Don’t go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests “this one last time.” Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem.
  3. Set boundaries in managing money. To ensure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse, consider taking over the family finances. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler’s impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
  4. Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation or even threats to get it. It takes practice to ensure you are not enabling your loved one’s gambling addiction.

Gambling addiction causes

Exactly what causes someone to gamble compulsively isn’t well-understood. Like many problems, compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors.

There are many reasons why addictions begin. In the case of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, these substances affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings can be enjoyable and create a powerful urge to use the substances again.

Gambling may result in a similar mental ‘high’ after a win, followed by a strong urge to try again and re-create that feeling. This can develop into a habit that becomes very hard to stop.

Being addicted to something means that not having it causes withdrawal symptoms or a ‘come down’. Because this can be unpleasant, it’s easier to carry on having or doing what you crave, and so the cycle continues. Often, an addiction gets out of control because you need more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the ‘high’.

The strain of managing an addiction can seriously damage a person’s work performance and relationships. In the case of substance abuse (for example, drugs and alcohol), an addiction can have serious psychological and physical effects.

Some studies suggest that addiction is genetic, but environmental factors, such as being brought up by someone with an addiction, are also thought to increase the risk. An addiction can be a way of blocking out difficult issues. Unemployment and poverty can trigger addiction, along with stress, and emotional or professional pressure.

Why do people keep gambling?

Nobody knows for sure, but it is likely that many different factors play a part.

One is that society condones gambling, and sees it as a part of normal life. That makes it very hard for people with a problem to keep away from it.

Another is that there may be chemical changes in the brain, similar to those seen in people addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Risk factors for gambling addiction

Although most people who play cards or wager never develop a gambling problem, certain factors are more often associated with compulsive gambling:

  • Mental health disorders. People who gamble compulsively often have substance abuse problems, personality disorders, depression or anxiety. Compulsive gambling may also be associated with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Age. Compulsive gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people. Gambling during childhood or the teenage years increases the risk of developing compulsive gambling. However, compulsive gambling in the older adult population can also be a problem.
  • Sex. Compulsive gambling is more common in men than women. Women who gamble typically start later in life and may become addicted more quickly. But gambling patterns among men and women have become increasingly similar.
  • Family or friend influence. If your family members or friends have a gambling problem, the chances are greater that you will, too.
  • Medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome. Drugs called dopamine agonists have a rare side effect that may result in compulsive behaviors, including gambling, in some people.
  • Certain personality characteristics. Being highly competitive, a workaholic, impulsive, restless or easily bored may increase your risk of compulsive gambling.

Gambling addiction symptoms

People may or may not know they are addicted.

Signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling (gambling disorder) that indicate you, or someone you know, has an addiction include:

  • Repeating something even though it interferes with your life
  • Stealing or selling things to continue the addictive behavior
  • Losing interest in other things
  • Being angry, violent, moody, or depressed
  • Seeing changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, or weight
  • Feeling sick or shaky when trying to quit
  • Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning how to get more gambling money
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
  • Trying to control, cut back or stop gambling, without success
  • Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Jeopardizing or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
  • Resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money
  • Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away

A gambling addiction isn’t always easy for someone to admit to. In fact, people who who have a problem with gambling often lie about their betting habits or try to hide them from others.

If you’re worried that you or a friend might have a gambling addiction, here are some common signs:

  • You think or talk about gambling all the time.
  • You spend more money or time on gambling than you intend to.
  • You gamble when you feel sad, anxious or distressed.
  • You spend more and more money to get the same ‘kick’ or rush.
  • You bet more and more money to try and make up for past losses.
  • You’ve repeatedly tried to stop or reduce your gambling without success.
  • You become irritable or restless when you try to cut back on your gambling.
  • Gambling is having a negative effect on your relationships, work or study.
  • You rely on other people for money, because of your gambling losses.
  • You feel depressed or are having suicidal thoughts.

Gambling disorder diagnosis

If you recognize that you may have a problem with your gambling, talk with your primary care doctor about an evaluation or seek help from a mental health professional.

To evaluate your problem with gambling, your doctor or mental health professional will likely:

  • Ask questions related to your gambling habits. He or she may also ask for permission to speak with family members or friends. However, confidentiality laws prevent your doctor from giving out any information about you without your consent.
  • Review your medical information. Some drugs can have a rare side effect that results in compulsive behaviors, including gambling, in some people. A physical exam may identify problems with your health that are sometimes associated with compulsive gambling.
  • Do a psychiatric assessment. This assessment includes questions about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns related to your gambling. Depending on your signs and symptoms, you may be evaluated for mental health disorders that are sometimes related to excessive gambling.
  • Use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

A diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year 4):

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

A person with gambling disorder can experience periods where symptoms subside and gambling doesn’t seem a problem in between periods of stronger symptoms.

Gambling disorder tends to run in families, but environmental factors may also contribute. Symptoms of the disorder can begin as early as adolescence or as late as older adulthood. Men are more likely to begin at a younger age and women are more likely to begin later in life.

Gambling addiction treatment

While some people can stop gambling on their own, many people need help to address their gambling problem. Less than 10 percent of people with gambling disorder seek treatment.

Gambling affects people in different ways, and different approaches may work better for different people. Several different types of therapy are used to treat gambling disorder, including cognitive behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, group therapy and family therapy.

Counseling can help you to understand about gambling, to think about how gambling affects you and your family, to consider other options and to solve problems.

Counseling can help:

  • Gain control over your gambling
  • Heal family relationships
  • Deal with your urge to gamble
  • Handle stress and other problems
  • Find other things to do with your time
  • Put your finances in order
  • Maintain recovery and avoid slipping back

Relapse prevention

Even with treatment, you may return to gambling, especially if you spend time with people who gamble or you’re in gambling environments. If you feel that you’ll start gambling again, contact your mental health professional or sponsor right away to head off a relapse.

How cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems like gambling addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. You’re shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.

Unlike some other talking treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.

What happens during CBT sessions

If cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended, you’ll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two weeks. The course of treatment usually lasts for between five and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30-60 minutes.

During the sessions, you’ll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts – such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions.

You and your therapist will analyze these areas to work out if they’re unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you. Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

After working out what you can change, your therapist will ask you to practise these changes in your daily life and you’ll discuss how you got on during the next session.

The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you’ve learnt during treatment to your daily life.

This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life – even after your course of treatment finishes.

Pros and cons of CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication in treating some mental health problems, but it may not be successful or suitable for everyone.

Some of the advantages of CBT include:

  • it may be helpful in cases where medication alone hasn’t worked
  • it can be completed in a relatively short period of time compared to other talking therapies
  • the highly structured nature of CBT means it can be provided in different formats, including in groups, self-help books and computer programs
  • it teaches you useful and practical strategies that can be used in everyday life – even after the treatment has finished

Some of the disadvantages of CBT to consider include:

  • you need to commit yourself to the process to get the most from it – a therapist can help and advise you, but they need your co-operation
  • attending regular CBT sessions and carrying out any extra work between sessions can take up a lot of your time
  • it may not be suitable for people with more complex mental health needs or learning difficulties – as it requires structured sessions
  • it involves confronting your emotions and anxieties – you may experience initial periods where you’re anxious or emotionally uncomfortable
  • it focuses on the individual’s capacity to change themselves (their thoughts, feelings and behaviors) – which doesn’t address any wider problems in
  • systems or families that often have a significant impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing

Some critics also argue that because CBT only addresses current problems and focuses on specific issues, it doesn’t address the possible underlying causes of mental health conditions, such as an unhappy childhood.

Self-help tips for problem gamblers

Do:

  • pay important bills, such as your mortgage, on payday before you gamble
  • spend more time with family and friends who don’t gamble
  • deal with your debts rather than ignoring them

Don’t:

  • view gambling as a way to make money – try to see it as entertainment instead
  • bottle up your worries about your gambling – talk to someone
  • take credit cards with you when you go gambling

How to Stop Gambling and Regain Control of Your Life

It can happen to anyone from any walk of life: Your gambling goes from a fun, innocuous diversion to an unhealthy preoccupation with serious consequences. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino, at the track, or online—if your gambling becomes a problem, it can strain your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay debts. It may feel like you can’t stop, but with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life.

Self-help for gambling problems

The biggest step to overcoming a gambling addiction is realizing that you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. But many others have been in your shoes and have been able to break the habit. You can, too.

Seek help for underlying mood disorders. Depression, stress, substance abuse, or anxiety can both trigger gambling problems and be made worse by compulsive gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, these problems will still remain, so it’s important to address them.

Learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways. Do you gamble when you’re lonely or bored? Or after a stressful day at work or school? Gambling may be a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions. But there are healthier and more effective ways of managing your moods, such as practicing relaxation techniques.

Strengthen your support network. It’s tough to battle any addiction without support, so reach out to friends and family. If your support network is limited, there are ways to make new friends without relying on visiting casinos or gambling online. Try reaching out to colleagues at work, joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a good cause.

Join a support group. Gamblers Anonymous, for example, is a twelve-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of the program is finding a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience remaining free from addiction and can provide invaluable guidance and support.

How to stop gambling for good

It’s true: the Internet has made gambling far more accessible and harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online casinos and bookmakers are open all day, every day for anyone with a smartphone. But staying in recovery—making a permanent commitment to stop gambling—is still possible if you:

  • Surround yourself with people to whom you’re accountable
  • Avoid tempting environments and websites
  • Give up control of your finances (at least at first)
  • Find healthier activities to replace gambling

Making healthier choices

One way to stop gambling is to remove the elements necessary for gambling to occur in your life and replace them with healthier choices. The four elements needed for gambling to continue are:

A decision: For gambling to happen, you need to make the decision to gamble. If you have an urge: stop what you are doing and call someone, think about the consequences to your actions, tell yourself to stop thinking about gambling, and find something else to do immediately.

Money: Gambling cannot occur without money. Get rid of your credit cards, let someone else be in charge of your money, have the bank make automatic payments for you, close online betting accounts, and keep only a limited amount of cash on you.

Time: Even online gambling cannot occur if you don’t have the time. Schedule enjoyable recreational time for yourself that has nothing to do with gambling. If you’re gambling on your smartphone, find other ways to fill the quiet moments during your day.

A game: Without a game or activity to bet on there is no opportunity to gamble. Don’t put yourself in tempting environments. Tell gambling establishments you frequent that you have a gambling problem and ask them to restrict you from entering. Remove gambling apps and block gambling sites on your smartphone and computer.

Maintaining recovery from gambling addiction or problem gambling depends a lot on finding alternative behaviors you can substitute for gambling. Some examples include:

Reason for gamblingSample substitute behaviors
To provide excitement, get a rush of adrenalineSport or a challenging hobby, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, or Go Kart racing
To be more social, overcome shyness or isolationCounseling, enroll in a public speaking class, join a social group, connect with family and friends, volunteer, find new friends
To numb unpleasant feelings, not think about problemsTherapy, consult Helpguide’s Emotional Intelligence toolkit 5)
Boredom or lonelinessFind something you’re passionate about such as art, music, sports, or books and then find others with the same interests
To relax after a stressful dayAs little as 15 minutes of daily exercise can relieve stress. Or deep breathing, meditation, or massage
To solve money problemsThe odds are always stacked against you so it’s far better to seek help with debts from a credit counselor

Dealing with gambling cravings

Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but as you build healthier choices and a strong support network, resisting cravings will become easier. When a gambling craving strikes:

Avoid isolation. Call a trusted family member, meet a friend for coffee, or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

Distract yourself with another activity, such as going to the gym, watching a movie, or practicing a relaxation exercise for gambling cravings.

Postpone gambling. Tell yourself that you’ll wait 5 minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour. As you wait, the urge to gamble may pass or become weak enough to resist.

Visualize what will happen if you give in to the urge to gamble. Think about how you’ll feel after all your money is gone and you’ve disappointed yourself and your family again.

If you aren’t able to resist the gambling craving, don’t be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.

Getting professional treatment

Seeking professional help or seeing a therapist does not mean you are weak or can’t handle your problems. Therapy can give you tools and support for coping with your addiction that will last a lifetime. Problem gambling can sometimes be a symptom of bipolar disorder, so your doctor or therapist may need to rule out this disorder before making a diagnosis.

Inpatient treatment programs are an option for those with severe gambling addiction who are unable to avoid gambling without round-the-clock support.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for gambling addiction focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, such as rationalizations and false beliefs. It can also teach you how to fight gambling urges and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by problem gambling.

Marriage and credit counseling can help you work through specific issues created by problem gambling.

Emotional Intelligence Toolkit

Emotional Intelligence is a powerful set of skill that you can learn for keeping your nervous system in its comfort zone and on track so that your mind and body can function optimally, even when you feel threatened.. Emotions can override thoughts, transform relationships, and profoundly influence behavior. Emotional intelligence (EQ) allows you to harness that power to understand yourself, overcome challenges, and build strong relationships. Best of all, emotional intelligence can be learned at any time.

Feeling unsafe, for reasons that have more to do with our perceptions than life-threatening events, is a common experience we face as humans. But your nervous system has a remedy for the fears and insecurities that create stress, depression, and anxiety. If you know how to engage your nervous system and connect to others in ways that are rapidly calming and energizing, you can remain secure, focused, creative, compassionate, and socially engaging. The Emotional Intelligence Toolkit is a progressive five-step, skill-building process that enables you to do this.

How does the toolkit help your nervous system stay on track?

Your nervous system is command central for keeping you safe. It’s like a built-in antenna that is always asking the question, ”Am I safe, or do I feel threatened internally or externally?” When your nervous system is in doubt about your safety, the rest of your body shuts down as you prepare to fight, flee, or freeze. In this defensive state, your body’s ability to preserve and protect you is compromised.

There are two things that you can do to quickly reassure your nervous system and bring it into its comfort zone. The quickest and most efficient thing you can do is to turn to another person for reassurance. If that person’s face conveys safety and reassurance, your nervous system will immediately relax and go back into balance. In order to do this, you must be able to send and receive nonverbal emotional cues.

The other thing that you can do is to connect with positive sensory experiences. The toolkit teaches you both of these core skills.

The Emotional Intelligence Toolkit helps you:

  • Change self-defeating moods and attitudes
  • Master the skill of quick stress relief
  • Boost Emotional Intelligence (EQ) by learning to stay connected to what you feel as well as think
  • Follow through on your hopes and dreams

Why Emotional Intelligence Toolkit works

The Emotional Intelligence Toolkit is a progressive five-step process. Although you can access any step at any time, we strongly recommend that you avoid skipping steps, especially if you are feeling stressed.

This program is rooted in social and emotional brain science that engages the emotional brain and heart, as well as the reasoning mind. Its purpose is to teach you how to control troublesome thoughts, manage difficult emotions, have better relationships, and follow through on positive intentions.

Emotional Awareness Shapes Health and Happiness

The ability to recognize, direct, and positively express emotions that we call Emotional Intelligence is a powerful skill. Emotion can override thoughts, transform relationships, and profoundly influence behavior. Emotional intelligence (EQ) allows us to harness that power to understand ourselves, overcome challenges, and build strong relationships. Best of all, emotional intelligence is a skill set that can be learned at any time.

The ability to remain emotionally aware and to keep your nervous system in its comfort zone also ensures that your immune system, and other parts of your body that preserve and repair it, remain online doing their job.

Step 1: Roadblocks to Awareness

Before you begin learning the skills that enable you to override stress and stay healthy and happy, you would be wise to first take a look at things you do that can block your ability to acquire new habits.

Social and emotional well-being depend on your ability to remain aware of your feelings. Many people don’t or can’t do this. To keep your intentions for change on track, let’s begin by identifying thoughts and habits that get in the way of experiencing your emotions.

Emotion hasn’t always been valued. For centuries, feeling was associated with our so-called “animal nature.” Human superiority was linked to an ability to think, and emotion was thought to compromise this ability. A more immediate and personal reason for avoiding emotions is that many people, often early in life, have been intimidated by painful or confusing emotional experiences. Hurtful and frightening memories make them fearful or doubtful about the values of emotions like anger. For example, if you grew up in a home where anger equated with acting-out behavior, you may view all emotions as more painful or dangerous than they really are. Or, you might see emotion as an obstacle, rather than as a resource for positive connection to yourself and others. This effort to avoid feelings absorbs time, attention and energy.

To distract ourselves from painful emotions, we develop diverting, distracting habits. We may drink too much, talk too much, worry or think too much, or spend too much time plugged in for the sake of distraction.

Like it or not, emotional experience plays a huge, and potentially positive, role in your life. By facing and limiting the thoughts and habits that keep you from connecting to your emotions, you prevent these roadblocks from hijacking your attempts to bring your life into balance.

As you learn and practice the core skills contained in this toolkit, you’ll find it easier to set aside distracting thoughts and behaviors. Your roadblocks will have simply lost their purpose. You won’t need them anymore.

Step 2: Master the Skill of Quick Stress Relief

Learn to Use Your Senses to Stay Calm in Stressful Situations

Stress isn’t always bad. Stress within your comfort zone works for you. In manageable doses, stress helps you perform under pressure and motivates you to do your best. But when you feel unsafe, insecure, and overwhelmed, or are constantly running in emergency mode, your mind, body, and relationships pay the price. Stress outside of your comfort zone reduces your ability to think clearly, act appropriately, and shuts down your body’s ability to preserve and repair your health.

What is quick stress relief?

There are countless techniques for dealing with stress. Talking to an understanding friend, exercise, yoga, and meditation, for example, can relieve stress. But it may not be practical (or even possible) to go for a run or meditate when you’re frazzled by your morning commute, stuck in a stressful meeting at work, or fried from another argument with your spouse. For situations like these, you need something more accessible. That’s where quick stress relief comes in.

The best way to reduce stress quickly and reliably is by taking a deep breath and using your senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—or soothing movement. By viewing a favorite photo, smelling a specific scent, listening to a favorite piece of music, tasting a piece of gum, or hugging a pet, for example, you can quickly relax and focus yourself.

When you’re stressed, you can use your senses to soothe, comfort, and invigorate yourself quickly—in just a few minutes—and feel in control again. Of course, not everyone responds to each sensory experience in the same way. The key to quick stress relief is to discover the unique sensory experiences that work best for you.

Do you already use quick stress relief? A lot of people do without thinking about it. Maybe you stroke your hair during an argument with your spouse to help you cool down? Or reach for a stick of gum when the traffic grinds to a halt on your commute?
Become a stress-busting detective

Everyone responds to sensory experiences a little differently. What some people find soothing and relaxing may be unpleasant or even stressful to others. For example, certain kinds of music may relax and calm one person but do nothing but irritate someone else. So, in order to master quick stress relief techniques, you need to first become a “stress-busting detective,” and track down the sensory experiences that quickly make you calm and alert.

There is a difference between sensory experiences that are pleasant and sensory experiences that are intense and enjoyable enough to quickly make you feel both calm and alert. In the time it takes you to stroke a small smooth stone that you keep in your pocket, recall a few bars of music that move you, or taste the sensation of biting into a piece of dark chocolate, for example, you should feel your stress begin to ease, your head start to clear, and your sense of control returning. If it takes you six cups of tea and several hours to regain your balance, then try something else. If the effect is too subtle, keep investigating.

Remember:

  • If you get heated up or agitated under stress… look for activities that quiet you down.
  • If you space out or shut down under stress… look for activities that are energizing.
  • If you get stuck or freeze… try to get moving in a mindful way.

Think back to what you did as a child to calm down. If you had a blanket or stuffed toy, for example, you might benefit from tactile stimulation.

Experimenting with your senses

Each time you feel stressed, try a different sensory experience and note how long it takes for your stress levels drop. Remember: you’re looking for something that works almost immediately.

As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find a phrase or a tune that instantly makes you feel more in control of yourself—just by thinking of it.

Use the examples listed below as a jumping-off point. Give your imagination free reign and come up with additional sensory experiences to try.

Movement

If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress or have experienced trauma, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful.

  • Briefly step outside, walk around the block, savor the sunshine…or the rain.
  • Repetitive motions like brushing your hair or knitting can help you relax.
  • Bounce or tap your heels.
  • Stretch or roll your head in circles.
  • Sit on something you can bounce on.

Sight

If you’re a visual person, try to relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. If there’s nothing visual within reach, try closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and imagining a soothing image.

  • Keep a cherished photo on your phone or in your wallet—of your child, pet, a fun night out with friends—or a postcard from a memorable vacation.
  • Watch a relaxing desktop screensaver with a soothing uplifting image.
  • If you have a pleasant view from your window, spend a few moments gazing outside.
  • If movement relaxes you, choose chairs that are movable like a rocking chair.

Sound

Are you a music lover? Or a nature lover? Experiment with the following:

  • The right music can lower your blood pressure and help you relax. Keep the music that works for you on your phone, computer, iPod, or play it in the car when traffic has you stressed.
  • No music at hand? Trying singing or humming a favorite tune.
  • Tune in to a soundtrack of nature, such as crashing waves, wind rustling the trees, birds singing. If the real thing is on your doorstep, even better.
  • Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office. When stress hits, close your eyes and take a few minutes to focus on the calming trickle.
  • Keep the recorded voice of a loved one on your mobile phone. Just the sound of someone special’s voice can help ease tension.

Vocal toning

Vocal toning can be a speedy way to use your breath and voice to relieve stress—even if you can’t sing or consider yourself “tone-deaf.” Try sitting up straight and simply making “mmmm” sounds with your lips together and teeth slightly apart, listening intently. Experiment by changing the pitch and volume until you experience a pleasant vibration in your face and, eventually, your heart and stomach.

Vocal toning can have two interesting effects. Firstly, it can help reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, making it an effective means of stress relief. Try sneaking off to a quiet place to spend a few minutes toning before a meeting with your boss and see how much more relaxed and focused you feel.

Secondly, vocal toning exercises the tiny muscles of the inner ear (the smallest in the body). While this might not seem like a big deal, these muscles help you detect the higher frequencies of human speech that impart emotion and tell you what someone is really trying to say. So not only will you feel more relaxed in that meeting with your boss, you’ll also be better able to understand what he’s trying to communicate.

Scent

Scent can be a powerful memory trigger. The smell of freshly cut grass might remind you of your childhood or a particular perfume might remind you of a romantic partner. If the memory is a pleasant, reassuring one, you can use it to help calm or invigorate you.

  • Experiment with essential oils. Many people find lavender, tea tree, or orange blossom relaxing. Simply put a few drops in your palm or on a tissue and inhale.
  • Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
  • Keep plants or fresh flowers in your home or workspace.
  • Reach for a fruit basket. Sniffing citrus fruit, such as orange or lemon, can help ease tension.
  • Spritz on a favorite perfume or cologne, or one that reminds you of someone special.

Touch

Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations.

  • Try curling your toes.
  • Pet a dog or cat, or hug a friend. It can lower your blood pressure and dissolve stress.
  • Squeeze a stress ball.
  • Squeeze your fingers.
  • A piece of ice is handy. Hold it for a second. Cool sensations can help calm your whole body.
  • Wear clothing that feels soft or silky against your skin.

Taste

Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue.

  • Chewing a piece of gum can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
  • Take a bite of a ripe piece of fruit, like a mango or pineapple for a taste of the tropics.
  • Swallow a few mouthfuls of your favorite tea or coffee.
  • Keep crunchy snacks like celery, carrots, or trail mix nearby.

Make quick stress relief a habit

It’s not easy to remember to use your senses in the middle of a mini—or not so mini—crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. But with time—and lots of practice—calling upon your senses when you’re stressed will become second nature.

Learning to use your senses to quickly manage stress is a little like learning to drive or play golf. You don’t master the skill in one lesson; you have to practice. Once you have a variety of sensory tools you can depend on, you’ll be able to handle even the toughest of situations. Here are tips to help you make quick stress relief a habit:

  • Start small. Instead of testing your quick stress relief tools on a source of major stress, start with a predictable low-level source of stress, like cooking dinner at the end of the day or sitting down to balance your checkbook.
  • Identify and target. Think of just one low-level stressor that you know will occur several times a week, such as commuting. Vow to target that particular stressor with quick stress relief every time. After a few weeks, target a second stressor. After a few weeks more, target a third stressor and so on.
  • Test-drive sensory input. Experiment with as much sensory input as possible. For example, if you are practicing quick stress relief on your commute to work, bring a scented handkerchief with you one day, try music another day, and then try sucking a mint the next day.
  • Don’t force it. If something doesn’t work, move on until you find your best fit.
  • Talk about it. Verbalizing your quick stress relief experiments will help you integrate it into your life. It’s bound to start a fascinating conversation—everyone relates to the topic of stress.

Step 3: What You Need for Social Connection

Learn How to Build and Wisely Use Emotional Muscle

Your ability to create nurturing and meaningful connections with others is dependent on your ability to understand and connect with your own emotions. When you can tolerate and constructively manage any emotion—including feelings of sadness, anger, or fear—you are said to be emotionally intelligent. The challenge for many of us is that some emotions can be threatening to the degree that you become overwhelmed by stress. When this happens, you go into a reflexive fight, flight, or freeze mode and lose control of your behavior.

Emotions are messages

You need to understand that your emotions are messages. Though not always messages that you like, your feelings tell you a lot about what matters to you: what you like and dislike, what you care about or fear, what makes you happy and what makes you sad. In this way, your emotions inform your decision-making processes. If you don’t disable or push your emotions away, they can also alert you to the fact that the emotion you’re feeling has more to do with the past and old habits of thought than what is going on in the present. Feelings based on past experiences rather than those in the present can be inappropriate, foolish, or unnecessary. What you do with the messages that these emotions send you is independent of the emotional experience—provided that you remain in your stress comfort zone.

Social connection depends on emotional acceptance

Stress, emotional awareness, and social connection are interrelated

  • Emotions that threaten you can trigger overwhelming stress.
  • Nurturing social connection can override limiting and inappropriate fight, flight, or freeze responses—keeping stress within your comfort zone.
  • The Ride the Wild Horse meditation can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the stress of avoiding emotions you fear. In addition, by fostering an emotional connection to yourself through emotional awareness, you’ll enhance your ability to connect to others in nurturing, meaningful, and productive ways.

Ride the Wild Horse: More than a mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness practices that foster relaxation, spirituality, and mind-body connection have been around for centuries. But many people either discontinue their meditation practice or are unable to remain mindful in a world that has grown increasingly complex, confusing, and often threatening for reasons that have more to do with social and emotional issues than truly life-threatening incidents.

The goal of the Ride the Wild Horse meditation is not simply to help you relax and stay focused, but to carry these feelings through into your daily life, even in situations that feel threatening, stressful, or uncomfortable.

The Ride the Wild Horse meditations focus on breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, but also take into consideration barriers to practicing the meditation. When you begin to feel strong emotions, they can become so uncomfortable that they interrupt the meditation process. By integrating quick stress relief into the meditation process, Ride the Wild Horse teaches you how to remain focused and tolerate strong emotions.

Learning to remain mindful under stress also opens the door to positive social connection with others. This, in turn, helps you to reduce stress further, enabling you to be more mindful.

If you fear the outcome of intense emotions, understand that learning to mindfully experience strong feelings like anger can give you the ability to contain your emotions and control your behavior.

Emotional awareness is a skill you can learn now

Emotional awareness is a skill that can be learned at any time of life by practicing the Ride the Wild Horse meditation.

Emotions quickly come and go, if you let them

You may be worried that once you reconnect to the emotions you’ve been avoiding, you’ll be stuck with them forever, but that’s not so. When we don’t obsess about our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside and lose their power to control our attention. When our feelings are freed, the core emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and joy quickly come and go. Throughout the day, you’ll see, read, or hear something that momentarily triggers a strong feeling of some sort. But if you don’t focus on the feeling, it won’t last, and a different emotion will soon take its place.

Step 4: Learn to Ride the Wild Horse

Ride the Wild Horse: A Meditation for Remaining Mindful Even When Fearful

Your feelings often seem like a wild horse, full of fear and uncontrolled energy. The only way to accept and tame these feelings is to take up the reins and learn how to ride them.

Ride the Wild Horse offers more than a standard mindfulness meditation. It teaches mindfulness practice while taking into account the effect that intense or chronic levels of stress have on our ability to meditate and remain mindful.

Ride the Wild Horse has four levels—each progressively more advanced than the one before. You build on your skills as you practice the meditations, so please start with the “Beginning meditation”, rather than jumping in at a more advanced level.

Setting the stage

Set the stage for learning to ride the wild horse by creating a safe private space—a space that’s pleasant and energizing, where you won’t be disturbed. Carefully select and include sensory props to look at, smell, touch, taste, or feel that instantly make you feel calm.

  • Select a chair that supports a straight back, or you can sit in a rocking chair if movement calms and soothes you.
  • Take off your shoes and loosen your belt.
  • You should remain alert throughout the process, so don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or dull yourself in any way.
  • Choose a time of day when you are wide awake. After a big meal or when you are sleepy is not a good time.

If you believe you may be traumatized or “stuck” in habitual rage or panic

A few minutes of vigorous muscle movement that engages your arms and legs will prepare you for greater success with the meditation. Pretend you are a three year old and continually move your arms and legs randomly at the same time for a minute or two—or until you are too exhausted to move. If you have time, running or walking while you focus on the feeling sensations in your arms and legs can also be helpful.

Don’t rush the process

Every time you correctly practice the meditation exercises, you should feel a little more energy and a little more comfortable with your emotional experience.

As feelings become more intense, you can ride the experience by continuing to breathe deeply and relaxing your body. However, if the feelings you experience become overwhelming and you start to feel out of control, switch your focus back to quick stress relief in order to bring your nervous system back into balance before continuing.

Don’t rush the meditative process. You will absorb more if you move slowly. Take time to notice the small changes that add up to life change.

Ride the Wild Horse has four levels

The four versions of the Ride the Wild Horse meditation are each important and each progressively more advanced than the one before. You will build on your skills as you practice the meditations, so please start at the beginning, rather than jumping in at a more advanced level.

Work at your own pace and listen to your instincts. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially if you’ve been traumatized in the past. Some people may take months to work up to the deepest meditation. Keep in mind that you don’t have to complete all four meditations to experience benefits. Every time you practice one of the meditations, you’ll make progress.

Beginning meditation – 16 minutes

Learn how to relax and open yourself up to discovering physical and emotional sensations throughout your body. Move up to the intermediate meditation when you feel alive to the feelings and sensations throughout your body.

Intermediate meditation – 18 minutes

Learn how to identify the physical and emotional sensations in your body that stand out from the rest—that feel stronger or different. Move up to the deeper meditation when you are able to pinpoint and focus on different or unusual sensations and feelings in your body.

Deeper meditation – 24 minutes

Learn how to stay emotionally connected even in situations that make you feel uncomfortable or mildly stressed. Move up to the deepest meditation when you are completely confident of your ability to remain calm and focused in mildly stressful or uncomfortable situations.

Deepest meditation – 30 minutes

Learn how to remain focused, alert, and emotionally aware at all times, even in the most stressful situations. Move on to Step 5 when you’re secure in your ability to remain calm and focused in even the most stressful situations.

Meditation Music – 18 minutes

This original meditation music was composed and performed by Roger Goodman to accompany the Ride the Wild Horse meditations. Roger is a Los Angeles-based musician and song writer.

After each meditation session

At the end of each meditation, it’s important to shift your attention away from an exclusively internal focus on your physical and emotional feelings. Return your attention to your everyday, external concerns such as work, leisure, and relationships.

You may notice that even though you are no longer giving your full attention to your feelings, some awareness of what you are feeling will remain with you, in the background of your consciousness. This means that you are integrating the process into your everyday life, which will give you a greater sense of control over your emotions.

Talk to someone about your experience

It’s important to find a person you can talk to about your experiences with the meditation within 36 hours. What did you learn about yourself? What did you discover about your emotions? Speaking to someone face-to-face will help you retain what you’ve learned.

Frequently asked questions about the meditations

How much time do I need to invest in Ride the Wild Horse?

It takes about 21 to 28 consecutive days to create a new habit, but if you do the process correctly and often, you’ll experience daily benefits. As you want the process to become second nature to you—so you don’t “forget” to apply the skills in times of extreme stress—it may take a little longer. Practice the Ride the Wild Horse meditation until you are comfortable using the skills in the most challenging circumstances.

What should I do if I initially feel something in one part of my body, and a stronger sensation occurs somewhere else?

Always follow the intensity. Focus on the strongest sensation you feel.

What if I don’t feel anything or I just feel empty?

That’s normal. Pay attention to the feeling of having no feeling, or of being numb or empty.

I’m getting emotional during the meditation, is that normal?

Yes. Releasing repressed feelings can be intense. If you cry, tremble, moan, or make other sounds, remember to breathe deeply and hold your focus. It is okay to experience these emotions—as long as you can calm and focus yourself and feel in control of the process.

If after numerous attempts you still feel uncomfortable, consider seeking the support of a trauma specialist.

Do people really have to learn to experience joy?

Some do. There are those for whom any kind of emotional intensity feels intimidating because they fear a loss of control.

Would writing in a journal be similar to talking to someone?

No! Writing engages different parts of the brain than speaking face to face.

Step 5: A Recipe for More Benefits

Live Emotionally Healthier with Less Stress, More Joy, and Better Relationships

It’s important to continue to practice the Ride the Wild Horse meditations until you’re able to stay connected to your physical and emotional feelings and are secure in your ability to remain calm and focused under stress.

Setting yourself up for successful learning

Learning a new set of skills takes effort and is not easy, especially if your energy is being sapped by depression, anxiety, or other challenges. But if you start small with baby steps undertaken at times of the day when you have the most energy, learning a new skill set can be easier than you think. Remember that change is rarely a straightforward process, so cut yourself some slack when you run into obstacles.

These final tips will help you use the skills in real world situations and channel them into your brain.

  • Practice, practice, practice. The more you repeat the meditations, the more comfortable you will feel with your emotional experiences and the greater change you’ll experience in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Like building muscles in the gym, the more you flex emotions, the more “emotional muscle” you will build.
  • Set up predictable challenges. Try practicing your new emotional intelligence skills at predictable times of stress, when the stakes are low. For example, tune into your body while doing household chores or commuting through heavy traffic.
  • Expect setbacks. Don’t lose hope if you backslide into old habits now and then. It happens. Instead of giving up after a setback, vow to start fresh next time and learn from your mistakes.
  • When in doubt, return to your body. If you’re struggling to manage your mood in a tough situation, take a deep breath, and apply quick stress relief.

Until it’s a habit, it may not be there when needed

You integrate a new skill into your brain by practicing it, making it a way of life. Integration only occurs when you stay engaged. Thus, if your intention is to stay emotionally connected to yourself and others, you will want to maintain an ongoing awareness of your emotional experience. This awareness doesn’t have to occupy all your conscious attention but it does have to be something you are aware of. With regular practice, you can actually change your brain in ways that will make you feel more confident, resilient, and in control.

Communicating your new learning experiences face-to-face

Remember, an important part of the Ride the Wild Horse experience is communicating face-to-face after the meditation with someone who takes an interest in what you have to say. This kind of face-to-face communication helps you to remember and act on what you’ve just learned. An interested person willing to take a few minutes to listen attentively to you on a regular basis could be a family member, friend, or colleague.

Unexpected rewards

With stress and emotion in check, you’ll be aware of nonverbal signals that inform and empower successful communication and connection to others. As you develop the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions, you’ll automatically find it easier to recognize what other people are experiencing emotionally. You’ll be able to speak with greater intensity and listen with greater accuracy. You will also be able to tell when people say one thing but mean another, and it will become easier to understand why people react to you as they do.

Further, as you bring stress into balance and learn to tolerate emotions you don’t like, you’ll discover that your capacity for experiencing positive emotions has grown and intensified. You will find it easier to play, laugh, and experience positive emotions like joy. Life will get lighter and brighter.

Even when life is unpleasant or difficult, you’ll find that conflict with others is less threatening. Once you know how to remain emotionally present and manage stress, you can avoid overreacting in emotionally charged situations. Even when painful memories surface, the ability to manage stress and take emotions in stride will help you separate the past from the present. Believe it or not, resolving conflict can improve a relationship and strengthen the bond between two people. When you manage conflict in a healthy, positive way, you can create a deep level of trust and help your personal and professional relationships to flourish.

Now It’s up to you !

Unimagined possibilities for reinventing ourselves are at hand. Because of new brain technologies and discoveries, the ability of the brain to renew itself gives us opportunity to repair the past and improve our lives.

Breakthrough knowledge also reveals the critical role self-regulation plays in the development of mental health and emotional intelligence. We see that self-regulation is dependent on learning a non-verbal, emotionally driven set of skills acquired through experience. The toolkit I’ve been describing to you provides this kind of learning.

Emotional health and emotional intelligence won’t come as easily as swallowing a pill. Permanently changing the way you react to stressful experiences takes practice, patience, and commitment. But learning to regulate stress and emotion is within your reach. As you begin practicing the skills in this toolkit, expect setbacks. For a while, new abilities will compete with old habits for your time and attention. Don’t be discouraged. If you persevere, your feelings, thoughts, and behavior will change for the better.

By learning to keep your stress and nervous system in balance, you harness the wisdom and protection of your emotions. Gaining emotional balance will bring you a greater capacity for joy, understanding, creativity, and resiliency. The rewards will impact every part of your life: home, your job, relationships. And as you become calmer, more focused and emotionally aware, you’ll thrive, growing smarter, healthier, and happier.

Remember, it’s never too late to learn the skills that enable you to be emotionally self-aware and emotionally intelligent. Others can help; we need them to encourage and support our learning. But others, including the most skilled and caring, can do only so much. The rest is up to you.

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