Routine and Addiction

It seems to me that there’s a fine line between routine and addiction. I’ve been trying to quit smoking recently, and I’ve noticed that half of the struggle for me is in the routine I’ve established. 

If I miss a bus, I have a smoke to fill the time and keep me from getting anxious about it. I also have one before bed, and I’ve noticed that I feel anxiety around that time if I’m planning not to smoke. So the line between addiction and routine is blurred for me here.

This got me thinking about other areas of my life. I’ve heard people say you can get addicted to anything — food, sex, substances, even cleaning or exercise. In my life, I find I get addicted to people. There are certain individuals in my life at any point in time whom I will talk to more often than others. On a large time scale, the times in my life when I’ve had the least anxiety have been when I have one person I spend time with daily, usually a partner. So if I become anxious when my level of contact with that primary person drops, it looks a lot like how I feel anxiety when I try not to smoke.

So what does this mean? Should I pointedly aim to spread out who I’m contacting, and not spend time with any one person daily? Is it a question of how much actual time I spend interacting with them? Or is it something I can deal with internally?

I think the ideal is focusing on my life as an individual, separate from any one other person, so that I build routines around the time I spend alone. But like breaking addiction, building these habits has proven difficult. I’m doing it, but it’s a struggle. This tells me it’s a slow process, and I think that keeping in mind that I’m effectively trying to reprogram my brain — like what I’m trying to do with quitting smoking — I’ll have an easier time being patient with myself.

So I think the fine line that divides routine from addiction is the anxiety felt when the behaviour or experience is removed. It makes me feel that it would be wise for me to check in regularly with most of my routines, experiment with changing or suspending certain activities and see how I react.

I can use my anxiety level as an indicator for those tasks that may have become unhealthy for me, and hopefully change them before they become too deep-rooted. The earlier I catch them, the easier they’ll be to reprogram; neural pathways are carved through repetition, so the sooner I catch it, the better.

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