In the Complete Beginner's Guide to Emotional Buffering, we learned emotional buffering is a way to numb ourselves from unpleasant feelings or facts that are based on our current circumstances, mood, or relationship with others. We do it to avoid a pain or loss AND we need to gain something. For a simple example, we want to avoid the pain of anxiety in certain situations and want to gain peace and calm so we drink alcohol.
9 examples of emotional buffering
Eating. We need food to fill our body with the necessary nutrients for it's biological processes and to give us energy to do physical and mental activities. Besides these basic needs, we eat because we feel something like boredom, loneliness, depression or tiredness, want to avoid it and feel something different.
Shopping. This was one of my patterns. I needed stuff to fill the vast void of loneliness in my life. I needed to put on an armor of external clothing to play a role so I appeared to have it all together, so I fit cultural norms, and to cradle me. Who doesn't love a cozy sweater to hug you in the winter? Once I started welcoming the unpleasant emotions when they showed up, I was better able to recognize my loneliness was visiting when I picked up my phone to shop.
Alcohol. America is a wine and craft beer-lovin' country. It's part of our social identity. Marketers repeatedly tell us we need it to relax, chill, have a good time, share mommy stories, etc. This one was another pattern for me. I drank to relax, to calm my nerves around other people or stressful environments, and to be happy and liked.
Binge Watching/Playing. Binge watching TV or binge playing video games both can be a stress reliever and we all needed that in 2020 for sure! Once life returns to some normalcy, the question becomes what are you avoiding?
Social media. I am always shocked at how quickly time passes when I'm on social media. It's so easy to get lost in the scroll, likes, and hearts. Two minutes can quickly become an hour. It can easily turn into a form a bingeing just like watching TV or playing video games.
Exercise. Yes, exercise. It is wonderful for our bodies and minds. It helps us in regulating our emotions too. However, there is such a thing as exercising too much. If you begin to worry or obsess about your exercise habits or when you can schedule workout times, choose to skip sleep, work, meals, or time with friends or family to exercise, you may have gone too far. Here's a great article from Shape magazine about how to know when exercising is too much.
Smoking. This is a well-known form of emotional buffering. People start smoking for one reason but then keep smoking for other reasons. What's your reason(s)?
Prescriptions and drug use. Similar to the others, we start taking a drug, prescription or otherwise, for one reason and we continue to take them for other reasons.
Work. Similar to exercise, work can be overdone. It's a major part of our identity. What's one of the first questions you ask when you meet someone? "So, what do you do?" If you don't have a healthy balance between work, social and home lives, the real question to ask is, besides financial gains and material possessions, what are you getting from all that work?
so, why is emotional buffering more painful than stepping on a lego?
Stepping on a lego results in temporary pain. Lego pain will go away relatively quickly.
Unlike stepping on a lego, engaging in any one of the 9 examples at an unhealthy level, causes extended pain and usually has a domino effect in your life.
In the third article, we'll look at the commonalities of the nine, recognize when you're engaged in the activity, and learn how to check in with yourself.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series on Emotional Buffering.