What Happens When You Stop Depressant or Anxiety Medications?

Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications work to alter your brain chemistry and support a more balanced mood state. Since psychotropic medication changes your brain chemistry and may also come with side effects, deciding to take medication should not to be made lightly.  It’s helpful to understand how the medication you are prescribed works and what to expect when discontinuing it before deciding to stop. It’s always advised to be under the supervision of a doctor who can ensure your safety and help minimize any side effects before discontinuing psychotropic meds.

(Please skip to the last section of this article if you would like to consider alternatives to psychotropic medication and discuss your options with your prescribing doctor and other healthcare professionals.)

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Why Take Psychotropic Medications?

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety in a way that is significantly affecting your life, your doctor may recommend anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. Medications are also sometimes prescribed to alleviate symptoms, making therapy more helpful and useful. When feeling burdened by emotional overwhelm, at times it can be impossible to participate in your therapy in a way that promotes the change you need or motivate yourself to follow up on homework in-between sessions. When this is the case, your doctor may recommend psychotropic medication to help you engage in therapy in the way that you need to give you some relief from the symptoms you are experiencing.

Current-day research supports the use of both psychotropic medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to treat diagnoses associated with depression. Medication may help you be fully involved and benefit from therapy. CBT will help you make the chemical changes in your brain for the long-term so that if you decide to taper off your medication at some point, you can maintain the brain changes you have worked to achieve in therapy.

In other cases, psychotropic medications may be prescribed to address chronic forms of depression and anxiety. Some people suffer from depression and/or anxiety for years. Despite trying many approaches, they struggle with symptoms on a daily basis. In these cases, medication may be a helpful option. Some people choose to maintain their medication regimen for a lifetime because when the medication is withdrawn, symptoms quickly return. Sometimes, even when engaging in all the behaviors necessary to support your health, the chemical components of the disorder you suffer from are just too strong, and medication is an essential part of your health routine. Each person is unique, as are the type, dosage and length of time prescribed medication works best.

It is very important to note that psychotropic medications may be contraindicated for some anxiety disorders and interfere with treatment and prognosis. Evidence-based treatments for anxiety require that you are able to experience the anxiety to its fullest extent in therapy in order for the treatment to be effective. If you are taking medication to decrease your experience of anxiety, in some case, this may interfere with your therapy. Talk to your treatment provider so that you can collaborate about the most effective treatment for you.

 

How Do Psychotropic Medications Work?

Different anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication work in distinctive ways. Some medications stimulate the brain to produce more neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and other processes). Some help the brain by blocking the effects of neurotransmitters. Others, affect the brain by encouraging it to hold onto extra neurotransmitters. Because it takes some time for these medications to affect and balance the neurotransmitters in the brain, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications need to be taken for a minimum period of time before results are noticed. Your prescribing doctor can advise you the time needed to experience the affects from your medication.

 

Why Stop Taking Psychotropic Medications?

People often decide to stop using their medications once they start to feel better. This can be a mistake. It is important to carefully consider this decision and preferably, discuss your desire to discontinue medication with your healthcare professional. Often, it’s wise to wait a while after feeling better before discontinuing your prescription. When people quit taking their medication too soon, symptoms can return and sometimes the medication does not have the same effect or potency on mood symptoms the next time around. It is often preferable to wait until you have made changes in your health behaviors and maintained them for long enough where they have become habits. Once you have made the changes needed to support your sustained mental health, you’ll want to make sure they are engrained and part of your life so that you will continue to be supported in this way after your medication has stopped. Other times, people may find the medication they are taking no longer works and they may need to stop one type of medication to start another. Additionally, people may need to discontinue using their medication due to some other health concern (possible side effects, drug interactions, or in cases of pregnancy).

 

What Happens When You Stop Anti-Depressant or Anti-Anxiety Medications?

If you are taking an anti-depressant medication and suddenly stop, it can cause unpleasant symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, nightmares, and paresthesia (unpleasant sensations in the skin). If you are taking an anti-anxiety medication (or anxiolytic) and suddenly stop, symptoms could include nausea, vomiting, seizures, sweating, weight loss, heart palpitations, migraines, muscle pain, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts. Specific side effects are unique to the medication and the person who is taking it. In either case, you may experience a rebound of psychological symptoms.

Because suddenly stopping anti-depressant or anxiety medication can cause unpleasant side effects, it is very important to consult with a doctor before you stop taking prescribed medications. A doctor can help to assess whether this is the right choice. They will also help you slowly reduce your dosage so that you are weaned off the medication safely, which helps to prevent uncomfortable side effects.

When you start or stop medications, it can be helpful to also seek the services of a qualified therapist who can help you address thoughts, feelings and emotions that may be affecting your mental health. A Dialectical Behavior Therapist (DBT) can provide specific education and skills to help you naturally cope with life’s ups and downs, without medication in some cases. A frequently used DBT slogan is, “Skills over pills.” This means that with learning and practice of DBT skills, often people can reduce or eliminate medication and lean on the DBT strategies they have learned to help them function effectively. The most important thing is to work together with your doctor and therapist to find the healthiest and most effective treatment solution for you.

 

Alternatives to Psychotropic Medications

Taking any type of prescribed medication is a personal choice. While doctors can advise you and make recommendations, ultimately, the decision whether to take psychotropic medication is up to you. Many times, making lifestyle changes can significantly impact your mood and decrease the need for prescription use. However, making these changes can be difficult and requires work. Only you and your wisdom can decide whether you are in a position and have access to the support needed to make these changes, or if now is not the time and medication is a worthwhile option.

If you are interested in making changes to your health behaviors to support a more balanced and stable mood, consider consulting with a Health Psychologist, such as Dr Bando. Health Psychologists are trained to understand all the factors maintaining the ineffective behaviors you are engaging in and help you directly target and change those behaviors to better support you. A good therapist can take out the guesswork and help you move toward your health goals with ease and precision.

Whatever your choice, please consult your wisdom and be gentle with yourself. In a time of difficulty (like experiencing depression or anxiety), increased self-compassion is needed.

Take action today and start shifting from surviving to THRIVING!


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 3 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 3 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

The holiday season is filled with so much extra stuff – packed schedules, gifts to buy, errands, food (more on that in Part 4), and people! You may feel over-“stuffed” yet still experience loneliness. Feeling sadness or struggling to enjoy the holiday season is a common experience. Many people find the holidays a stressful time of year. As mentioned, sometimes you may feel lonely (even in a room full of people), have a history of disappointing holiday memories, or have experienced a loss associated with the holiday season (such as the death of a loved one). It can feel like everyone around you is enjoying time with loved ones and the warmth of the season while you feel left out in the cold. If you find this a particularly difficult and lonesome time of year, take heart and read on for some ideas for finding comfort.

 

MAKE MEANING

Research shows us that even in the direst situations (being held in a concentration camp, surviving 9/11, or losing a loved one) people who are able to make meaning have a better quality of life and report more happiness overall in the years following that event. I mention these heart-wrenching examples because when you are down in the dumps and someone tells you, “everything happens for a reason” or some other encouragement geared toward making meaning, it can often feel invalidating and infuriating. The skill of making meaning or purpose in the midst of a painful experience can get you through and help you thrive. Research with survivors of tragic historic events shows us this is true.

 

Here’s what meaning-making is not: Making meaning out of pain is not forcing a smile and pretending everything is okay. It is not people-pleasing and making everyone else happy and comfortable while you suffer inside. It is not telling yourself that this situation happened for a reason or you must have deserved it.

 

What making meaning does involve, is finding a way to derive some purpose, something you can gain, out of the suffering you are in. In other words, how can you play the terrible hand of cards you have been dealt in the most beneficial way possible? Here is an example: I know a woman who has struggled with infertility and it is not possible for her to have children. This is very painful for her and every time the holidays come around, she aches to have a family. Every ornament that is hung and tradition experienced reminds her that she will not be passing any of this on to her own children. She feels pain. Although at times, she may be angry and want to scream how unfair this is, what brings her the most peace is finding meaning through her own spiritual and meditative practices, which she believes she would not do if she had not been met with so much sadness about something she cannot fix. She views her situation as driving her closer to practicing her spiritual beliefs and, as a result, extending increased compassion toward others. This does not make the state of affairs or her pain go away. What this meaning-making practice does, is help her focus on her values and find something of worth in the midst of her circumstances. When she feels lonely, sad, hopeless, she turns to her spiritual practices and finds comfort. This is making meaning.

 

Meaning making is a skill taught in the Distress Tolerance module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Distress Tolerance skills are designed for getting you through the moment when you cannot immediately solve the problem or source of your pain. At times, the holidays can be painful and because of the circumstances, we cannot completely change this. We feel pain, sadness, and loneliness. Making meaning can help us get through until, as with everything in life, this pain too shall pass. There will come a day that you smile and laugh and find pleasure. Remind yourself of this. Don’t let holiday loneliness get to you. Here are some tips to cope with Holiday Season sadness.

 

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ENJOY JUST A MOMENT

Another DBT skill, this time from the Emotion Regulation module, is to engage in pleasant activities. The reasoning is that if you don’t have pleasant activities in your day, you cannot have a pleasant life. Sometimes, when you are very low, as you may feel during the holiday season, it feels like nothing gives you pleasure or joy. This is where you must get creative.

 

Instead of looking for bliss, try adjusting your expectations and finding one small thing that you can somewhat enjoy for a few seconds. Some examples are your first sip of coffee, those first few moments of getting into bed after a long day, taking a moment to inhale the delicious aroma of the food you are about to eat, or stopping to notice a beautiful flower. When times are rough and we cannot feel sustained happiness, it does not eliminate our need to be nourished with joy. When we start to notice the little things, even for a few seconds, we begin to build our emotional bank account with some pleasant experiences.

 

Think about having an empty bucket of loneliness or sadness. Every time you notice something even a little bit pleasant, like the moment you take off your shoes when arriving home, you are filling the bucket with a drop of pleasure. Of course, one drop does not make a big difference in a large, empty bucket. If you keep it up, drop by drop, over time, the bucket fills. Although it can feel like a slow process, every single time you turn your attention towards something even a little bit pleasant, you are a drop closer to filling that bucket. When you have accumulated many pleasant events, you will build the ability to feel more pleasure and happiness. Don’t force it. Just keep practicing and it will happen.

 

TAKE TIME TO REMEMBER

If your holiday season is a sad time because of loss and grief, you can make remembrance and the celebration of a loved one’s life a part of your holiday tradition. My grandmother used to make pies during the holidays. She would roll out the extra pie crust, spread it with butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and make special cookies for me to nibble while the pies baked. Now, whenever I make a pie, I use my grandmother’s fabulous pie crust recipe and say a little “thank you” to her for creating this memory for me. My husband now sometimes joins in, and instead of feeling sadness and lack, it has become a bonding experience that brings up nostalgia and gratitude. Rather than trying to push your pain aside or focus only on the positive, you may find a more authentic and touching experience when you take a few moments to remember those you have lost and commemorate this, even with a little “thank you.”

 

I hope that these strategies and activities make the holiday season a lot more enjoyable. If, however, your holiday blues are more severe or do not seem to reduce even after taking steps to help, then you may want to consider visiting a therapist. Therapists trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be particularly helpful in dealing with the realities of the holiday season and finding effective coping strategies. Get in contact with a therapist to find out how they can provide that extra support to help you get through the holiday season, and perhaps feel even better about it.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.

 

 

 

 


How to Love Your Emotions (and why you want to)

I was browsing my YouTube feed recently and noticed a number of videos about “getting rid” of your emotions. There seems to be a lot of talk and instructions on how to control, master, and avoid having to feel those pesky and painful emotions. Tap this point on your body here, say this “positive” statement there, and make that pain and unpleasantness go right away.

I started to get worried.

You’d think I would be delighted, and that I might think, “I don’t have to feel painful or unpleasant emotions?! Great! Let’s get rid of them!” The thing is, I know better.

What I know, in my years of experience of helping people regulate their emotions, is that trying to get rid of or push emotions away increases pain, suffering, and misery in the long run. Avoiding emotions or trying to make them vanish makes things much, much worse. In fact, viewing any emotional experience as “negative” sets the stage for emotional buildup and suffering.

Well then, what do we do?

LOVE our emotions!

Now, I’m not just talking about those mushy, gushy, gotta love ‘em emotions like joy, amazement, thrill, infatuation, delight, and all of their friends. I’m suggesting even loving emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, despair, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy.

Here’s the deal: our emotions exist and they aren’t going anywhere. Emotions are a human experience, and all of us experience the entire range of those emotions. Whether we want to or not, we all experience emotional pain. That is just part of life. If we didn’t have unpleasant emotions, we wouldn’t have empathy, gratitude, connection with others, deep appreciation for art and drama, understanding, and the list goes on.

In other words, all emotions, even painful emotions, have great value. They give us information about what is happening in our environment and ourselves, help us understand what we need and attend to it, and connect us to others. Pain is not something to be pushed away. In fact, when we push away painful emotions or try to mask them or just be “positive,” we actually suppress the painful emotion, which leads to emotional buildup.

The way to truly and freely experience life is to welcome in and feel whatever emotion comes. In other words, love your emotions.

Want practice? Check out this short audio meditation that you can listen to anytime, anywhere and start practicing loving all of your emotions today.

 

 

A practice in loving your emotions.

Take a moment to settle in wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you are standing, sitting, lying down, or any other configuration, bring your attention to this very moment.

Begin to notice that you are breathing. Notice your breath coming in and out. Where in your body do you notice your breath? When you bring your awareness to your breath, where in your physical body is your attention drawn? It doesn’t matter if you notice your nose, throat, belly, or tips of your toes. There is no judgment about this, just simply noticing where your attention is drawn in your physical body as you notice your breathing.

Now, let’s take a few moments and notice physical sensations. What physical sensations are present in your body in this moment?

When you notice thoughts coming in, either distracting you or analyzing why you are feeling what you’re feeling, very gently, bring your attention back to your physical body and notice what sensations are present in this moment?

See you if you can lay out the welcome mat for whatever physical sensations are there – pleasant, unpleasant, static and rigid or shifting and changing, it doesn’t matter. Welcome in whatever comes.

You might turn the palms of your hands toward the sky, opening your posture to help you welcome in and allow whatever sensations are present in this moment.

See if you can put words to the sensations you are noticing: like, a presence in the center of my chest, a tightness in my neck, a warmth in my belly. Take the next few moments, notice physical sensations in your body and try, as best you can, to briefly describe them to yourself.

Now, I am going to ask you a couple of questions while you continue to breathe and notice physical sensations in your body. I don’t want you to search for an answer or try to come up with a way to answer these questions. Instead, simply notice, what, if anything you notice, when I ask you a question:

  • What emotion is present in your body in this moment?
  • Where is emotion present in your body in this moment?
  • Where, in your physical body, do you feel an emotional sensation in this moment?
  • Take some breaths as you notice emotional sensations or lack of sensations. Remembering to welcome in whatever is there.
  • Breathing in and out and welcoming whatever emotional sensations are present or absent. Welcoming your experience in this moment.

Now, bring both hands to rest over your heart center, or the center of your chest, one hand over the other. Breathing in and out, notice the sensation of your hands resting gently and lovingly on the center of your chest. Know that by tuning into your breath and your physical body, you have just participated in a practice to nourish, cleanse, and love your emotions. Your emotions, even when painful, are friendly and here to inform you. The more you practice loving your emotions in this way, the more peace and ease you are inviting into your life.

Acknowledge yourself for putting the time and attention into this loving practice.


Name that Emotion

We’ve all got things to do and people to see. Who needs unwanted emotions slowing us down? Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away. Right?

Here’s the hitch: emotions are hard-wired into our human experience. In other words, emotions are part of us and the more we push them away, the louder they become. When we deny and try to block out emotions, we starve them until the emotional hunger pains are so strong, we become overwhelmed with unruly, overbearing, unable-to-control feelings.  You know, that moment someone asks you something harmless like to pass the salt, and you completely lose your cool? When we suppress or don’t acknowledge emotions, they bubble up, and like water boiling in a covered pot with the burner on high, eventually they’re going to blow.

The solution? Don’t ignore the monster!

Emotions grow to become monsters when we ignore them, push through them, judge them and just plain do whatever it takes to try not to feel them. There is a better way! The next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, try noticing it and putting a name to it.

Scientists call this affect labeling. It goes something like this:

  • I am noticing a feeling of butterflies in my stomach. I’m nervous.
  • I feel a lifting, light feeling in my chest and shoulders. I’m happy.
  • I feel like it’s hard to move. I notice that I’m slumped and don’t feel like doing anything. I’m sad.
  • I can’t believe that guy just cut me off. I’m irritated.

When we give our emotion a name, it starts the process of calming it down. Instead of pushing the feelings away, we pay attention and engage our intellect to give it a name. Once emotions are acknowledged and paid attention to, they start to digest and let go of their grip. Relief can get his foot in the door, and we initiate the process of regulating emotions and feeling more in control.

 

Brain imaging studies explain the science behind affect labeling: When we experience an emotion, a part of our brain called the amygdala, gets activated. When our amygdala is very active and fired up, it is hard to access the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobes.

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When we use techniques like affect labeling, we begin to activate our frontal lobes (the organizing, planning, thinking-through part of the brain) and de-activate the amygdala (the “OMG!” emotional part of the brain).

 

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PRACTICE:

The next time you are “freaking out” or “stressed” or just “feeling off,” try getting specific. What emotion are you feeling? Can you put a label on it?

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Now, reinforce yourself by checking out the Reinforcement Practice Sheet and get some suggestions on how to reinforce yourself. You’ve just taken the first step toward processing and letting go of that unpleasant emotion.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by and we realize we haven’t made that change that we wanted at all. We just can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a short time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by and we are sick of being restrictive and depriving ourselves, so we give in and indulge, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

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In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

Life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando