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Can mindfulness help me control unhealthy behavior?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry
Everyone experiences unhealthy or inappropriate urges at one time or another: it could be something relatively unimportant and not harmful, like the urge to bite your nails or the urge to laugh out loud in the middle of a business meeting, or it could be more serious and bothersome, such as being in emotional pain and having the urge to lash out at someone you care about. Some people naturally learn ways to control their behavior and not act on these urges. But for others, acting on urges can become a habit: in other words, you may have come to relate certain thoughts and emotions to a harmful behavior, and you now engage in this behavior without awareness. It's become a habit you engage in whenever those strong emotions arise, and you do it automatically.

The first step to changing any behavior is to increase your awareness of it. When you're unaware of your inner experience -- specifically, your thoughts, feelings, and urges -- you're much more likely to act on unhealthy urges and to automatically engage in behaviors that you will likely regret later. If you can increase your awareness of behaviors that you wish to stop, and you can relate your urges to the thoughts and feelings that trigger them, you'll be much more able to choose how to act and be less likely to fall into your habitual pattern. In other words, if you have a habit of overeating when stressed, you first need to determine what tends to trigger this behavior (such as having an argument with someone you care about, receiving constructive criticism at work, or dwelling on the past). Then, by practicing mindfulness to help you increase your awareness of when those triggers are occurring, you can consciously choose other healthier ways of coping.
Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life

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Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.