Stress is an unavoidable side effect of our lives. It can contribute to various health challenges like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It could also affect personal relationships with other people. While unavoidable, stress is manageable. For this reason, it’s important to help your clients develop coping strategies.

Adopting certain healthy habits can help against stress and prevent various physical and mental health complications [1]. Healthy mental health habits can help boost mood and improve focus during times of high stress. Here are some ways to maintain or build healthy habits during any time of the year, including the holiday season:

1.    Get to Know the Unhealthy Habits

The first step to maintaining healthy habits during stressful periods is identifying those unhealthy habits. Clients can do this in various ways – some may start by taking note of bad habits, while others may list the healthy ones to adopt.

Regular activities often become habits that may be difficult to change. So, it’s imperative to take time to self-reflect and identify them. Some of the common unhealthy mental health habits individuals engage in during times of high stress include:

  • Emotional eating: During stressful times, individuals often turn to food for comfort to cope with the stress. Emotional eating is often automatic and may signify disordered eating [2].
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking: Substance abuse is common among individuals experiencing high-stress levels. However, the relief is usually temporary and doesn’t last through that stressful period. Without due attention, it could lead to addiction and other health complications.
  • Procrastination: When one is stressed, it may lead to procrastination and participating in activities that don’t require concentration. An example of such activities is browsing social media.
  • Focusing on previous mistakes: Another common unhealthy habit is holding on tight to previous mistakes. It’s important to learn from previous mistakes and move on without obsessing over them.

2.    Create a Realistic Plan

If you plan to maintain healthy habits during high-stress periods, you should draw out an action plan with small and reasonable goals. Getting good friends and loved ones involved in the plan is advisable to yield better outcomes.

When creating a plan, ensure it’s a realistic one. It shouldn’t be a plan that would be difficult to achieve or require extreme dedication. For example, if you’re planning to reduce screen time, don’t start by setting a goal for only 5 minutes a day. Instead, you can start with only 3 hours of screen time and then cut it down slowly if necessary.

Your plan to maintain healthy mental health habits during stressful times should start with a routine. Some individuals feel more energetic in the morning and are also less likely to make excuses. For others, the afternoon or evening might be a better-suited time. Whichever your client chooses, make sure they remain consistent.

Another helpful tip to achieve your goal is to ensure they are convenient and easy. It’s more difficult to keep up with difficult goals than easy ones. It may be helpful to break down a difficult goal into simple, achievable plans. Most importantly, understand your motivation when creating the plan – this will help you stay consistent.


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3.    Stay Conscious of Negative Thoughts

Continuously engaging in healthy habits can feel very rewarding and exciting. However, there are times when it would seem extremely difficult to keep to them. For this reason, it’s imperative always to stay conscious of negative thoughts and turn them into productive ones.

One way to stay conscious of negative thoughts is by keeping a record. Consider using a computer program, paper journal, or mobile app to take note of things like exercise, stress levels, sleep patterns, and diet.

Journaling is an effective way to stay conscious of negative thoughts since it helps identify triggers and turn negative thoughts around [3]. It’s a way of coping better with stressful events, boosting immune cell activity, and relieving anxiety.

When confronted with negative thoughts, consider turning them down or changing them to neutrality. It’s advisable to ask questions like, “Is this thought helping me or restricting me from becoming my best self?” If it’s a restriction, tell yourself to consider trying a new approach to the negative thinking pattern.

4.    Prioritize Long-Term Rewards

Some people may find it more difficult to focus on long-term rewards and resist impulses. For this reason, they undervalue the benefits of waiting in favor of an early or unhealthy reward. This action may lead to substance abuse, drinking or shopping, overeating, or participating in risky sexual behaviors.

Individuals can learn to postpone immediate rewards by thinking about the future and imagining positive rewards. Focusing on how the long-term reward will help by evading possible health or mental health risks of stress may help.

Some long-term rewards for maintaining healthy habits include:

  • Increasing overall mental wellbeing
  • Decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Improving overall mood through feel-good chemicals
  • Provides a happier outlook

5.    Remain Patient

Adopting healthy habits doesn’t happen overnight. It’s imperative to understand that sometimes you may fail even after trying various times. Note that there is always time to try again to reach your goals. Remain patient and use failure to encourage success. Patience is related to self-control and tolerance, which is essential in achieving end goals.

6.    Find Ways to Reward Yourself

Rewards are very important in forming habits [4]. Certain habits give immediate rewards, but others can require more time. Pat yourself when you achieve a goal, no matter how small. Find an immediate reward for those requiring additional time to see the rewards. For example, leaving to work early every day may not have an immediate reward, but you can achieve more daily. Exercising may not give an immediate reward as well, but it helps overall health.

TheraNest Can Help During Periods of High Stress!

As a therapist, burnout is common during times of high stress. For this reason, it’s imperative to find ways of reducing feelings of stress. TheraNest is a practice management software for psychologists, therapists, counselors, and social workers.

The software can reduce therapist burnout or stress by providing the tools necessary to streamline and manage your practice. TheraNest also improves patient outcomes, increases satisfaction, and lowers medical costs.

TheraNest is perfect for all practice sizes, including solo practices, medium practices, group practices, non-profit organizations, and educational organizations. You can get a free 21-day trial to experience what the software offers.

References

  1. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/03/creating-healthy-habits
  2. https://www.dhs.gov/employee-resources/blog/2021/01/19/emotional-eating
  3. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1
  4. https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-018-0270-z