Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Compulsive Gambling and Exercise -- an important aspect of recovery

As a fitness expert and coach, I have clients come to me from many lifestyles. Each person is a universe unto themselves, and some of them have special challenges such as anxiety, substance use issues, and or issues related to problem gambling.  

The term "problem gambling" takes in a broad spectrum from mild and occasional impulse control issues to, at the extreme end of the spectrum, true compulsive or pathological gambling - sometimes referred to as Gambling Addiction.   

Compulsive Gambling and Anxiety

Relaxation Exercises Can Relieve the Gambling Urge

        A simple exercise program can release underlying anxiety.

  • Gambling problems are related to other underlying issues such as anxiety, stress, and difficulties with impulse control or substance abuse.
  • Easy-to-apply strategies can end the impulse to gamble, as well as avoid slips and relapses.

Gambling and anxiety

Many people gamble as a way of managing anxiety. As they gamble, people often report being separated from their anxious feelings or projecting their feelings of anxiety onto the excitement they feel when they partake in their gambling activity of choice.

As a result, gambling can work its way into the fabric of their everyday life, and the impulse to gamble can overwhelm the rest of their lives.
Thus, for many gamblers, reducing anxiety is a prerequisite to making any changes in gambling behavior. Fortunately, there are several techniques that can make a tremendous difference in alleviating anxiety.

Relaxation exercises, teach people to break the cycle of anxiety. It's best for people to commit to daily practice, even if the exercises don't appear to help at first, because the more people do these exercises, the more positive effect they will have.

Practice progressive muscle relaxation

 By slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body, people can teach themselves the difference between a relaxed muscle and a tense one. Once people learn this skill, they will have better body awareness in situations that make them tense. Over time, and with continued practice, they will learn to cope with tension by training their muscles to relax while calming the mind. After all, it is not possible to be tense and relaxed at the same time.

Someone can get started by setting aside 15 uninterrupted minutes in a quiet, distraction-freel ocation. It may help to dim the lights, or to sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

The idea is to hold and squeeze each area of the body for 15 seconds (about 10 slow counts), feeling the tension build up. Then release the tension and completely relax, allowing the tension to flow out of that area and away from the body. For every muscle group, the person doing this exercise should take a moment to notice how different it feels when it's tensed compared to when it's relaxed. Repeat the exercise at least once, and as many as three times, before moving on to the next area of the body.

Try the following sequence:

  • Hands: Squeeze them into fists and then relax.
  • Front of upper arms: Tighten all of the muscles in the front of the upper arm and then release them.
  • Back of upper arms: Tighten all of the muscles in the back of the upper arm and then release them.
  • Shoulders/neck: Raise both shoulders and tense up the neck before dropping both shoulders and releasing the muscles.
  • Forehead: Raise both eyebrows enough to wrinkle the forehead and then lower both eyebrows to relax the forehead.
  • Jaw: Clench then release both the upper and lower jaw.
  • Cheeks: Make a forced smile, then relax it.
  • Abdomen: Tighten the belly and lower back muscles, then relax them.
  • Upper legs: Stiffen and straighten the thigh muscles and then relax them.
  • Lower legs: Tighten the shin muscles by pointing the toes to the ceiling, then relax the feet and muscles.
  • Feet: Curl the toes and tighten the muscles in the bottoms of both feet, then uncurl the toes and relax the muscles.
As people seek to change their relationship with gambling, they will need to sort out many aspects of their lives, gain new perspectives, and acquire new skills. 

There are therapists and counselors with expertise in helping people effectively deal with problem gambling.  It is interesting that where gambling is legal, there are fewer problems related to gambling. Experts say the reason is because when gambling is illegal, people are ashamed to come forward and ask for help. When it is legal and socially acceptable, people feel safe in sharing that they would like some help with gambling related problems. This is why gambling related crime goes down when gambling is legal. 

When you or your treatment provider would like me to create a custom crafted exercise and fitness regimen for you or others, please contact me and we will work together to increase recovery.

Felicia Lawson

Portions of today's blog were adapted  from Change Your Gambling, Change Your Lifeby Howard Shaffer, Ph.D., a book published by Harvard Health Publications.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


FACT: Physical activity has been shown to be associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
Physical activity has been consistently shown to be associated with improved physical health, life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, and psychological well-being. 
Exercise compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression and has also been shown to improve depressive symptoms when used as an adjunct to medications. While not as extensively studied, exercise has been shown to be an effective and cost-efficient treatment alternative for a variety of anxiety disorders. 
For your personal activity plan, custom crafted just for you, call or email me.
Initial free consultation.
Eager to hear from you,
Felicia Lawson

Writers in Treatment