by Jeff Katowitz
“A Habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain
This has been a tumultuous year and half. Many of us restricted, saw our lives altered and turned upside down, and experienced tremendous feelings of loss and bewilderment. We are beginning to see some hope on the horizon, with people venturing out and engaging in activities, reconnecting with others, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life again. For many of us, however, this last year may have exacerbated the frequency of self-destructive behaviors and undetected suffering. Unable to identify the habitual nature of our actions and behaviors, we may continue to get swept away by dependencies and comforts that are routine and familiar.
It is difficult to acknowledge and identify negative behaviors that are cyclical in nature, as they tend to serve a purpose. We are often seduced into believing that a continuation of behaviors that serve us in the moment won’t necessarily hurt us long-term. Our pre-pandemic unhealthy behaviors and tendencies may have increased in frequency during the pandemic, due to stress and limited access to constructive outlets. We may have tricked ourselves into believing we needed these strategies for immediate gratification – that it was our right to fall back on the old faithful friends of numb, soothe, and distract, because nothing else felt stimulating or rewarding. Yet, if we did, our internal suffering continued.
As a bit of optimism creeps back into our consciousness – and we witness others venturing out and engaging in activities they have so dearly missed – we are reminded that community is out there for us to join and enjoy again. One of the blessings of the pandemic is that our emergence from suffering can pave a way to new opportunity; we can make a deliberate attempt to orchestrate positive change and outcomes. It may be advantageous to reflect on the past eighteen months and ask ourselves some difficult questions: (1) What are my primary ways of coping with stress? (2) Are my behaviors ultimately helping or hurting my health and relationships? (3) Do I have enough support in my life? If not, what gets in the way of connecting with others and building strong relationships? (4) If my current life is unsatisfying, what is blocking me from making meaningful change?
With many of us living for extended periods in isolation over this past year, reaching out to others and connecting has certainly been tricky. Even as we move out of the isolation of the pandemic, we may still have a tendency to remain in comforts that are difficult to let go, satisfying cravings and then rationalizing them. We may be aware of behaviors, routines, and habits we would like to extinguish but feel ill equipped to make necessary changes and establish newer, healthier habits.
The first step to bringing about change is to strengthen present moment consciousness. Until we begin paying attention to our feelings, body sensations, and experiences in the present moment, it is nearly impossible to see clearly, let alone create meaningful change. Now is the time to pause, breathe deeply, think about what has happened, and slowly begin to ask the challenging questions about whether certain aspects of our lives are serving us. We cannot decrease addictive-type tendencies and behaviors (such as excessive internet use, gaming, gambling, consumption of food, drugs and alcohol) until we acknowledge underlying pain and any tendencies to run away from that pain. This is a good time to ask for help and assistance. As our time in the physical presence of others increases, it may become easier to talk to friends and family about our struggles. We can be more courageous and vulnerable with what is ailing us – and may discover that seeking support and input from others can make a significant impact. If we become more open and willing to examine changes we would like to bring about in our lives, we may feel less alone and more in community. Sometimes, we may realize we are surrounded by others who share similar patterns of numbing, soothing, and distracting. If that is the case, we may need to venture outside the comfort of our familiar network of support. Perhaps attend a 12-step group (AA, NA, Alanon), Tai Chi classes, or begin studying yoga. Or maybe consider professional help – dedicated time each week with a therapist who will partner with you to adopt new coping skills and create a life you find more meaningful and rewarding.
Jeff Katowitz, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Pennsylvania. Jeff Katowitz, LMFT, would like to invite those interested in his practice to contact him directly at (215) 307-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.