By David Joel Miller.
Don’t let urges knock you down.
Urge surfing is an idea that comes from substance use disorder treatment. Learning to cope with urges can help prevent relapses into depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and many other mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
A coworker and I discussed the similarities between surfing on the ocean and surfing urges. He is an avid surfer and tells me that not having a good relationship with the waves can leave scars. Ignoring urges and what is causing them can leave mental and emotional scars.
What is an urge?
Urges are sudden, intense impulses to do something. People with urges often feel compelled to act. When the idea enters the mind, it can become a compulsion. Urges can be intense, unpleasant sensations. Once the urge arises, it is hard to avoid acting on it. Wrestling with urges results in a lot of relapses into unhelpful thinking, and unhealthy behaviors.
Urges rise and fall.
Urges, in the early stages, can come on slowly and gradually, other times they rise rapidly, like a heavy ocean swell. You could easily be swept away before you realize the danger of the urge. The challenge with urges is to maintain your position without being carried away by the urge. Typically urges last 20 to 30 minutes.
Concentrating too much on ocean waves leaves you unprepared when they arrive. You should prepare for the rising and falling urges ahead of time also.
Wrestling urges, wears you out.
The typical response to urges is to try to avoid thinking about them and resist acting. The more you struggle, the more tired you become. Trying to not think about something makes the thought grow. To defeat urges you need to do two things. First, do not give in. Sometimes giving in and sometimes not amounts to intermittent reinforcement, one of the hardest things to overcome. Second, don’t exhaust yourself swimming directly into the urge. Practice floating above the surface, riding out the comings and goings of urges.
Urges can affect your thinking, your feelings, and your behavior.
Surfers who develop a negative attitude don’t last long. If you engage in self-criticism, telling yourself you should have caught the last wave, you need to wait for the next one; you don’t surf, you get washed ashore. Having cravings and urges is a natural part of recovery. Don’t beat yourself up for having urges. Having urges can make you feel like you’re not doing recovery correctly. Don’t let your urges take you places you should not go. Stick to the behaviors that will further your recovery.
Make peace with your urges.
Surfing the urges allows you to reach a place of neutrality where you neither wrestle the urge nor give in to it. What you need to do is to step back from the urge and begin to watch it as an outside observer. From this vantage point, you will see that your urges rise and fall. If you can stay in this relaxed state for a time, the urge recedes.
Accept that it is okay to feel however you are feeling.
You do not have to take action to change your feelings. Your life is a real life. There are things you like about it, and there are things that you will not like. Sometimes you will feel happy, and sometimes sad. Sometimes you will be calm, and sometimes you will be anxious. The key to making peace with your feelings, and not being swept away by urges, is to learn to recognize what you are feeling without rushing to change that feeling.
What feeling is coming up for you?
As you feel the urges rising, work on identifying what that feeling is. Are you feeling anxious, depressed, or frustrated? When urges rise, you may be thinking about others. Are you telling yourself it’s not fair that you must quit drinking or drugging, while others are continuing to do these things?
Learn the signs of oncoming cravings.
A water surfer notices the wave coming. Begins to paddle before the wave reaches them. They are up to speed when the wave reaches them. Notice the onset of uncomfortable feelings when urges are on the rise. Pay attention to increases in unhelpful thoughts. Watch your body for signs of negative emotions, that pain in the neck, the queasy stomach.
Practice urge reduction skills before the urge waves wash over you. Learn grounding techniques, scanning your body for tension, and use other relaxation methods. Breathing is especially important when it comes to keeping your head above water. Positive self-talk, affirmations, and grounding techniques can keep you prepared for the next round of urges.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books