October is a significant month for mental health. This year World Mental Health Day is on 10th October and the theme is mental health in an unequal world. In Australia for the past few years October has also been a month to promote sobriety and is referred to as Ocsober.
Using alcohol to excess is not the only bad habit that humans have. I am encouraging readers of this article to reflect on whether you have any bad habits and would you like to stop these? Could you use October as a starting point to develop good habits?
Let’s be honest. Change is not easy but is possible. As humans we are habituated and ritualistic. We become used to doing things a certain way. Try this: cross your arms. Easy? Comfortable? I’m sure you answered yes. Now try crossing your arms the other way around. Most of you would have found this difficult, needed to really think about what you were doing. The result is that it was less, if not absolutely uncomfortable.
When we try to change a habit we often give up because it may be too difficult, it may be too uncomfortable and we need to think about what we are doing. BUT, if we persevere the new behaviour becomes easier and eventually becomes automatic. A new habit forms.
Bad habits can form because initially there is a feel good factor. There is a dopamine hit or an adrenaline rush. The brain remembers this and chases this with each subsequent engagement of the behavior.
As an example of a less serious bad habit: crave that chocolate or carb hit at 3 pm? The first few times it felt good. With increased use guilt kicks in, you may feel sick, you start to question why you did it as the slump starts and the feel good energy rush dissipates.
Bad habits are often due to a craving and the HALTS (hungry – emotional and/or physical, angry, lonely, tired, stressed). Just one of the HALTS can start a bad habit. Let’s go back to the chocolate bad habit and apply the principle. Didn’t eat lunch or didn’t eat mindfully and therefore left unsatisfied. Craving for food starts mid-afternoon. Feel hungry, irritated (another word for anger) due to lack of food, tired due to insufficient or lack of food intake earlier and stressed. What’s the quick fix? You guessed right, it’s chocolate.
Some bad habits can quickly become dangerous addictions. Most commonly these are alcohol dependence, drug (illicit, prescribed or over the counter) dependence and gambling. Like bad habits they begin with social or prescribed use. For some people they can then become addictive and eventually life threatening. These behaviours have the feel good factor initially as they mask pain (emotional or physical). Emotional pain is usually due to issues relating to attachment or abuse or trauma.
If you believe you or someone you know has an addiction or dependency issue please seek medical advice.
To change bad habits ask the following questions:
What is the habit? Why do I want to change it? How can I change it? Who can help me? When do I start?
It is hard to change an ingrained behavior especially on your own. Ensure you have support and set goals that are achievable. Changing habits take time as the brain is creating new neural pathways (neuroplasticity). It is easy to have a relapse, however, with support and encouragement you can be successful in creating good habits. Support is a key component in breaking bad habits.
Article Written by:
Allied Health Manager at Currumbin Clinic, Psychologist in clinical practice for over 25 years