During the coronavirus lockdown, have you been binge-watching Netflix and television shows, or playing video games compulsively? Have you found it difficult to get off the internet and social media? Have you noticed you are more engaged in emotional eating? If you smoke or use substances, has your use increased since the stay-at-home orders were issued?

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing efforts have affected our routines and at times have led to addictive behaviors that are compulsive and self-destructive.  

Why do we engage in compulsive behaviors?

Simply put, being at home for an extended period can be boring. There are not many options for the various activities we once enjoyed. Seeing all the news while staying at home can affect our mood and increase anxiety. We are going through uncertain times, which makes us crave some kind of control, seek pleasure, and find ways to cope with the suffering.

Playing video games and watching television are fine in moderation, but in excess they become unhealthy and compulsive. Compulsive behaviors might provide temporary relief, however, and unfortunately, what usually comes next is worse. That may include feelings of guilt, worsening mood and increased anxiety, relationship problems, and various health hazards. Sleep deprivation, decreased activity, weight gain, and carpal tunnel syndrome are among the most prevalent of such physical health issues.

When you experience those consequences from compulsive behavior, that can then lead to emotional reactions, resulting in further comfort-seeking in harmful behaviors. Ultimately this could further reinforce a vicious cycle of craving and compulsive behavior.

Who is at risk?

While anyone can be at risk for engaging in compulsive behaviors, there is a greater risk for those who are unemployed, do not have a supportive network of friends and family, or have a history of mental health disorders. Some studies also indicate that the risk is increased for adolescents.

How do I know if my behaviors are compulsive or potentially harmful?

Take some time to think about the following questions:

  • Are you spending more time engaging in a behavior than you originally intended to?
  • Have you been trying to cut down or stop the behavior but haven’t been able to?
  • Do you feel your mind is often pre-occupied with the behavior and you have an urge to go back to it?
  • Has engaging in the behavior affected your ability to do what you should at work, home, or other settings?
  • Have you continued the compulsive behavior, even when it caused problems?
  • Have you gotten feedback from others in the home that your behavior has gotten excessive?

If the answer to most or all the above questions is yes, you may be engaging in compulsive behavior that has likely gone beyond a simple habit and an intervention might be necessary.

What should you do?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that can help you stop the compulsive behavior.

  • Maintain a stable routine.
  • Limit your access to media, computer/smartphone, and games. Some applications allow a change of settings so you can limit the time spent on a certain program.
  • Create a journal and log the hours you spend engaging in the problematic behavior. You can set goals to change the behavior and reward yourself with healthy activities that you enjoy.
  • Be creative with activities while staying home. Read a book you’ve always wanted to or join an online book club. Take a free online nutrition course. Or connect with your neighbors.
  • Practice healthy coping skills such as meditation and exercise.
  • Stay virtually connected with your friends and loved ones.
  • Seek help. Do you have a buddy who will agree to check on you and hold you accountable? Do you need professional help and therapy?

Online resources

Take advantage of online resources. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has compiled a list of virtual recovery resources to be used during the COVID-19 pandemic. They include:

Remember, if you need help, we are here for you. Visit our website for more information or call our Access Center at 401-606-0606 to make an appointment. Telehealth appointments are available.