Habits and Four Lessons in Changing Them

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LMFT, LPC

“Our Character, basically, is a composite of our Habits”

-Stephen Covey

I have been thinking a lot about habits lately, specifically my own habits in various areas of my life: physically, spiritually, vocationally. My husband and I recently participated in a “21-day Sugar Detox” Program to create better eating habits, and I have also been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. According to Stephen Covey, habits are powerful factors in our lives because they daily express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Through personal work on improving my own habits, I would like to share what Ive been learning about building new healthy habits.

  1. Changing Habits is a Hard Process! Habits are often unconscious patterns. According to The American Journal of Psychology, habits are hard to change because behavioral patterns that humans create become imprinted in neural pathways. It was originally thought that creating a new habit takes 21 days of repeatedly completing the new behavior. However, research now shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days. Repeated Behavior is the key to changing habits.
  2. Start Small: People can get very discouraged because they set out to change too much too soon. Then, once discouraged, they give up on new habits. Starting out small allows people to have some quick success, which breeds the confidence to keep up the good work. For example, don’t commit to yoga everyday for an hour when you’ve never done yoga in your life. Start out committing to 10 minutes of light stretching every day or every other day, and build on this.
  3. Replace/Exchange unhealthy habits for healthier ones.  I had an unhealthy habit of drinking too much soda and caffeine. What helped me in beating this habit was to replace that serving of soda with flavored Sparkling Water. In doing this, we can trick ourselves into not feeling deprived.
  4. Enlist Support. Telling others about the bad habits you are trying to break provides accountability in one’s quest for healthier habits. If you are trying to decrease or eliminate soda from your diet and your loved one sees you drinking a large soda, they can gently say something (or in my husband’s case, something sarcastic) to you to keep you on tract with your quest for creating healthy habits.

Though it is difficult to break bad habits, it is also very possible to do so! These simple steps are a good start for setting yourself up for success. The reward of overcoming unhealthy habits is worth the work it takes to do so.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection: Unexpected Ways to Help Heal Anxiety & Depression

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LPC, LMFT

Most people have heard that the best treatment for mental health disorders includes counseling/psychiatric treatment and medication. While this is true, there are other aids to help in healing those who suffer from mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. As humans, we are not only made up of our mind, but also our body and spirit. It is important to consider the whole person when treating the mind.

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in te U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year. Nearly one half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The good news is, we know these mood disorders are highly treatable. Along with counseling/medication/psychiatric treatment, people can aid in healing their minds by taking care of their bodies. There is most certainly a Mind-Body Connection.

One helpful & less known way to heal depression/anxiety is food intake. There is a strong connection between the brain and “gut”. Research shows that approximately 95% of serotonin is produced within the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that relay messages between nerves, and the neurotransmitters in your gut are almost identical to those in your brain (Dana Korn, “Living Gluten Free for Dummies”). Due to this gut-brain connection, it makes sense that the type food we eat will help nourish our gastrointestinal tract…thus impacting our brain. Adopting a healthy diet promotes the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and according to Jessica Black, author of “The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book,”a better-functioning gastrointestinal tract improves serotonin secretion, which improves sleep and mood.

So what does a healthy diet look like? There are all kinds of popular diets these days, so it can be confusing to know which diet is best. The answer is that everyone is different, but some of the rules apply to everyone. Eating a balanced diet of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats is a great start. Limiting foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine, can help alleviate stress on the body.

Another way to aid in the treatment of anxiety and depression is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep is the body’s way of rejuvenating itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep for adults 26-64 years of age is 7-9 hours. Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and repair tissues, process memories, synthesize hormones, etc (www.sleepfoundation.org). Poor sleep is directly related to anxiety and depression. Sleep aid techniques can include shutting off technology 1 hour before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room, meditation, & deep breathing. Daily exercise is also a great way to aid in sleep and take care of one’s body. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory & mood, and reduces symptoms of mood disorders.

With the high levels of anxiety and depression in our culture, it is encouraging to hear that there are some natural approaches to aid in healing (along with counseling and potentially medication), as simple as eating, sleeping, and exercising. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Remember the mind-body connection and take care of yours.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.