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10 Tips for Handling Impulsive Behavior


Impulsive behavior is something most people struggle with at some point in their lives. But oftentimes if you live with a mental health condition like borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder, where impulsive behavior can be common, it can be even harder to manage.

Maybe you are prone to acting out impulsively with anger in your interpersonal relationships. Maybe when you’re in a manic state, you spend too much money all at once. Whatever your experience with impulsive behavior is, we want you to know you aren’t alone.

Because impulsivity can be so hard to keep in check, we asked our Mighty community to share how they manage their own impulsive behaviors. It’s worth noting that everyone is different and not every tip will work for every person. We hope you find at least one useful suggestion, and if you have a tip we didn’t mention, feel free to leave a comment!

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Wait a Set Amount of Time Before Acting

I use the ‘wait X amount of time’ rule. If I want to make a joke or prank someone at an inappropriate time, I wait one minute for that urge to subside. If I want to leave in the middle of class, I tell myself to just wait five more minutes. If I want to buy cigarettes or harm myself, I tell myself to wait ‘just one more hour.’ It may sound silly, but it does work.” — Jacinta M.

2. Text a Loved One

“I always text my significant other before buying anything. Usually my impulsive behavior is impulsive shopping, so by texting him what I’m planning to buy, it helps me. He’s not afraid to say, ‘OK but do you really need that? What about the bills?’ If I’m embarrassed to text him about what I’m buying, it’s usually an impulsive buy and I’m better at not completing the impulsive [behavior].” — Kayla M.

3. Keep Track of Impulsive Behaviors on a Calendar

“I keep a calendar with a red marker and a green marker. For every day that I don’t give in to my impulses, I mark the day with a green check. For every day I give in, I mark with a red X. My desire to see that green check helps me to remember to not follow my impulses.” — Christina G.

4. Do Something Constructive

My impulsive behavior normally has to do with blowing a paycheck, so I do something constructive instead, whether it be organizing my closet or bookshelf. I also try to find some way to be selfless such as finding clothes or unneeded items to donate to Salvation Army or spending time mentoring a younger friend.” — Cecilia C.

5. Ask for Accountability

“I have my family and close friends keep me accountable. When I’m hypomanic, I have them keep an eye on my spending and social interactions.” — Madelyn H.

6. Give Yourself a “Splurge” Allowance

“I allow myself to ‘splurge’ a small amount of money every payday. A new pair of Star Wars socks, food, money for a girls’ payday night out, a cool book I like, skincare, etc. One or two of those. Then when I’ve finished that amount, no more. I keep 10 percent in my no-withdraw pass book savings account. I look at my budget and what I need to pay… bills, rent, grocery, etc. Keep the rest for my daily expenses (food and emergency). Whatever I save at the end of the month goes to a travel fund. Self-care isn’t always about indulgence. It’s the balance of responsibility and having a bit of fun. At least for me.” — Myrta S.

7. Ask Someone If a Behavior Is Impulsive If You Aren’t Sure

My husband is understanding my situation more and more each day, after not getting it for 20 years. So, before I act on an impulse, I’ve gotten in the habit of running it past him and/or my therapist. My husband and therapist help me rationalize on the things I just cannot see. My religious beliefs are a large part of control for me. I ask God if my decision would be against his principles or if it would hurt my family. Prayer has saved me many times.” — Linda S.

8. Ask Your Therapist for Suggestions, and Try Them

“I started to apply some tips from my therapist, which are: immersion in cold water, taking a walk for an hour or more (depending on the rage intensity) and listening to a band called Combichrist. It helps me to calm down. The most difficult part is to remember these things during an episode. I’m still working on that.” — Genkidama K.

9. Go “Shopping” Without Spending Any Money

“When I really get a strong urge to shop compulsively, I go on to Amazon and buy free eBooks. It doesn’t matter if I never read them. I feel like I’ve been shopping but without spending any money.” — Tracy S.

“One of my major impulses is spending. So I will go ‘online shopping’ but just put everything I want in the cart for different stores and think about how it would be nice to have it but also think about how I don’t really need it and how I could use that money in other ways, and then delete it. Just putting it in the cart or wish list usually satiates the desire a lot.” — Courtney S.

10. Take Deep Breaths

I stop and take 10 deep breaths which gives me time to think about what I’m about to do or not do and whether it’s a good idea. Plus it calms my anxiety.” — Jackie S.

What would you add?

Getty Images photo via Transfuchsian