People expend a great deal of effort contemplating their own happiness or lack thereof. They invest a great deal of time and mental processing power in seeking to understand how they could be happier. Those prone to depression or anxiety might spend their time contrasting their current circumstances with their expectations or an idealized version of what they want their life to be. Whether a client is dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, depression, or a general lack of direction and fulfillment, counselors generally find that their clients do not benefit from attempts to think their way out of their problems. Often, actions are more beneficial than thoughts.
If you want to change how you feel, change your habits. Replace unhealthy habits with healthy habits. Research shows that habits form naturally if behaviors are repeated consistently. Habits may form in as quickly as 18 days. Sometimes it takes longer, over 100 days. We recommend clearly defining the healthy habit you wish to form and using a calendar to track your daily progress. Place a large X on every day you successfully execute the behavior.
The more specific the behavior, the easier it will be to monitor progress with the calendar.
The types of behaviors you wish to change may include:
- alcohol or tobacco use
- eating habits
- exercise habits
- use of TV/Internet
- sleep patterns
- spending habits
The purpose of process is to take something that seems very complex — how am I going to feel happier, more fulfilled? — and make it much simpler — did I successfully limit myself to one hour of television today? If you are able to achieve your daily behavior objective, mark an X and relax. By the time your new behaviors are habits, you may feel differently about yourself and the direction your life is taking.
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
A common issue that leads a person to seek counseling is their belief that they are unhappy, yet they are not able to verbalize what would make them happy. The individual can identify multiple reasons why they are unhappy, even blaming situations (finances, job, school, arguments) or others (spouse, parents, teachers, peers) for their unhappiness. Some people believe they do not deserve to be happy or they are waiting for a future event, situation or person to bring them happiness. Their perception about their unhappiness can even lead to physical manifestations, broken relationships and self-defeating behaviors such as substance abuse. The counseling process can help one examine their beliefs, expectations and define what “happy” might look like. Making your mind shift or change beliefs about being happy is an individual process. For some, the shift occurs quickly and easily, while others may struggle and shift at a slower pace. Either way, the professional counselors at pinnacle Counseling are ready to help you as you make up your mind to be happier!
Is your plan is place? An earlier post gave a few what not to’s for your resolutions this year (NY Resolutions: A Counselor’s Perspective). Here are a couple of suggestions for resolutions that work for you. Don’t worry if you haven’t developed a well-defined resolution or set of resolutions. Now is the perfect time.
Be specific. Broad generalizations are not your friends. Set specific, measurable goals with a specific verifiable, objectives along the way. If today is day one of your new program, you should do something today toward your goal and feel good about it.
Give yourself two months. What you are trying to do is replace a disorganized, unfocused, or unhealthy habit with the habit of your choice. Research indicates that you need to practice a new behavior about 60 times before it becomes a habit. If you are talking about an everyday discipline, that means you’ll need about two months to turn a new behavior (cleaning the kitchen every night before bed, walking every morning, not smoking on the way to work, not placing clothing on the floor of your closet) into an established habit.
Reward yourself along the way. Feel good starting day one. Recognize that the change you are seeking is already underway. Imagine how good you’ll feel at day 60. Think about it. How you get there starts on day one and continues for every day thereafter. Think about spreading that good feeling of accomplishment out, from day one to day sixty and every day in between.
Despite advances in mental health, the term “Nervous Breakdown” is still a term commonly used in our culture. In the past, the term was used frequently and covered a variety of mental disorders. While the term is a metaphor and is not a clinical or medical term, or indicates a specific mental illness, the description of symptoms can indicate an underlying mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. A nervous breakdown could occur after a prolonged period of feeling emotionally or physically overwhelmed, or exhausted with the demands of life or an external stressor, and to the point a person is unable to function in day-to-day life or feeling as if they are not able to cope with life at all. In the past, treatment for nervous breakdowns usually involved hospitalization, heavy medication, and even lobotomy. Thinking of a person as weak or unable to “fix” their own problems perpetuates the negative stigma of mental illness. Life today can be complex and stressful. Many people do not know effective coping strategies and are still hesitant to seek professional help. If you think you may be having a nervous “breakdown” or had one in the past, consult with us at Pinnacle Counseling.
Stressful events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or home, or serious/chronic illness can actually affect the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This region of the brain is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions such as proper glucose and insulin levels. Stressors can affect our mood centers and skew our ability to regulate pleasure and reward. Prolonged exposure to stress can actually shrink the brain. Brain volumes in the mood centers are linked to depression and anxiety. People who have brain shrinkage seem to be more vulnerable when faced with a life trauma or sudden adverse event as the effects are magnified and their ability to cope is compromised.
Brain-enhancing activities to combat stress and make our brains more resilient to stress are recommended to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on the brain. Some valuable stress relievers include exercise, meditation, taking a daily dose of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid-an Omega 3 fatty acid) and maintaining strong emotional relationships.