This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
In our lives we are often very busy trying to balance different commitments which often leaves little time out for ourselves. Whether you are a parent, working full time, dealing with family, relationships, or financial issues, chances are you have experienced stress in the past week.
Stress is the feeling we have when under pressure and can affect us not just mentally but physically as well. There are many different signs of stress such as headaches, low energy, sleeplessness and feeling irritable.
In general, a bit of stress is not bad. It makes us think faster, puts us under pressure to perform. However, evidence shows that chronic exposure to stress can lead to us developing psychological problems like depression and anxiety. Our bodies aren’t meant to withstand long-term stress.
Gambling is often a coping mechanism for stress or low mood. If you think of your own gambling, perhaps you are more likely to gamble when you’re feeling stressed out.
Gambling provides a temporary escape from those uncomfortable feelings of tension, anxiety and irritation. The addictive nature of gambling also means that what starts to temporarily relieve stress, quickly becomes a source of even more stress!
For some people with gambling problems there is a very clear link between stress in their lives and problem gambling.
For example, some people we talk to admitted stress was a trigger for their gambling:
This caller described feeling stressed with her mother unwell in hospital so gambling was a quick fix for her:
‘I dropped my mum back at the hospital and went straight to the pokies’
Another person we spoke to described how an argument would send her to the pokies:
‘I had a fight with my partner and gambled’
This male caller gambled after work to deal with his days stress:
‘I go to the club after work, especially if it has been a bad day’.
Unfortunately, when people experience stress they are more vulnerable to gamble.
Stress can make people feel overwhelmed where they can’t think clearly. This means a quicksolution to stress such as the excitement of gambling becomes difficult to resist.
Therefore, if you manage your stress effectively you will be less likely to choose a solution that provides only temporary relief, such as gambling.
So how can we manage our stress better? A lot of the gambling research indicates that reducing stress is a big part of managing gambling. Here are some tips:
- Self-care – whether this is a 20-minute walk in the morning or a dinner with friends to unwind. Most people have strategies they know can reduce their stress and help them feel more relaxed.
- Support – research has shown that one of the best things a person can do when they are going through a difficult time, is to access support. This could be friends, neighbours, family members or colleagues. If we have at least one person to talk to about an event or ongoing situation, we fare much better psychologically.
- Counselling – Perhaps the stress in your life is from a difficult relationship or the financial consequences of gambling. Trained counsellors can quickly help you to identify sources of stress and help you developing strategies to recover. You can contact the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 to arrange a free and confidential appointment with a trained gambling counsellor or financial counsellor.
Finding creative activities that you enjoy can be an excellent way of keeping on track when you are making a change to your gambling. This is Audrey’s* story, whose renewed love of making things has helped get her back on track.
Some of the creative pieces Audrey has made: Source - Supplied
Audrey had been gambling for just over 15 years on the pokies, and came to see that it was impacting on not only her finances, but her relationship with her family, and also caused her anxiety.
The financial impact of her gambling started to become apparent, a lot of her and her husbands savings had been spent on the on pokies after work.
“Over a period of time it had become a routine to go and gamble after work, on top of the financial impact it had also pulled me away from spending quality time with my son, and hobbies that I used to love.” says Audrey
Making a change
Once Audrey realised the impact gambling was having on her she sought help. Slowly but surely, Audrey and her counsellor worked at identifying what triggered to gamble, her motivations and how to break the cycle.
One thing that really helped Audrey is her willingness to try and incorporate new activities, and restart old ones that provided a sense of fulfilment that gambling wasn’t giving her.
Furniture that Audrey reupholstered to brighten up the garden: Source - Supplied
Audrey rediscovered her passion in making things, and joined a glass making group and refurbishing furniture.
Within two months of working with a counsellor Audrey has ceased gambling, and has remained abstinent. She says “I feel more in control, and am spending more time with family and friends.”
Interested in finding an creative alternative to gambling? Speak to one of our counselors today.
It’s normal for people to feel down about themselves from time to time. When these feelings became part of a person’s daily routine it can be an indication of low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are often critical and focus on their negatives and disregard any positives or accomplishments. Comparing yourself to others also affects self-esteem potentially causing depression.
But remember you can build on your self esteem - here is an example of someone who has struggled with their self esteem while struggling with their gambling and how they built it back up!
Those with gambling problems can have low self-esteem, when they act out of character to obtain money or waste money in the quest of an unattainable financial dream.
Initially gambling can feel like it eases the burden of low self-esteem, allowing people to engage in a fantasy world of imagined wins, financial success and social acceptance. But once the money is gone the persons self-esteem takes a tumble and they feel more ashamed.
Sam* described how disappointed he felt with himself and his ongoing gambling:
I just could not stop gambling it was a really strong compulsion. I really believed I would win big one day and fix all the problems and debts I had caused my family. I just had to keep trying I did this for years but it was terrible with ups and downs constantly draining me of all my energy.
Eventually I let go of this hope. I finally realised gambling was not the answer but it took a long time. Letting go of this dream meant I had no way of getting out of my troubles. I thought I was a bad person, these thoughts caused me much shame and my self-esteem was minimal. I could not imagine I could ever get my life back and provide for my family like my friends.
Sam admits this was a very dark time in his life. However, when he sought help from a gambling counsellor, he started to challenge his negative thinking and realised he was not a bad man. He could see he just wanted to provide a good life for his family.
Eventually he found that the pokies no longer had a hold on him. He began to feel pride when he walked past his old gambling venue and did not gamble. With help from his financial counsellor, his money began to have value again, he started to pay off his bills and his savings eventually grew.
With support Sam worked hard and eventually got his life back. He is glad he challenged the voice inside him that said “you will never get on top of this problem”
Imagine if you could walk past your gambling venue and keep walking without gambling. Each time your self-esteem increases and your determination becomes stronger. People would be proud of you, and you will be proud of yourself.
With work this can be a reality – why not chat with one of our counsellors on how to do this – you can get started here.
Addressing your self-esteem is just one component of effective long-term recovery – but it’s a very important one. Continually build on our small successes increase our self-esteem in the process.
Here are some tips and strategies to try:
- Connect with people who give you a sense of acceptance, don’t associate with people who make you feel bad about yourself.
- Beware of negative thoughts and challenge them. If you keep telling yourself that you’re no good, you might just start to believe it even though it’s not true.
- Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake, be kind to yourself and learn from it .
- Focus on the things you can change ……why not ask for help?
- Start exercising it helps to improve your mood.
- Everyone is great at something - what are your strengths?
- Schedule some fun time every day, you could do a puzzle or watch a TV show you enjoy.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who don’t gamble.
- It’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust, like a friend or family member.
Developing your self-esteem can be the foundation for your recovery. Chat to one of our Gambling counsellors today it’s easy to get started.
Caution: this article may be triggering for some people who are trying to avoid gambling.
For people in South Australia, today may be a difficult day to avoid gambling as it is the state’s largest horse race, the Adelaide Cup.
Just like with other major sporting event, there can be a pull towards gambling today because it’s being mentioned more than usual and can be more difficult to avoid.
It may be best to try and avoid gambling and temptations today, try to take part in activities that don’t have any link to the race. This could include going for a walk or watching a film.
As it is a public holiday people may be hosting gatherings of family and friends that include some mention of the race,
If you are considering going to the race, think about whether this is a really good idea? If you must attend, take a moment to think carefully about whether to gamble if you have been trying hard to abstain. You may try and gamble responsibly but carefully consider your options before taking part.
Many people call the Help Line upset that their initial plans to limit their gambling to an affordable few bets resulted in a session where gambling became out of control.
Sam called for help after he gambled at the races. He described planning for weeks how he would manage the excitement of his favorite sport race. He did not consider the encouragement from his friends to bet more money than he planned. After a few drinks, he gave in to this peer pressure. His mistake was to take his credit card with easy access to money that he did not want to gamble. This one session at the races caused him significant financial consequences.
Here are a few tips that may help you avoid Sam's situation:
- Take a moment to think do you really want to tempt yourself by going to the races or an event where they will be featured?
- Setting a betting limit can help you …. but if you have access to money this may not be so easy!
- Only take money you can afford to lose
- Keep track of how much you are spending
- Have a support buddy who can help you identify when it’s time to leave
- Have regular breaks for example touch base with friends or have some food
- Have a few reasons ready on why you need to leave early or manage peer pressure
You can always seek support from a qualified counsellor who is ready to have a chat – get started here.
Peer pressure can come in many forms and may cause you to engage in behaviour that goes against your wishes, best judgement or plans. For example when a friend, colleague or family member who encourages you to gamble when you have made a promise to yourself that you will not.
Peer pressure can be subtle or not so subtle. It can be a constant niggle “come on, one more bet won’t break the bank” to words that can feel more threatening to your sense of self or to your membership of a group.
Giving in to peer pressure can initially relieve the immediate discomfort of feeling pressured but cause you further problems which are even harder to overcome.
What does it feel like?
Many people call us describing having given in to peer pressure and gambled against their better judgement. One of our counsellors recounted the following experience:
One caller was dismayed that after 10 months of being strong and not gambling he succumbed to peer pressure when he joined his colleagues for a get together after work, which turned into a session of gambling on the races.
This lapse unfortunately resulted in a period of continued gambling, plus financial and relationship problems. Trying to regain control by himself proved difficult, especially because he wanted to continue to be able to have drink with work colleagues. So he sought help from one of the counsellors at the helpline and he got the help he needed to get back on track.
How to manage
Managing peer pressure can be difficult and it is important to have some strategies to help you not be tempted. These strategies also let the “urgers” know want to maintain your resolutions – to not gamble for instance.
Some strategies you could try:
- Recognising it can be difficult to say no to peer pressure especially when in a social situation. If you start to find the pressure to gamble difficult to resist, it may be better to excuse yourself and leave.
- Learn how to say no, have a plan about how you will respond if people encouraging you to gamble. Responses like “Nah it’s a waste of money” “Not tonight I am a bit short” “Promised the wife/husband I wouldn’t”. Are some good examples. For some more inspiration check out this article.
- Be firm and clear about your decision not to gamble and explain your reasons if you feel able and if this helps support your decision. Most people just want to fit in. Sometimes people put pressure on themselves to fit into their social group. Don’t feel like you must change your mind or feel guilty about doing what is best for you.
- Consider if putting yourself in a certain situation is the right thing to do at the moment. If you are constantly feel pressured, maybe you need to consider a new social network with people who have similar values and interests as you if the pressure to gamble does not cease
- Reading about other peoples experiences and sharing your own experience can really help. You could join an in-person support group or an online community and see how others have managed peer pressure. Why not join our forum find out more here.
- Chat or talk to a counsellor, you can chat to one of our counsellors online by signing up here or you can speak to someone on the Helpline 1800 858 858
Lots of people are joining free service and enjoying the daily support.
Each SMS is a micro intervention that aims to give you strategies to help you with the process of change.
Lot’s of people have already signed up and have been telling us that they find them helpful.
“Having a message sent to me every day every feels personal I really like it and look forward to it every morning. I don’t feel so alone!!” said one anonymous subscriber.
What will the messages be like?
Each message is crafted to be a small motivating sentence sent to your mobile each day to help provide you with a little extra support. The messages are written by people who understand how hard it can be struggling with a gambling addiction every day.
How does it work?
You can easily sign up for the messages here all you need to do is select which program you would like to sign up to and whether you would prefer to receive them in the morning or afternoon.
From here you will start receiving messages from the next scheduled time for that program. They come from an automated system which is completely confidential.
If you aren’t finding it helpful, or would like to sign up to a different program, you can easily opt out at any time here
Each program runs on a cycle of 28 days at the end of the 28 days you will start to see repeating messages, at this point it may be a good idea to change to a different program. If you subscribe to more than one program at a time you will receive multiple messages each day.
We are developing different themed messages and special messages to help you when we know it may be difficult. For example, over the festive season we sent people lots of supportive messages so they did not feel alone.
We will be launching new programs soon including Maintaining Change and Urge Surfing. Why not sign up here today.
This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
With the holidays just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to relaxing and taking time off. However, Christmas can be a difficult time for many as it can be expensive and often daunting with many expectations including buying presents, attending social events and meeting family obligations.
If you are struggling with a gambling problem, or are in the early stages of recovery, this could be an extra tricky time for you. We’ve put together a list of tips that may help you to manage things over the Christmas break and start the New Year in a good state of mind.
Problem – Financial Stress
Many people find over the Christmas period, they are low on money due to buying Christmas presents, having time off work or spending money on holiday festivities.
Financial pressure is a major trigger for gambling. For example, a gambler may often remember the big wins and then convince themselves this is their only solution to the money problem. Unfortunately, when this happens it’s easy to dismiss or forget all those other times money was lost. This irrational decision to gamble could result in more financial hardship impacting further on the demands of Christmas. Here is a quote from Rachel*, a caller to the Gambling Helpline: who tried to win big to give her children their Christmas wishes but resulted in a poor outcome:
‘It was leading up to Christmas and I knew I only had about $200 to spend on presents for my kids. All I could think of was their faces on Christmas when they realised I couldn’t get them the presents they had asked for. I got it into my head that, if I could only double my money on the pokies, I could get them all the things they wanted, and have some left over. Of course, I ended up losing all of it.’
Solution – Plan Ahead
Unfortunately there is no magic wand we can wave to make money problems go away. But when we talk to people who have very few money troubles, it seems that their secret is often to do with planning.
Having a plan for Christmas means that you can reduce your levels of stress during this time. Gamblers Help services offer free financial counselling, which can involve sitting down with an experienced financial counsellor and making a budget and spending plan. Here is Rachel again:
‘I had a great financial counsellor Pam, who took me through what was coming in each week and what I was spending. She helped me to budget for holiday season so my kids did not miss out. Taking away the financial stress meant that I had one less reason to gamble. It was great talking to someone to help me make rational decisions about what I could afford.’
Problem – Family Stress
The holidays are a time for families, however sometimes this can also be the source of tension and unhappiness. It is not uncommon for people to relapse over the holidays because spending time with their families brings up difficult emotions and unresolved issues.
For other people, they may feel lonely over this time, if they do not have close relatives or friends to spend the time with.
For many people gambling is a way to try to temporarily escape from these issues, but as we know it often makes things worse. Here is a quote from Nick*, a client from Gamblers Help who struggled over the Christmas period but on reflection realises he needs to reach out for support to have a plan to deal with this difficult time:
‘I go and visit my family in Queensland each year, over Christmas. I had never realised but the combination of having free time, and being under the same roof as my parents again, meant that I was gambling almost nonstop. I felt quite low over that time and wanted to have something to take my mind off things. I now realise it’s not the answer and seeking help is important to manage this difficult time.’
Solution – Self Care
It’s clear Christmas is a risk time when people may use gambling to manage difficult emotions like frustration, anger, or loneliness. However, there are many other ways to do this that don’t involve gambling.
They are called ‘emotional regulation’ strategies and can be great at helping to pick you up when you are feeling anxious or unhappy.
Here are a few simple strategies that might help over this time:
- Exercise – even a short walk alone, away from company, can provide some time for reflection and relieve stress.
- Reduce alcohol consumption – have some alcohol-free days and replacing alcoholic drinks with water or juice can help with your mood and not cloud your judgement.
- Take some time to yourself – schedule a day or two to spend on yourself, whether it be preparing for the New Year or pursuing a hobby. Even writing down some thoughts can be helpful in topping up your emotional resources.
- Get social – if you are feeling lonely call a friend for a Christmas reunion or contact a local community centre where Christmas activities are provided for local residents to come together and celebrate.
Talking to a trained counsellor during this holiday season can help you to feel more in control and give you a different perspective on things. Call the Helpline on 1800 858 858 for some free and confidential support.
We often hear from clients that the most stressful part of Christmas is how to manage their money during this potentially expensive time of year. However there are some ways that you can look after yourself, so that you don’t get caught up in the spending cycle during the holidays.
Being prepared and limiting your access to money may help you keep control of any temptation to gamble and reduces the likelihood of gambling at the spur of the moment.
Try and follow some of these simple tricks to keep you on track these holidays:
- Track Your spending by creating a budget and revisit it often, to make sure you’re spending within your means over the holidays
- Think about what you need and what you can afford
- Make a little extra room for things that may come out of the blue, hold some money in an emergency fund.
- Make sure you pay all your bills and necessities before you spend extra money on the festive season, this will help you make sure you haven’t overstretched.
- Before you buy the little treat or “extra” for yourself, be sure it’s really worth the price. Be careful of holiday sales this can be an opportunity to save money on something you really need, but would you have bought it in the first place? Be a bit careful.
The use of gift vouchers can help provide some independence for you so you go shopping and buy the necessities without the risk of having access to your money and gambling. Sometimes you can even get gift vouchers with a percentage off which gives you a small saving before you have even started your shopping.
If you are concerned about your willpower, you may ask someone you can trust to look after your cash or credit card. Especially if you know you’re going into a high risk situation over the festive season such as Christmas lunch in a gambling venue.
Remember is not about what you spend, but the time you spend together. If you need a hand we are here 24/7, 365 days a year!
People who gamble regularly rarely take the time to stop and consider whether they have a problem. To a point where it can become a normal part of their routine.
By reading this blog you may have already identified that you need to consider whether your gambling, or the gambling of someone close to you, is a problem.
The best thing to do is take a moment and think about where you are at.
Some indicators could be:
- Has gambling become a routine and not just a social outing for fun?
- Are you spending more money or time than you plan gambling?
- Could I stop gambling today?
- Can I stay away this pay day?
- How do these questions make me feel?
If these thoughts make you feel anxious, distressed or give you an overwhelming feeling that you need to gamble, then it may be time to consider some options.
You could speak to one of our Counsellors straight away – by signing up here.
Defining moments you may identify with
As gambling increases money can begin to lose its value and the amount you regularly spend can slowly increase without realising.
A bank statement or declined card may flag that something isn’t right and suddenly you realise the reality of your gambling. This can be a difficult moment in your journey but, can be an important turning point in your recovery.
Understanding that your gambling may be getting out of control and making a conscious decision to make a change is key.
Don* described how he was shocked when he sat down and looked at his monthly bank statement and realised how much he had gambled over the week.
“Gambling was fun and I enjoyed it, I had no idea my gambling was getting out of hand.
My wife showed me the monthly bank statement and I was shocked. Each pay day there were up to 10 transactions where I took out money to gamble. Over a month that added up.”
It’s normal to feel surprised and upset when you realise that gambling is beginning to take over your life.
Still not sure whether you could do with a hand? Why not take a Self-Assessment which will give you an indication of where you are at and some strategies to help.
If you have decided you would like to make some changes – check out our Making A Change section for some tips and strategies to get you started.
If you are concerned about someone else you can get some help in our Helping Others section.
Keep in mind - Life without gambling is possible and there is free and confidential support available to help you begin the process of recovery.
This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
“If I could wave a magic wand and gambling was no longer a problem for you, how would your life be different?”
This might seem like a strange question, considering there is no such thing as a magic wand and gambling is a very serious issue.
Counsellors ask this type of question, because focusing on possibilities, rather than problems, can help you immensely with motivation.
Take a moment to imagine if your gambling problem disappeared overnight:
- How would your life be different?
- What sort of things might be possible?
Here are some quotes from clients who have been asked that question:
‘I would finally be able to focus on my kids and parenting, instead of always feeling guilty and ashamed about what I’m doing’.
‘I would feel less depressed and would be able to hold my head high again’
‘I could buy my own house and feel safe and comfortable in retirement’
‘My relationship would be much better as there would be no trust issues.’
Some really amazing and thought provoking answers wouldn’t you agree?
The reason we ask this type of question is because it is good to have something to aim for. Imagining how we can change our gambling behaviour means that we are imagining a different future – where a lot of the problems that are dragging us down are gone. This vision of a more positive future can help keep us motivated when times are tough.
The hard work begins
Asking you these questions isn’t quite the end of it, now comes the hard work – remembering the negative impacts of gambling and actually making changes. This could include going to see a gambling help counsellor who can help you put in place some strategies to work towards meeting your goals.
Whatever goal you are trying to achieve, having something to aim for is a key part of the process. You might be aiming for a better relationship, spending more time with your grandchildren, a new car or better health, just pick something that is important to you. Thinking about the possibilities and keeping focused on our goals can keep us on track when things get tough.
Now, take a moment to think for yourself:
What would be possible for you if gambling was no longer a problem?
You might just find that you have been missing out on something positive, because your gambling has been taking up all your attention.
To talk to someone about these possibilities call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858. Alternatively, you can go to the Gambling Help NSW website to read what other people have experienced in their journey to recovery: