Mental Health Blog Day - Creating Change

Today is Mental Health Blog Day, part of the overall Mental Health Awareness Month for the month of May here in the United States.  In honor of this awareness month and today's blog day, I really felt called to talk about a subject that comes up a LOT in my practice - making change.

Pretty much everyone who calls to talk with me seems to feel stuck in their lives in some way.  Some are stuck with frustrating habits or negative thoughts.  Some struggle with worries or fears  about themselves or about their children.

Mental health issues just intensify that stuck feeling.  Given that one in four people in America are suffering from a mental health problem in any given year on average, if you feel stuck in your mental health struggle, you are far from alone!

Honestly, I think all people have things in their lives that they wish they could change.  And I think all of us feel frustrated sometimes that our attempts at change don't always work.

Why is it so hard to change?

Change is hard for a few reasons:

1. Familiar is safe and the unknown can be scary.  Changing requires reaching out into territory that is unfamiliar and unsettling.  There are no guarantees when we start trying to change, so sometimes sticking with what we know feels safer and more comfortable.

2. We're doing that thing we want to change for good reasons.  Part of the problem with change is that our current way of doing things always benefits us in some way.  Humans don't choose to do things that don't benefit them in some fashion.  Even negative thoughts or worries benefit us by helping us feel more prepared or helping us avoid pain in some way.

3.  Overcoming these barriers takes sustained effort, and that can be tough!

So how can I make a change and stick with it?

Even though keeping things the same has some perks, the things we want to change are usually problems because they're preventing us from doing things or having things in our lives that are very important.  And for that reason, change is an important and expected part of life.

But we can do some things to maximize our success in making needed changes:

1.  Remember that committing to change isn't a one-time decision - it is an ongoing process.  We have to continually be shifting our thoughts to focus on choosing change.

2.  Start small.  Changes are easier to make when they feel like they are small shifts rather than a huge undertaking.  Take the thing you want to change and break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.

3.  Build reminders into your day to keep you focused on your goal.  Use calendar or to-do list apps on your phone, post-it notes on your mirror, or whatever means it takes to keep yourself reminded and focused on your plan.

4.  Build in accountability to others.  We often are more successful at change when we let others know what we're doing and have them hold us accountable.  Social pressure does have it's uses!

5. Recognize when you need help in making a change and reach out for assistance.  Sometimes the changes we need to make, especially when they involve a mental health issue, are more than we can figure out on our own.  Reaching out for help from a friend, your doctor, or a therapist is a smart move - not a sign of weakness or failure. 

If you find yourself wanting to make a change, ask yourself where you can start today!  There's no better time for making a change than right now!