The Inner Demon’s Guide To Behavioral Health

behavioral health silhouette swinging from chandelier
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Have you ever vowed to quit smoking or stop drinking or avoid one-night stands like the plague, only to keep smoking and drinking and going home with strangers after meeting them briefly at neon-lit nightclubs or sticky-floored dive bars?

If so, this article on behavioral health is for you!

In it, we’ll go over the dysfunctional relationship between behavioral health and cognitive dissonance, the difference between behavioral and mental health, and what you can do to curb those destructive behaviors that end in consecutive nights of debauchery and regret.

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

To better understand behavioral health, it would behoove you to know what cognitive dissonance means.

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is a state of mental discomfort caused by conflicting thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as they clash with your behaviors.

Not only do you know when a particular behavior or habit is bad for you. But to make matters worse, as you experience cognitive dissonance you find a justification or an excuse to continue behaving badly.

To illustrate our point, let’s say that you’re at a party and that you’ve been pounding down one too many Moscow Mules.

When you finish your fourth cocktail, you glance at your watch. The night’s still young and you could use a stronger buzz, you think to yourself.

And why the hell not?! You’ve had a long week. You deserve another drink!

But you know that the fifth cocktail makes you handsy AF, to the point where you start to flirt with your friends’ spouses, putting your hands all over their forbidden body parts.

Not only that, the fifth cocktail makes you dance on tabletops while disrobing seductively to the WAP anthem “Pony” by Ginuwine.

And last but not least, the fifth cocktail is the one that makes you swing from the chandelier like a drunken monkey and go home with strangers to have casual sex when you’ve vowed never to do that again, especially after a scary experience on your last one-night stand.

“F*ck it,” you say as you make yourself another drink. “I can keep my sh*t together.” You mutter these famous last words under your breath.

Then, cognitive dissonance — that annoying angel on your shoulder — admonishes you to STOP, threatening to awaken your inner demons should you continue behaving this way.

But you’d rather listen to the devil on the other shoulder — the one that says, “Meh! What’s the worst that could happen?”

Fast forward to the next morning. You find yourself in someone else’s bed. Whose? You have no earthly idea.

You look around the room and realize that everything else is unfamiliar, too, including a trail of clothes on the floor leading from the breakfast bar in the kitchen to the mattress that’s currently supporting your naked body.

You slap the palm of your hand against your forehead and mutter one of Britney Spears’ best-known phrases: Oops!… I did it again!

But no worries, you tell yourself as you pick up your clothes and what’s left of your dignity from the floor. This won’t happen again.

Until it happens again.

angel playing chess with devil

BEHAVIORAL HEALTH VS. MENTAL HEALTH

The terms “mental health” and “behavioral health” are often used interchangeably. And it’s not hard to understand why.

After all, more often than not your behaviors are linked directly to your state of mind.

Thus, if your mental health suffers considerably, you may experience overwhelming anxiety or depression that manifests behaviorally.

That’s to say, overwhelming anxiety or depression — two common and serious mental illnesses — can influence how you behave within a social context or general environment.

For instance, someone who’s agoraphobic (and has an extreme fear of open or crowded spaces) might experience a panic episode outdoors. Their symptoms may include shortness of breath and an accelerated heart rate. 

Similarly, someone who’s depressed might abuse substances like drugs or alcohol. And this can have serious ramifications on their personal well-being in the long run. 

Although they’re closely related, it’s good to remember that mental health and behavioral health aren’t the same.

The former is the state of someone’s mind and emotional well-being, whereas the latter is the combined state of mental, physical, and social well-being that impacts behavior.

Moreover, behavioral health is the study of how people behave and interact with the world around them. Think of it as a subset of mental health that encompasses physical, social, occupational, developmental and emotional well-being.

IMPROVING BEHAVIORAL HEALTH

So far, we’ve talked about behaviors that conflict with your individual thoughts, ideas, beliefs and value systems — a condition known as cognitive dissonance in psychology.

But what if your reckless behaviors don’t conflict with your ideas or your belief systems? What if you swing proudly from the chandelier, half-naked and pie-eyed (aka drunk as a skunk?) 

Maybe you’re living your “best life.” Therefore, one-night stands are expected.

Maybe you’re just “getting it out of your system” now as opposed to later when you’re expected to live altruistically as a functioning and responsible 30-, 40-, or 50-year old.

If that’s the case, we won’t judge you. In fact, we can only advise you to proceed with caution.

Live your best life, but do so responsibly. At the very least, try not to take others down with you?

However, if you’d like to get a handle on your behavioral health and avoid cognitive dissonance now, then by all means: keep reading.

Perhaps we can tempt you with the below “inner demon’s” guide to behavioral health (so you can flick that annoying red devil off your shoulder once and for all!)

But before we get started, it’s important to note that the absolute best way to improve your behavioral health is to practice a professional self-monitoring program or similar treatment with a licensed therapist or physician. 

silhouette woman midair jump balloons

S.M.A.R.T. GOALS

There are at least two useful techniques to improve your behavioral health, spark long-lasting change for the better and keep you off those metaphorical chandeliers you keep swinging from.

The first is called “SMART” goal setting.

A SMART goal is a well-defined and realistic target with an assigned due date. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

In the context of behavioral health, SMART goals can help you visualize what you need to do to reach your goals and boost your likelihood of success.

For example, if your specific goal is to have no more than four units of alcohol per week for the rest of the year, create a realistic game plan that will help you achieve this.

Maybe that entails saying “no” to party invitations now and then, or excluding wine bottles from your shopping list at the grocery store.

Write down these goals. Keep track of them.

Ask yourself, how many drinks did I have this week? Did it exceed the realistic (and achievable) amount I allotted for myself? Or do I need to adjust my goals to get back on track?

Remember, you know yourself better than the next person. If you’ve been consuming more than 10 alcohol units per week consistently and set a goal to reduce your weekly alcohol intake by 80%, then this might be too unrealistic of a goal.

Instead, wean yourself off of the behavior systematically. Think “baby steps,” dear reader. Little by little.

More importantly, don’t be harsh on yourself when you regress (because it’s likely that you will.)

After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

writing goals in journal black pen

PERSONAL SELF-MONITORING

If you’re looking to improve your behavioral health, then personal self-monitoring can be right up your alley.

Self-monitoring is the systematic observation and recording of your behaviors. It requires a certain level of introspection, meaning the examination or observation of your own mental and emotional experiences.

By self-monitoring your behaviors, especially those that conflict with your ideals, you can become more self-aware and take action to regulate the behaviors that make you feel crappy.

For instance, if your doctor warns that your cholesterol levels are through the roof, but you find yourself eating more junk food than usual as a response to stress and anxiety, take note of that.

When and what are you eating? Were you feeling bored, anxious, or depressed when you ate it? Were you mostly indoors that day, or outdoors?

Do you tend to eat more when your relationships turn sour? Or do you break out the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos when you’re assigned challenging tasks at work?

Introspection of this nature allows you to assert more control over situations that may lead you to experience cognitive dissonance.

Along with tracking SMART goals to improve your behavioral health, self-monitoring can also help you avoid behaviors that you wish to change and cope with situations that lead to failure.

Again, positive long-lasting change takes time to achieve.

If you keep making the same mistakes over and over, then perhaps our debut article on neural pathways can help you double down on your efforts to improve your behavioral and mental health.

Just keep at it, dear reader. Silencing those inner demons is no small feat. 

But you got this. And to reward your healthy behaviors in advance, here’s a bright gold star for ya 🌟

‘Til next time.

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