Anxiety Many people gamble as a way of managing anxiety. As they gamble, people often report being separated from their anxious feelings or projecting their feelings of anxiety onto the excitement they feel when they partake in their gambling activity of choice. As a result, gambling can work its way into the fabric of their everyday life, and the impulse to gamble can overwhelm the rest of their lives.
Thus, for many gamblers, reducing anxiety is a prerequisite to making any changes in gambling behavior. Fortunately, there are several techniques that can make a tremendous difference in alleviating anxiety.
Learn to relax
Real relaxation is a physiological and psychological response that is the opposite of anxiety and panic. It’s accompanied by a slowing of the heart rate and lowering of blood pressure, deeper breathing, and a calm, even state of mind. When experienced on a regular basis, its effects are cumulative. One of the most powerful ways that people can counteract anxiety is by learning to relax. It isn’t possible to be relaxed and anxious at the same time. This means more than simply plopping down in front of a television or surfing the Internet, although on the surface, those activities can seem like they’re relaxing.
If the level of anxiety is so high that it makes people physically and psychologically uncomfortable, taking active steps to relax can offer them relief. Relaxation exercises, such as those outlined below, teach people to identify worry triggers, defuse them, and break the cycle of anxiety. It’s best for people to commit to daily practice, even if the exercises don’t appear to help at first, because the more people do these exercises, the more positive effect they will have.
Practice progressive muscle relaxation
The purpose of this exercise is for someone to learn body awareness and the difference between tense muscles and relaxed muscles. By slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body, people can teach themselves the difference between a relaxed muscle and a tense one. Once people learn this skill, they will have better body awareness in situations that make them tense. Over time, and with continued practice, they will learn to cope with tension by training their muscles to relax while calming the mind. After all, it is not possible to be tense and relaxed at the same time.
Someone can get started by setting aside 15 uninterrupted minutes in a quiet, distraction-free location. It may help to dim the lights, or to sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
The idea is to hold and squeeze each area of the body for 15 seconds (about 10 slow counts), feeling the tension build up. Then release the tension and completely relax, allowing the tension to flow out of that area and away from the body. For every muscle group, the person doing this exercise should take a moment to notice how different it feels when it’s tensed compared to when it’s relaxed. Repeat the exercise at least once, and as many as three times, before moving on to the next area of the body.
Find replacement activities
Distraction is better than deprivation. In other words, one of the best ways people can relieve anxiety and minimize urges to gamble is to do something else, an alternative activity that is positive and enjoyable. This focuses attention away from worry, reducing the need for the familiar gambling pattern.
Finding a replacement activity may involve taking up old hobbies or finding new interests and activities. Over time, such new interests evolve into coping mechanisms that help people more effectively manage anxiety and gambling.
Get started by thinking of at least five enjoyable activities that have nothing to do with gambling, drinking, or substance abuse. This might include watching TV, working out, or gardening. The key is to find activities that are truly appealing.
As people seek to change their relationship with gambling, they will need to sort out many aspects of their lives, gain new perspectives, and acquire new skills. It is typical that people will make headway and then take a few steps back. It’s important to remember that making any significant change is a bit like going on a long journey. It takes time.