Many people who engage in self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, eating a poor diet, and not exercising, or even worse, abusing drugs or alcohol, are often so entrenched in their unhealthy lifestyles that they seem resigned to the idea that things will never change for the better.
For example, many people will blame their lack of exercise on long work schedules. Some will blame their continued smoking on stress. Others will overeat because they feel depressed. This may sound a bit harsh, but in most cases, these are all poor excuses. These circumstances don’t have to condemn you to an unhealthy life. And ultimately, the changes need to come from you.
Let’s look at some examples:
“I work long hours so I have no time to exercise”
On the surface, this seems legitimate. After all, if you wake up early, work a very long day, then come home at night exhausted (and perhaps do chores, spend time with your family, etc.) then how or when will you work out?
However, if you break down your day, you’ll see that you can quite readily fit exercise into almost every day. You can wake up 10 minutes earlier (which won’t significantly cut into your sleep) and do some calisthenics (push-ups, squats, jumping jacks), shadowboxing, or, if you have a treadmill do a quick intense workout (sprinting or fast walking). Take a quick shower, and just like that, you’ll probably feel energized, happy, and ready to take on the day.
During lunch, go on a brisk walk, or, if it isn’t feasible to walk outside, then perhaps walk up and down the stairs, do some isometrics at your desk, etc.
When you come home, either do another quick workout such as the morning one, or, incorporate physical activity into your family time. Shoot some hoops with your kids. Run around. Kick a soccer ball. Go on a brisk walk with your spouse. Anything besides plopping on the couch to watch television. On the weekends, when you have more time, do a longer workout of 45 minutes to an hour. Before you know it, in spite of your long work schedule, you somehow managed to fit in plenty of exercise.
“I’m smoking because I’m stressed out”
This is, in a way, a lame excuse. If you have a lot of stress, then do something about it.
Maybe you’re stuck in a situation in which the stress is constantly there (a mean boss, a sick loved one). Even in those situations, learn how to deal with the stress in a healthier manner. Exercise. Meditate. Try deep breathing exercises. Seek professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist. Continuing to smoke won’t make your stress go away or improve. In some ways, it may worsen it, since the nicotine withdrawal you feel between cigarettes will actually make you more agitated.
Also, passivity often keeps us from changing our lives positively. For example, if you have a horrible job, then perhaps look for a new one. Sometimes a pay cut may be worth having a less stressful job. If you’re stuck in an unhappy marriage, then seek professional help, or, if unfortunately things are absolutely awful then consider ending the relationship. Do what you can to change your life for the better. Your life is worth the effort.
“I’m binging out of depression”
This too is a very common scenario which unfortunately is misguided. I’ve personally had patients who’ve gained a tremendous amount of weight due to “comfort eating.” The same advice that applies to people who smoke out of stress applies here. Seek professional help. Depression is treatable. It’s a shame that people will spend years suffering and ruining their health instead of treating their depression.
The bottom line is that we’re often stuck in less-than-ideal situations in life. The easy thing to do is to engage in self-destructive behavior and put all the blame on your circumstances. However, though it takes more effort and planning, stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for yourself is ultimately the way to go.