November 16, 2021

What Exactly Is Behavioral Health? 

by | Nov 16, 2021 | Other

Behavioral health is often used interchangeably with terms like mental health or emotional health, but it’s important to understand its specific definition. Behavioral health refers to the various “behaviors” that improve the overall mind and body. Integrating these habits into your life can make a meaningful difference in how you feel.

Behavioral Health Vs Mental Health

Behavioral health focuses on specific behaviors, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, or practicing gratitude. In addition, behavioral health includes examining how these behaviors (together or in isolation) contribute to one’s physical and emotional well-being.

Mental health, on the other hand, is a more vast term that describes one’s well-being in correspondence with behaviors, genetics, and environment. In other words, it’s more comprehensive than examining behaviors.

That said, integrating healthy behaviors into your routine often positively benefits your mental health. For instance, if you struggle with depression, adding positive behaviors like taking medication, going to bed at a certain time each night, and calling friends for support, will typically improve your symptoms.

Behavioral health is often an important component in traditional therapy. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) largely focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and is just one of many types of evidence-based therapies.

CBT practitioners help clients reexamine maladaptive behaviors and replace them with more constructive ones. Over time, these changes often lead to clients feeling more confident with themselves and happier in their lives. 

The Impact of Behavioral Health on Physical Health

Behavioral health undoubtedly plays a significant role in one’s physical health. For instance, if you regularly smoke cigarettes, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and eat lots of sugary foods, your health will likely suffer.

That said, the relationship can be reciprocal. For example, chronic physical health problems may trigger poor behavioral habits. Some people may believe they are “doomed,” spiraling them into negative coping skills. Others might struggle with pain, fatigue, or other physical ailments, and they want the immediate relief certain habits can provide.

Doctors understand this relationship, and that’s why they routinely ask about your daily habits. For example, they recognize how smoking cigarettes elevates the risks of certain cancers. Similarly, they understand how even patterns that seem benign (like not drinking enough water) can trigger dangerous health conditions.

Regardless of the circumstances, the mind and body are closely connected. Therefore, by taking care of your emotional well-being, you can likely improve the outcomes of your physical well-being (and vice versa).

What Are Optimal Behavioral Health Habits? 

When examining your behavioral health, it’s essential to consider the whole picture in reflecting on your current habits. Nobody is perfect, but consistency matters the most. The more you can maintain a positive routine, the more you reinforce its importance in your life. 

Subsequently, good habits tend to have a domino-like effect. When we feel good in our bodies, we want to continue taking care of our bodies. Therefore, we tend to reject habits that jeopardize our well-being. We don’t want to threaten what we have.

Here are some good habits to consider implementing in your routine. Remember that it’s okay to start small, and it’s unrealistic to expect a dramatic change overnight.

Prioritize Your Nutrition 

As you probably know, unhealthy dietary habits can wreak havoc on your emotional and physical health. The body requires good nutrition to function effectively. 

The first step of prioritizing your nutrition comes down to eating regularly and consistently. Skipping meals can lead to a toxic cycle of restricting and bingeing. It can also contribute to fatigue and poor concentration. Furthermore, crash dieting rarely works in the long run, and it often leads to more irritability and mood swings.

Next, make sure you are eating plenty of whole, unprocessed foods. Incorporate plenty of vegetables and fruits into your diet. Ensure you are getting enough protein and fats. Finally, aim to drink plenty of water and avoid excess sugars as much as possible.

If you feel overwhelmed by all your dietary options, consider meeting with a registered dietitian. They can provide you with suggestions and sample meal plans based on your current health and goals.

Get Physically Active 

Exercise is vital for numerous reasons, and experts recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

Keep in mind that exercise doesn’t need to feel like an awful punishment. If you dread going to a traditional gym, take some time to think about other options. What about meeting up with friends for a walk? Or taking a bike ride after school with the kids? Or simply adding more gardening and chores to your weekly routine?

Little moments of exercise also add up. Consider committing to taking the stairs instead of the elevator whenever it’s an option. Choose to park further away when going to the grocery store. 

Lock In Good Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep is such an essential part of our well-being, but so many people overlook its importance. In fact, many people wear their lack of rest as a badge of honor. It isn’t uncommon to hear others brag about how they’re exiting on only “four hours of sleep.”

This mentality is toxic. Poor sleep affects nearly every part of your life, and consistent sleep deprivation can seriously affect your health.

Good sleep hygiene is a commitment, but the benefits are worth it. Start by committing to going to bed around the same time and waking up at the same time each day. This structure regulates your body and keeps you in a consistent routine.

Then, make sure that your bedroom is optimal for good sleep. Keep the room as dark as possible (consider investing in black-out curtains if needed). Keep the temperature cool at around 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the room is relatively clutter-free, as random items often feel distracting and contribute to excess stress.

Finally, aim to make sleep a luxurious experience. That means only using your bedroom for sleep and sex (and not working or just hanging out). Invest in high-quality sheets and pillows and commit to having a pleasant wind-down routine before bed. 

Build Your Support System 

Your friendships don’t just feel good. They are an essential piece of your well-being, and laughing with the people you love may just save your life. In fact, isolation is a significant risk factor for premature death. 

If you don’t feel like you have a good support system, take time to prioritize cultivating these relationships. This often requires playing a more active role. For example, look into signing up for a new class or attending a local MeetUp group.

Remember that relationships require work. Simply meeting new people doesn’t inherently foster connection. Make it a point to follow up with people after meeting them and arrange to get together. 

Finally, aim to be the friend you want to have. That often means checking in loved ones, validating their feelings, and assisting them when they need support. It also means setting appropriate boundaries and being honest about your feelings when faced with conflict or tension. 

Implement More Mindfulness 

Mindfulness refers to being engaged with the present moment. Unfortunately, we often spend most of our time ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. As a result, the “now” tends to escape us, and we often feel detached and disconnected from our lives.

Try to integrate more mindful activities into your life. You can start this process by becoming more aware of your tendency to distract yourself. For example, the next time you reach for your phone to scroll through social media while watching TV, pause. The activity is TV. Commit to making that the full focus of your attention.

You can meditate by simply stopping what you’re doing and focusing all your attention on your breath. You can also listen to various guided scripts that focus on specific topics like self-compassion, gratitude, or forgiveness.

Utilize Creative Expression

It’s important to identify your feelings, but talking about them isn’t always easy. At times, it can feel clunky, overwhelming, or even frustrating.

Many people use art to express how they feel. Consider journaling, drawing, playing an instrument, or taking photos the next time you’re struggling with your emotions. Don’t worry about being “good” at the skill- that’s not the point.

Even if engaging in this activity doesn’t automatically make you feel better, this skill can help you become more in touch with your emotions. It also provides a healthy outlet to discharge intense feelings like shame, sadness, or anger. 

Practice More Self-Compassion

As humans, we’re often overly critical of ourselves, and we tend to become unraveled when we make even minor mistakes. As a result, it can feel like we’re our own worst enemies. 

When this is the case, it doesn’t matter how many people love you. At the core, you still may feel ashamed, incompetent, or worthless. 

In addition, self-compassion is an inside job. Having strong relationships can help us feel appreciated and special, but if you don’t see those things within yourself, it’s hard to internalize them from others. 

Try to implement more self-compassion by becoming more aware of your inner voice. When does it become most critical? What people, places, or things trigger it being mean to you? Does the voice remind you of someone harsh to you in the past? 

From there, consider how you can counteract that negative script in your mind. For example, you might want to practice telling yourself positive affirmations aloud. You may also try distracting yourself with a pleasant activity when you find yourself in that negative headspace.

Limit or Avoid Mood-Altering Substances

While some substances may have positive effects, abusing anything has damaging effects on your health. Over time, substance abuse can seriously deteriorate your physical and emotional well-being. 

Be mindful of times you use drugs or alcohol to escape. Do you keep using despite making promises to yourself to cut back or stop? Have you been hiding your use from loved ones? Do you feel embarrassed or upset about how often you’re using certain substances?

Of course, it can feel painful to confront the truth within yourself. But honesty is one of the first steps towards sustainable change, and substance abuse often progresses without intervention.

In some cases, quitting cold turkey may be feasible. Other times, that approach can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Talking to a qualified healthcare provider, such as your primary care physician or a therapist, is important for assessing the next best step. 

Can Therapy Help?

Self-help strategies can be useful, but they may only go so far. So if you’re still struggling- or if you’re concerned you’re regressing- it might be time to seek professional support. 

Therapy can provide motivation, guidance, and support in integrating new behavioral health habits into your life. In addition, therapists have extensive training in understanding life patterns- they can help identify where you might be sabotaging yourself and work with you on strategies to improve that dynamic.

Moreover, specific issues can make it challenging to prioritize your behavioral health. For example, suppose you struggle with issues like substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or untreated trauma. In that case, those symptoms might be so encompassing that it’s hard to focus on anything else. You may be living in “survival mode” and feel unable to get yourself out.

Your therapist can support you with those issues and help you develop coping skills for working through those troubling symptoms. They can also coordinate care with other professionals, like doctors, psychiatrists, and dietitians if necessary. 

If you specifically want to improve your behavioral health, aim to find a therapist who specializes in behavioral-based therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), and exposure therapies all focus on integrating more adaptive coping skills into your routine. 

Final Thoughts

Your behavioral part is a crucial piece of your overall well-being. Integrating positive habits into your day- even if you start small and take things slowly- can make a profound difference in how you feel.

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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