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Breaking patterns of behavior seem tedious and nearly impossible for many. For those struggling with trauma or substance abuse disorder, the idea of changing patterns of behavior may seem like another impossibly massive boulder to carry on their journey to recovery. Yet in the pursuit of preventing relapse, recognizing unhealthy patterns of behavior is exponentially important. Our patterns of behavior can have a strong influence on substance abuse or mental health disorders. This is something you’ve probably heard time and time again, so how do we change our behaviors? Let’s start by understanding our brain’s role in behavioral patterns. 

The Elusive Human Brain

 When dealing with the body, many of us realize how important it is to take care of our organs to ensure proper functionality. Some people, however, view the brain differently than other organs such as the heart or kidneys because of the stigma of mental illness. Some believe that medications are unnecessary and are part of “big pharma” pushing medications on us. Yet consider this; would we feel that way about a diabetic who uses insulin? Probably not, and this is why the idea that neurological medicine is unnecessary highlights how little our culture understands the brain. 

Neuroscience has made significant strides in understanding the brain in the past hundred years, but there are many processes that we do not fully understand. One such process is consciousness. For instance, there may be times when you drive somewhere familiar and have no recollection of your commute–without having an accident. This is because your brain is functioning by habit or conditioning. The pattern lies in doing this under certain stimuli, such as being upset or contemplative. 

This is how behaviors from trauma form; they are part of our human “fight or flight” response, an instinct that has been conditioned into our consciousness for millennia. Our behavioral patterns are learned by the repetition of our habits. If our brain has been conditioned to “leave” when it experiences fear stimuli, this may cause us to dissociate when we are scared. For many animals, muscle tension is a response to fear stimuli. This may be why many people with PTSD experience a heightened startle reaction. These ideas can apply to substance abuse as well. If our response to stimuli is to add a chemical into our body that will change our brain’s chemical processes, the brain will pick up a pattern of substance use which can turn into a pattern of abuse. The drug or alcohol use will take on the same nature as driving to work without being able to recall the commute.

Ending Unhealthy Patterns

The science behind habits and patterns may be a bit frightening for those trying to break unhealthy patterns of behavior. But there are ways to end these patterns and cultivate a higher quality of life. There are three important stages of breaking patterns:

  • Acknowledgment – This stage involves becoming aware of our patterns of behavior. It is also where we understand whether our behavioral patterns are healthy or not. 
  • Acceptance- Acceptance is similar to acknowledgment, but it is in this stage that we begin to accept the detrimental nature of our behavior. This may be harder for some people than others. It can also be hard to admit that what is causing us the most stress in our lives is of our own creation.
  • Action- It is in this stage that we begin taking active steps to end our habits and unhealthy behavioral patterns. 

When breaking habits and behavioral patterns, it is important to consider that it takes 66 days for an act to become a habit or pattern of behavior. This means it may take some time for these patterns to end. This is important because we tend to look for immediate results and become frustrated if we aren’t seeing results when we want them. Putting the work into breaking behavioral patterns, however, is worth the time and effort in the end. So how do we end habits and behaviors?

First, make a list. That sounds too simple? While ending habits and behaviors may prove tedious, the steps are fairly simple. When you make your list, split behaviors into two groups, healthy and unhealthy. This is the part of the process that requires acceptance. We may not be ready to admit that some of our behaviors are unhealthy, but it is important to be as realistic with ourselves as possible. Using drugs may have felt pleasant at the time but the long-term implications of drug abuse show that these behaviors are harmful.

Once you have a list, focus on the negative behaviors and begin devising ways to turn them into positive behaviors. For example, if your stress response is to drink alcohol, change that response to physical activity or journaling. After some time, the new responses will become habits and behavioral patterns. The idea is not to end all of your behaviors but to end the ones that are detrimental to your quality of life. 

Some people can manage behavioral change on their own, but others require more help. It’s important when dealing with trauma or substance abuse that we have a strong support system. This can come from family and friends or a licensed counselor. The Guest House Ocala is equipped to help you on this journey of behavioral change. We offer many holistic therapy models that will help you acknowledge and accept the behaviors that are not serving you. Our therapy models include both individual and group settings to help establish a network of empathetic and compassionate support.  Located in the Ocala National Forest, our tranquil surroundings provide the peace of mind necessary to make sustainable changes in your pursuit of recovery.  If you feel you could benefit from support during this time of change in your life, do not hesitate to call us at (855) 483-7800. We are here to help you live your best life.