Replacing old bad habits with new bad habits is easy and is something to avoid because they have a way of making the short-term feel easier while causing long-term issues. For example, if you develop antisocial habits that leave you isolated, this behavior can lead to a higher risk of relapse or mental health issues, even if at the moment it feels safer. You can change any habitual behaviors with time and hard work.
How Habits are Formed
Understanding how and why bad habits form can sometimes make it easier to avoid. Bad habits form when maladaptive behaviors or ways of thinking include these three components:
- Context Cues: Something in your environment cues a specific set of actions. For example, feelings of stress might prompt comfort eating.
- Repetition: Habits become automatic because your mind and body become accustomed to them when you repeat the same pattern regularly.
- Reward: If there is no reward, you will not form a habit. You must be getting something out of it. Removing this reward component can help derail negative patterns of thoughts or behaviors. Some habits are more challenging to break than others because they cause a release of dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good.
Risk Factors For Developing Bad Habits
According to the National Institute of Health, “habits can be linked in our minds to certain places and activities,” so avoiding them can help you stop the unhealthy action. Bad habits have several common risk factors that you will want to limit using positive coping skills. Some risks include:
- Chronic Stress
- Mood swings or other mental health symptoms
- Low self-esteem
- Depression or anxiety
- A strong desire to avoid certain circumstances
- Not having a support system in place
How Negative Habits Can Harm Your Recovery
Trading one habit or addiction for another is never healthy, even if the newer maladaptive behavior does not involve possible physical harm. Negative habits are often an unconscious avoidance tactic. You cannot grow and recover from your substance use disorder if you avoid difficult topics or necessary lifestyle changes.
Choosing Positive Alternatives
Bad habits range from mild ones like biting your fingernails when stressed to severe ones like self-harming whenever you feel overwhelmed. Ideally, you would identify every maladaptive behavioral pattern and replace it with a healthy one. To get started, all it takes is choosing one thing you want to change and making a plan for selecting an alternative.
Habits require routines which means you need to break up the routine and eliminate or reduce the cues leading to repeated actions. For example, suppose you do not get enough sleep at night because you end up surfing the web on your phone or tablet. In that case, you can make a new nighttime routine that involves putting your smart device somewhere out of reach and doing meditation or breathing exercises to put your body in the right state for quickly falling asleep. That is only one example, and below are a few more:
- Replace comfort eating with physical activities like crafting, drawing, or playing with your pet.
- Replace smoking as a stress relief with meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Replace negative thoughts about yourself with reminders of all the progress you have made.
Tips for Building New Habits
You know now that it takes three things to create a habit: cue, repetition, and reward. That is true for all types of routines, so you will need to set yourself up for success by addressing all three when you plan to create a healthy habit. Also, if you do not have confidence in your ability or motivation to change, you will have a much harder time getting any new routines to stick. One way to build up your confidence is to start small. For example, instead of deciding to “quit smoking,” you can work on lessening the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. Once you succeed at that, it can be easier to take the steps needed to cut out the unhealthy habit of smoking entirely.
You also want to find a motivating factor equal to the change required to alter the unwanted behavior. If your motivation for stopping comfort eating is to lose twenty pounds, you may find that it is not a strong enough reason. However, if you decide to stop comfort eating to regain control of your diet and develop a healthier lifestyle so you can play sports with your friends, you may find it easier to succeed. Everyone is different, and you will want to do what works for you and keeps you repeating the new positive action until it becomes an ingrained habit.
You build your daily routines around conscious and subconscious habits, which are a normal part of everyday life. Most people do not give them a second thought. However, when a habit becomes maladaptive or otherwise unhealthy, you need to change it. Doing that takes time, motivation, and confidence in your ability to remove unwanted behaviors. You can decrease the risk of developing them by keeping an eye on your triggers and how you respond to everyday situations. If you start to notice yourself repeatedly using negative behaviors to cope or as an avoidance mechanism, then you can replace them with positive alternatives. Everlast Recovery Centers encourages you to look at your routines and see if there are any you would be better without. You can use your resources to find healthier ways to cope with stress or other triggers. Call Everlast Recovery Centers today for more information at (866) 338-6925.