Compulsive Gambling: Relaxation Exercises Can Relieve the Gambling Urge

By The Care Centers. Posted on Fri Feb 19 2016

If you know that you have a compulsive gambling problem, then you’re probably already seeking help through therapy and/or support groups like Gamblers Anonymous (GA). If you’re participating in GA meetings, then you’ve likely already chosen a sponsor whom you can call when you feel triggered or you get a random urge to gamble. What do you do when you can’t get in touch with your sponsor or it’s the middle of the night, and you can’t talk with your therapist? A few relaxation exercises may help you through triggering moments and urges.

Know Your Triggers
Before we go over a couple of the exercises that can help you when you feel triggered, let’s first take a moment to identify your triggers. What situations make you feel the insatiable urge to gamble? Many compulsive gamblers are triggered by having perceived excess cash (e.g., when you get paid or your roommate gives you cash for rent), by boredom, when they’re worried about money and debts, when they read about statistics and predictions for sports, or when they spend time around friends who gamble regularly.

Some gambling addicts are also triggered by specific times of the day when they’ve regularly gambled, like during a Monday night football game. Knowing your triggers will help you avoid them or predict when they’ll hit so you’ll be prepared to handle them.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Compulsive gambling is often triggered by anxiety, nervousness, and other mental health factors, and the ability to relax yourself and get out of that anxious headspace can dissipate the urge or make it disappear entirely. With progressive muscle relaxation, you’ll close your eyes and focus on different muscle groups, starting with your hands and feet, and then moving up your body.

Squeeze your hands into fists, and relax them. Curl your toes tightly and then release them. As you move up your body, tighten and release all of your muscles one at a time. As you go, you’ll feel more and more relaxed, and you’ll have less and less compulsion to gamble.

Breathing Exercises
Square breathing is one of the most proven relaxation and stress-relief techniques around. Take a slow, deep breath on a slow count of four. Then hold it for a count of four, breathe out on the same count of four, and wait four counts before starting over with another slow inhale. This style of breathing has been used in the military, by high-performance athletes, and in yoga to lower the heart rate and calm the body. After just a few breaths like this, you’ll feel your body relax, and you’ll be able to focus on something other than gambling.

These relaxation exercises are in no way meant to replace the need for rehabilitative treatment and aftercare. If you have a problem with gambling, you should seek out a support group and/or a cognitive-behavioral therapist who can help you learn to cope with your triggers and lead a productive and healthy life. 

Tags: Mental Health