The Role of Habit in Maintaining Mental Health


  The Role of Habit in Maintaining Mental Health

It is well documented that a number of mental health disorders and conditions are exacerbated by the lack of routine, such as in persons with autism or depression. Maintaining a set schedule for sleep and other daily activities is one way to help manage habits and promote better mental and emotional health.

Habit can be defined as a learned behavior pattern. Habits can be positive, such as eating healthily, exercising, writing in a journal or just feeling generally happier with your day to day life. Habits can also exist in negative forms, such as those who smoke, drink too much coffee or alcohol (also known as being an alcoholic), pace or chew nails are all examples of negative habits that are harming the person and causing them to live unhealthy lifestyles. People with depression and anxiety are more likely to have poor routines and partake in bad habits than those who do not suffer from these conditions. Research by Dr. Robert Leahy has shown that routine is a crucial way to keep people in control during times of crisis and that if routine is broken, then the brain's habit network will have difficulty maintaining normal functioning.

There are some daily habits that are potentially harmful to mental health, such as drinking too much alcohol or smoking cigarettes, but these are relatively easy to avoid. It is the less obvious negative habits that can be difficult to change and for a person who suffers from depression or anxiety, staying positive and positive lifestyle choices can be a struggle.

Lifestyle changes can help improve mood and help sufferers of depression and anxiety function more normally. However, it can be difficult for people to make these changes without the help of a professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a psychiatric counseling method that has been shown to be beneficial in treating depression and anxiety disorders. CBT is based on the idea that mental processes, including self-talk or negative thought patterns, can affect mood and behavior. Studies have shown that CBT can be highly effective in treating mental health disorders by teaching positive strategies for responding to thoughts and changing the ways in which people think and feel about their everyday lives.

CBT teaches skills such as relaxation techniques or breathing exercises, along with cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring involves systematically challenging unhealthy thought patterns. For example, when a person feels depressed, negative thoughts often occur of self-reproach or that their use of alcohol or drugs was excessive. These thoughts are treated as a symptom and not the cause of the feeling, which can aid sufferers in developing new strategies for coping with these thoughts and identifying positive ways to feel about themselves.

The therapy process is initially conducted on an individual basis. As a person gains confidence and experience in applying the skills they learn through CBT, they may be encouraged to share their strategies with a therapist working with other people who suffer from mental health disorders. Dr. Robert Leahy has also found that CBT is best suited to those individuals who have been struggling with depression or anxiety for a while, as it is not suitable for treating someone who is currently suffering from the disorder.

Depression and anxiety disorders are treated with a number of different methods. The most effective method is often Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However, depression and anxiety are very complex conditions and so talk therapy alone can be difficult to help sufferers develop new strategies for coping with these disorders. Other techniques such as Lifestyle Changes and medication may also be required. For example, a person suffering from depression could benefit from a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, lifestyle changes such as exercise and medication.

A key aspect of CBT is creating new habits to cope with depression and anxiety, such as going for a daily walk or simply eating more healthily. The idea is to replace old unhealthy habits with new ones that come to mind and help people cope better with depression and anxiety disorders. These strategies could also be used in other aspects of life, such as your work, personal relationships or even hobbies.

In the UK there are a number of different charities dedicated to helping people suffering from mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and eating disorders such as Anxiety UK, Mind and Rethink. These group provide help and support for sufferers in the form of advice on getting the right treatment, finding therapy services or taking medication if needed. The charity Anxiety UK in the UK also provides telephone helplines for sufferers to contact, offering advice and information.
NHS Choices offers a number of different resources for people experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders including online videos, podcasts and blogs that are aimed at helping sufferers. They also provide advice on specific conditions such as anxiety disorders on their NHS support website.

Depression UK's website is aimed at helping sufferers with any age group or type of mental illness, although there are separate pages for children and young people, older adults and pregnant women who can have a mental illness. Their website provides a number of leaflets on both depression and anxiety disorders and how to deal with them.

Mind's website offers comprehensive information on anxiety, stress, depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. They also have a wide range of support groups to help people where they can meet others who experience mental health difficulties in their own local area. In addition, they have a number of different therapies available including CBT and counselling for sufferers suffering from depression or anxiety. Mind also provides support on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The charity Rethink also offers information and support for people suffering from mental health disorders as well as offering a range of therapies and treatments.

Statutory support in the UK for people suffering from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders is available through the NHS, if relevant, local councils and charities such as those mentioned in this article. It is important to note that there are often waiting lists for these services so it can be beneficial to seek help early on. 
It is also important to choose a local service that provides support for the specific mental health disorder you are experiencing. 
The area you live in can also be a factor determining what type of help is available.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a long-term treatment option for those suffering with depression and anxiety disorders, but it has to be used regularly in order to keep the symptoms from returning. It is important to note that this therapy will not cure the illness, but can assist sufferers in developing new strategies for dealing with symptoms and how they feel about themselves and their lives.

1. Leahy, R., & Greenberg, L. (1986). The effects of cognitive behavioral interventions on comorbid psychiatric patients involved in litigation Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Inc.: 641-646
2. Gillin M., Pollack M., Blazer D., Evans D., Wickramartne K. (2013).

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