Passing through the New Year’s Holiday season many of us thought about the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us made them—others said, “Why bother?” Such resolutions are meant to help us start or increase positive behavior changes, but many people respond, “What real choices do I have?”
These comments are well understood by clinicians working in behavioral health. The COVID Pandemic, the economic depression, the political discord all give us the realization that there seem to be many fewer positive choices in our daily lives. And the therapeutic process—for clients of all ages is a journey of behavior change. When we feel limited in choices, how can we change?
The famous German psychologist stated that the last of the human freedoms—when all else has been take away—is the freedom to choose our attitude. Yet how hard this is to do!
Changing behaviors first requires realistic examples or creative ideas to imagine things working differently. Those realities are deeply influenced by family experiences and stages of development. Clinicians working with adults often discover that client behavior is locked in certain patterns simply because those were the only ones they knew. They had not seen a successful mother or father or partner behaving differently. And for both youth and adults, their present behaviors exist in a family system which reinforces past and current behaviors.
Their change can be met with opposition and ridicule from some parts of the family system.
Why Don’t We Change?
Research has shown another intriguing finding—people are often not aware of how their current behaviors are useful to them. In a large family or classroom, misbehaving may give you attention from others that you ordinarily do not receive. Deciding to behave differently and learn some new skill may cause others to resent you and withdraw their support. So, staying in the same groove is familiar.
One of the deep challenges of this current period is the lack of perceived control and the interminable nature of the stressors. Natural disasters usually have a time limited period of shock, identification of response and recovery. This year has not been like that–students have tried to navigate online learning with repeated messages that it is “for a while.” Then the next extended deadline comes.
According to the CDC, in the United States the prevalence of an anxiety disorder was three times as high and the symptoms of depression were four times as high in June 2020 than in the second quarter of 2019. Extended uncertainty is hard to take.
Finding Emotional Safety
Searching for emotional safety is a key need for most of us. And sometimes the recommendations to protect your mental health are hard to implement. Limiting your constant exposure to media may raise your fears about what is happening –and remind you that you have no power to impact. Thus, you are informed—but depressed that you have no power.
Engaging in yoga, meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation can be unfamiliar—and may require group reinforcement and teaching. Indeed, research on New Year’s Resolutions shows that new behaviors have to be practiced with discipline and with support. Who else is taking that Zoom yoga class? How can your Zoom therapeutic group practice deep breathing together?
As we work with youth in the SUCCESS program at Taos Behavioral Health, we work creatively to encourage success every day using ways to support confidence, courage and emotional support. A great emphasis is placed on realistic self-evaluation and confidence. If you didn’t get your academic work done because your siblings dominated access to the computer, can you ask adults to help you all make a new schedule and be proud that you had the courage to advocate for yourself? If the family was experiencing episodes of anger and violence and you still got some work done—can you congratulate yourself?
Good Enough for Today?
These are small steps in the life of a youth—but we know long term resilience can emerge from such therapies. It was good enough today—and perhaps that is the question and the answer we all need to find.
Taos Behavioral Health has the largest credentialed and licensed behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico. We can be reached at www.Taosbehavioralhealth.org, 575-758-4297 or at 105 Bertha for scheduled appointments.
Mary McPhail Gray is the Chair of TBH Board and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org