Women’s Health: Changing a behavior or bad habit

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ALBANY, N. Y. (NEWS10)- Many people have turned to food or alcohol as a means of coping with the coronavirus pandemic. If these behaviors have turned into habits, people may have trouble changing them.

Habits are behaviors that have more control over people than they need to and it includes positive activities. Extreme behaviors (good or bad) aren’t healthy for anyone, said HPA Livewell Licensed Mastered Social Worker, Kate Wells.

Decrease, delay doing, and distracting from unwanted activity be it overeating, smoking, or drinking, are tools that can be used to change a behavior, Wells said.

Wells works with people who have eating disorders, she said she is seeing increasingly more teenage females struggling with eating disorders. These teens are also more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.

Wells also works with the mothers of teenagers, trying to help their daughters overcome an eating disorder. In addition, mothers will often struggle with feelings of guilt or shame. It’s not about treating one family member, it’s about treating the whole family, said Wells.

To change a habit or behavior

  • Evaluate concerning habits
  • Make an effort to stop the behavior
  • Start a healthy habit

People that want to change a behavior should not only look at their relationships but their environment too. Relationships and the environment can make a difference when it comes to successfully changing a behavior.

Having positive supporters is critical. “If the people in our life bring out those toxic qualities about us, we have to look and see are these the right people that I want around me in order to complete my goal,” said Wells.

Changing a behavior or habit takes time and how long it takes depends on the person. It’s a process that can take anywhere from one to six months. It’s more important to reflect on what was learned during the process rather than how long it takes to change a behavior, Wells said.

Habits or behaviors can often be identified by cues. First identifying the cues can help people also figure out what triggers a behavior or habit, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Finding a way to remember why the habit or behavior needs to be changed can also be helpful. Thinking about the long-term goal and focusing on it is also helpful. New behaviors will eventually turn to habits, that’s why the AHA said persistence is also important.

How to change a behavior

  • Identify cues to help identify what triggers a particular habit.
  • Disrupt cues. For example, avoid hitting the snooze button by moving the alarm clock to the opposite side of the room.
  • Replace the behavior wanting to be changed with another behavior. An example of this would be eating a piece of fruit when thinking of eating a cookie.
  • Simplify new behaviors.
  • Think and focus on long-term consequences, it helps to remember why the effort is being invested to change a behavior.
  • Persist. Established habits are difficult to break, which means new behaviors will eventually turn into habits.

*Source: American Heart Association

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