Monday, September 23, 2013


Changing bad habits require focus, patience

Most of us have unhealthy habits that we would like to change, but may not know exactly how to go about it.  I have a long list of health improvements I want to make:  lose twenty pounds, stop eating chocolate every day, be a better listener, handle stress better, exercise 30 minutes every day — to name just a few. 

When I look at that long list, I feel overwhelmed, so I will “practice what I preach.”  I have always given the following advice when people show me their long list of New Year’s resolutions:

•  Don’t try to change too many things at once.
•  Choose the most important goal and work on it first.
•  Write down three specific, achievable actions you can take towards your goal.
•  Set a realistic deadline.
•  Be sure to reward yourself when you have accomplished each step toward your goal.

In that spirit, I am taking that advice in my quest to change one thing: How I handle stress in my life. Three specific actions I can take are:

•  Learn how to say “no.” I need to understand my limits and stick to them.
•  Set aside relaxation time throughout the day.
•  Reframe my problems.  Worrying just adds stress, and haven’t we all found that in reality most of the things we worry about never materialize?

Authors Melinda Smith, M.A., and Robert Segal, M.A., offer these tips to manage stress and promote relaxation:

•  Go for a walk
•  Spend time in nature
•  Call a good friend
•  Sweat out tension with a good workout
•  Write in your journal
•  Take a long bath
•  Light scented candles

•  Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea
•  Play with a pet
•  Work in your garden
•  Get a massage
•  Curl up with a good book
•  Listen to music
•  Watch a comedy

I think everyone can use at least two of these tips to help manage the inevitable stress we all feel.

Now that I look at my list of unhealthy habits I want to change, most of my bad habits are related.  If I eat a healthier diet, avoiding a “daily chocolate fix” and exercise 30 minutes a day, I will be using some of the specific actions that have been recommended for managing stress.  Now to reward myself when I have accomplished each step towards my goal, I won’t eat a piece of chocolate, but will do something I really enjoy but don’t often have time for — read a book.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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