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Reducing excessive behaviour over the holidays

CALGARY (CityNews) – The holidays are already a stressful time of year for many.

Add a pandemic and social isolation the mix, and it is understandable why many Canadians have had to develop new coping methods this year.

But sometimes our strategies for dealing with stress can become problematic themselves says Tanya Mudry, a registered psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education.

“I think especially during COVID and in the winter, people tend to be coping in different ways and sometimes getting caught in excessive behaviours.”

Mudry says that addiction-like behaviours have become a concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She looks at the context of habits to help people better understand their excessive behaviours, like where and when people indulge, the materials needed, social interactions, and how the behaviour makes you feel.

“All of these things contribute to the practice or the behaviour. In terms of steps, I really like to invite people to investigate the behaviour.”

Taking an in-depth perspective on a bad habit like excessive online shopping means identifying the various details that contribute to the practice.

That can include whether you shop alone or socially, on a computer or on a smartphone, and if you’re staying up late or waking up early to engage in excessive behaviour.

But Mudry also shares some tips on how to break a bad habit.

“One of the pieces is to think about when the online shopping is happening. It might be about only doing TV time or keeping the phone away while you’re watching TV,” said Mudry.

“Being really intentional about the shopping, making a plan ahead of time. Ask somebody for support or to hang on to your credit cards if you’re worried about spending.”

Assigning a regular time for your habits, like having a beer to relax after work, are a common feature of excessive behaviours.

In these situations, Mudry says that doing another task can help to break the ritual.

“If there’s a behaviour that you want to stop, it’s important to try and do other things in place of it, try to reach for social support.”

Changing a behaviour is difficult, and Mudry believes people can be more forgiving of themselves.

“Regardless of what we’re changing sometimes there’s slips, and we don’t want to feel like a failure,” said Mudry.

“It’s just about getting back up on that horse and practicing over and over until it becomes your new normal.”