How to Change an Unhealthy Behavior that Seems to be a Solution to a Problem

Self-ImprovementStress Management

  • Author Helen Thamm
  • Published November 6, 2012
  • Word count 522

Doesn’t seem to make sense that we indulge sometimes in behaviors that actually hurt us in the long run does it? Yet many people eat sugary snacks or just overeat to deal with stress. Others may smoke cigarettes because nicotine can, in fact, both help them feel less anxious and less angry as well.

So what happens when these people go on diets or just stop smoking? Bet you can guess their significant others might end up living with people who can get upset/irritated over what seem to be small stressors that formerly did not appear to bother them.

The issues with these two behaviors also is that the negative consequences of chronically using them as stress/anger reducers does not manifest often for twenty years or more, like heart disease, diabetes or COPD. In the short run the overeating or smoking is actually a solution to controlling their anxiety or anger issues.

How Can you Make a Healthy Change When the Problem Seems to be the Solution?

  1. Identify first that you will need to find a healthier solution to deal with anxiety/anger issues, not just quit the behavior.

  2. Seek support in a group or with an individual counselor if needed to help deal with underlying problems.

  3. Find healthier alternatives to deal with stress. For example:

a. Practice a relaxation regimen daily (deep breathing, or other simple forms of non-religious meditation are useful for most

b. Learn how to use assertiveness as a communication tool in order to let people know how you feel, what you need, etc. without getting aggressive. This may include learning to judiciously say "no" to overwork at your job, and not overdoing for relatives and friends as well.

c. Develop new relationships with supportive people to help reduce incidence of frustrating interactions, negative messages, etc. This may include evaluating your five closest relationships at home, and also your workplace colleague relationships, as sometimes a change in who you spend a lot of time with can help.

It is most important to understand that all behaviors have meaning to us, and that some have been around for many years, starting often in childhood, so be patient with yourself if you try to eat more healthily for example (I don’t like the word diet due to the first three letters spelling the word "die"). As a personal story, in my family my mother baked chocolate brownies as a special treat when I was really good, so comfort foods (especially chocolate) were ways for my mom to say "I love you". Therefore giving up chocolate totally would be a really difficult thing for me.

My point is not to give up everything that might just give you pleasure, but to understand the meaning of the behavior for yourself. If your use of a potentially harmful behavior has become more of an addiction, changing it might be necessary to stay healthy, such as if your weight now exceeds three hundred pounds or you are smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.

When the Familiar Old Solution Becomes it’s own Problem, Try a New Healthier One Instead!

Helen M. Thamm, APRN,CPC is a certified career success and wellness coach. She is the author of the new manager’s success toolkit book: How to Manage with a Magic Wand (No, Don’t Hit Your "Problem Employees" over the Head with it!) and co-author with Dr. John Ellis of the bestselling book: The Wellness Code. Visit for a free copy of her eBook "How to knockout burnout and beat bully behavior".

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