Everyone knows the gym is always the most packed in January, following a plethora of fitness-based New Year’s resolutions. But come February, we often see those numbers dwindle. This applies not only to the gym, but when it comes to our mental health resolutions as well.
So, what’s keeping all of these resolutions aspirations vs. habits? It could be the way we’re approaching them. In order to truly accomplish certain resolutions – in the way we all intend when making them – skill sets must be built and habits must be formed.
Science shows that people who learn cognitive behavior skills during self-guided digital programming, like SilverCloud’s, actually maintain skill sets and habits for as long as a year after their 8-week skill set-building programs end, setting them up to continue to enact real and impactful changes in their lives.
But what do we mean when we talk about “skill sets”? While the ones emphasized in each of our programs and modules vary based on specific needs and goals, some general examples include:
Actively forming positive thoughts
The power of positive thinking is real – and can have beneficial effects on both your physical and mental health. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.
You can see why positive thoughts as a skill set is so important! When exercising this practice, our self-guided digital programming, rooted in the clinical standards of Internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (iCBT), teaches users to learn to identify what we call “thinking traps,” or thinking things are worse than they are. In learning to recognize these traps, users can then turn to practicing behaviors we call cognitive restructuring (or deconstructing negative thoughts) to ground their emotional responses in more accurate and balanced thoughts.
Take, for example, someone struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic (something many of us can relate to). If we fall into the “think trap” of “it will never end,” we are less apt to feel motivated physically or mentally. This can put us in a worse position than understanding and accepting the facts, staying motivated in the ways we still can and practicing feeling grateful for something – however small it may be – each day.
Noticing feelings and productively linking physical and emotional health
While it sounds simple, being able to notice and identify feelings is a skill that many struggle with. It is also critical to productively respond to them.
In practice, this skill set is about recognizing your body’s physical and mental responses to stress, anxiety, negative thoughts and other triggers so you can identify and name your feelings and connect them to both unconscious and conscious responses. In doing so, so you can disrupt poor responses by directly addressing those feelings and taking control of them.
Take, for example, someone who struggles with unconscious responses to stress, for example, a stomachache. Learning to connect the physical symptom with a mental state can help both in understanding the root of the cause to know, “I am not sick, I am anxious” – as well as “here’s how I can address that.” The same goes for conscious responses, for example, emotional eating.
Learning to address your feelings head-on and find healthier substitutes for comfort can make a huge impact on your total health. Once someone understands these connections, regularly practicing journaling, meditation and other self-reflection tools can help them exercise that new habit of productively addressing a mental state, and preventing disruptive or destructive physical responses.
Once someone understands how their thoughts and feelings impact their mental and physical health, and has developed skills to address emotions productively, they can build on these grounding habits with additional problem-solving skills.
For example, ICBT modules can work to improve communication skills like practicing empathy or “counting to ten” before responding. Communication skill sets are taught in our programs designed for caregivers of children and adolescents, teenagers themselves, among others. Time management is another problem-solving skill set that can be practiced until it becomes a habit, where users deploy self-awareness techniques and practice rational thinking to determine the true importance and urgency of tasks, and thereby overcome procrastination, anxiety, stress and other detrimental responses.
Sustaining behavioral change requires combining all of the above so you gain the awareness and strategies to disrupt detrimental responses, and the tools to practice healthier behaviors until they become ingrained habits. As you forge ahead, you’ll be better able to create future goals for motivation, and build a strong support network so you can continue to think and feel better in the future.
Learn more about our full set of programming and the individualized skill sets they can help you build.