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We All Do Bad Things to Deal with Bad Days

We All Do Bad Things to Deal with Bad Days

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Top image credit: Steven Depolo on Flickr

How do you deal with a bad day at the office?

For some, the solution is “retail therapy”: hours spent online where the adrenaline rush that comes with every click of ‘Add to cart’ and ‘Checkout’ is both escapism and a stand-in for the sense of accomplishment they’re not getting from work.

You may scoff at the idea. After all, “retail therapy” hardly qualifies as a form of medical or psychotherapeutic treatment. In fact, it sounds more like an excuse for one’s lack of self control; the sort of thing people with unhealthy habits like excessive shopping would say to remain in denial.

Yet it’s strange that we feel this way in the first place.

Most, if not all, of us have relied on something to deal with the pressures of life at some point. At the same time, there’s no denying that in society’s eyes at least, some “vices are more equal than others”.

(Photo credit: Nuno Silva on Unsplash)
No one’s going to judge you for blowing $150 on a fancy tasting menu after you’ve had a crappy day at work. But swap this out for a beer tower or more frequent smoke breaks, and you can be sure some self-righteous bystander will tell you to take it easy.

We don’t realise that doing these things has nothing to do with how they make us feel. Rather, they simply serve as the little nudges that keep us moving forward.

It’s not the buzz or the high we chase, but the need for validation and a sense of purpose; reminders that we don’t have to behave the way others want us to.

We can rebel, we can make “bad” decisions from time to time. We can still live life on our own terms.

Having a psychological crutch is perfectly normal. Crutches, after all, aren’t just for people with broken legs. They’re also for those who might find walking a challenge.

Take Andy for example. He works at an advertising agency, where deadlines are pretty much a permanent fixture and are never going away. In the face of this reality, his cigarette is not a magic wand. Every time they hit a creative snag, a colleague would thump the table and exclaim, “Go smoke first la!”

But these puffs change nothing.

They get to calm their nerves a little and return to their desk focused, only to fall back into the same pit of uninspired lethargy.

At the same time, his smoking is not a solution to life’s problems. This much he knows.

An ex-colleague of mine used to go on ‘walk breaks’ whenever she was stressed. And when I say whenever, I mean whenever. Nevermind if it was in the middle of a team briefing or just 5 minutes after reading her first email of the day. She would up and go, regardless of how disruptive it was to everyone else.

Over time we understood that this was simply the rhythm of her life. To keep going, she needed these walk breaks. Strolls around the office block were how she decompressed.

She didn’t necessarily come back refreshed and motivated, but it was never about ‘fixing’ how she felt. She understood that all of us take our encouragement in different ways. And likewise, she put up with the rest of our strange and varied habits.

(Photo credit: IBTimes)
Smokers no doubt understand the harmful effects of smoking. Andy knows that for every 5 minutes of peace and quiet that he gets from inhaling over 4000 chemicals through a single cigarette, hes increasing his likelihood of developing cancer and cardiovascular diseases, the latter being the theme of this years World No Tobacco Day.

The campaign, which falls on 31 May annually, aims to increase awareness of the link between tobacco and heart (amongst other cardiovascular) diseases, and in turn advocates for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Andy says if there is a viable alternative to his cigarettes, he would gladly make the switch.

The trouble, as any smoker would know, is that it’s never just about the nicotine. It’s about the ritual of lighting up and that first exhale; that exchanging of glances with a colleague as you both shake your heads at the bullshit you just went through, and finally that “Ok, time get to back and deal with this” moment that comes at the end.

Whether you’re taking to Facebook or Instagram Stories to rant about your day, or booking a flight to Bali after a rough week, it’s never the act itself that brings relief.

The same goes for those who constantly need their coffee to “function”. Some seek that jolt of caffeine from an espresso, which somehow offers the illusion of a productivity boost. Others see an opportunity to escape the office, to socialise, or precious me-time and a chance to remind themselves that they work in the CBD, and hence must not be entirely useless.

Before we admonish anyone for not being “strong” enough to quit habits we consider excessive or harmful, we need to first be compassionate and understand what makes them tick in the first place.

In truth, having a psychological crutch is perfectly normal. Crutches, after all, aren’t just for people with broken legs. They’re also for those who might, from time to time, find walking a challenge.

We don’t realise that doing these things has nothing to do with how they make us feel. Rather, they simply serve as the little nudges that keep us moving forward.

For decades, the Singaporean government has been trying to lower smoking rates in the country by using every weapon in the public messaging playbook, from employing fear to harnessing emotional appeal. Yet smoking prevalence rates in Singapore have stagnated from 2001 to 2013, pending the release of more current statistics from the authorities.

The ineffectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns suggests there is a deep-rooted culture behind smoking that the government hasn’t quite grasped, or has conveniently ignored. And it shows in campaigns that only reinforce the misconception that smoking is merely a habitual addiction that can be cured as one would a disorder.

Charlie Brooker, creator of the hit UK TV series Black Mirror, also describes in an op-ed for The Guardian how quitting smoking was an incredibly difficult process even with cessation aids and therapy.

What’s needed then is a range of alternatives that smokers can fall back on without suffering as much damage to their health or impacting the health of loved ones.

(Photo credit: ISTOCK)
This is where options like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products come in. We should be supportive of these alternatives, instead of enforcing the quit smoking entirely or die ignorant narrative.

Its too easy for smokers to pick up smoking again months, or even years, after quitting. It’s not so much because of what cigarettes contain, but because of what they represent to the smoker. As such, the best way to help smokers kick the habit and avoid relapsing isn’t just about pushing out the right warnings or messages.

It is first understanding what cigarettes mean as a symbol, and embracing the reality that it is a perfectly normal aspect of human psychology to want things that are bad for us.

Do you think you need vices to get through the week? Or does “strength from within” really work? Send your thoughts to

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Benjamin Lim Contributing editor