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Why We Fight Healthy Changes

Every person has everything they need to make a healthy change that can last a lifetime!

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

People may not agree with me, but I do not accept the belief that making a healthy change needs to be stressful. I disagree that changes in our health behavior needs to be seen as big and scary, be it starting a new eating plan or setting new sleep goals or deciding to quit smoking.

I reject the idea that the natural response to making a health behavior change is fear and opposition. In itself, making a health behavior change need not be seen as threatening to someone’s sense of personal freedom.

Instead making a health behavior change should be seen as a return to a healthier version of yourself.

That optimistic viewpoint can be difficult.

There is a troubling concept of the Immunity to Change centered on the idea that people sabotage positive health change and resist change similar to the body’s immune system resistance to foreign substances in the body.

Still I disagree that all people are instinctively opposed to change.

In fact, I feel that as humans we are much more than likely to be drawn to the novel, different, exotic, strange, usual or unknown in many instances.

When people experience a new way of life, like trying a health behavior change, there is often a sense of loss of control. Yet, psychologically there is also a natural stabilizing or adaptive phase, or allostasis, that is part of the process to achieve homeostasis. Even so, there is often a yearning to return to “normal” or previous poor behavior. This yearning can be a desire to give up the health behavior change even though it is a positive change.

This is the point when a person is in-between adopting a new health change and returning or backsliding to a previous unhealthy behavior. This “in-between” stage, is when many people give up. The in-between stage or liminal period of allostasis is a necessary stage in development and in learning. It is also when many people should be asking for help!

Allostasis is necessary for transformation but it need not be so negative. Just as in learning to walk or speak another language, people learn to accommodate and assimilate the new health behavior and this is when change is incorporated in the transformation to a new level of homeostasis or new sense of identity.

The idea that a person will automatically respond to transformation with rejection and sabotage is purely a matter of perception and based on “deficit-based thinking“. There can be any number of responses to the notion of change. Attitude makes all the difference.

There are so many health changes that occur throughout a lifetime that our definition of health change needs to include transformation as a part of everyday life.

Everyday natural occurrences happen from growth and human development that are forms of health change. The human body goes through all kinds of changes that drastically transform and change our ideas about our sense of self and how we see ourselves, i.e. puberty, sexual identity and development, menopause, pregnancy, physical development and abilities, aging, etc.

What is believed to be a static state is never long-lasting, just as states of allostasis are short-lived.

I understand the perceived fear about health behavior change can be in the subconscious and below our level of awareness, yet our perception can be developed to understand how it is affected by other feelings, thoughts, and most importantly our attitude.

There is abundant research on the ability of our attitude to make up for all kinds of shortcoming in biological skills so it is important to include that in the understanding in the working of immunity to change.

There is tremendous benefit to learning about the role of resistance and opposition to change in health, but I do not believe that people are predisposed to view health behavior change with opposition.

Transformation is not a negative or a positive that should be perceived as a threat to personal freedom or as a harm to our sense of self, it is simply a change process.

Does the perception of health change have to be so negative?

Why is there the belief that health behavior change must be difficult and that it is natural to resist health change? 

Is the Immunity to Change a real threat to making lasting heath behavior change?

I do not believe that is the case for most people.

People talk about being a “work in progress” or refer to being on “a journey” to being their true selves. Just looking at the many stages of human development and in learning about the brain’s neuroplasticity, it is clear that change is constantly happening on the molecular, conscious, and subconscious levels.

While homeostasis is the state of being stable, it is not a constant because there are always new experiences, feelings, connections, relations, and interactions, that happen on a daily basis to destabilize human behavior, and our sense of self or what we know to be our sense of self.

Part of being a critical thinker is the ability to process information one is exposed to so one can learn to use and incorporate information for personal growth and development or in making sense of the world.

The inclusion of change and growth as our natural state of being is similar to the belief of being a lifelong learner. Once a person is open to being a student for life, life opens up with endless learning and change opportunities!

Learning in life never ends. Learning is change and learning is transformation. Just as one never stops learning, one never stops changing.

If we work from the premise that all people are naturally predisposed to favor the state of homeostasis and stability, we lose sight of the fact that change is all around and homeostasis includes opportunity and space for change to happen. Thus, it can be that there can be people just as predisposed to favor liminal space and allostasis as there are people who resist.

If a person is threatened by health behavior change, that is something that is personal and not universal.

Does it happen, this immunity to change? Of course, but it does not have to be that way. I believe, every person has the ability to change our lives with a positive outlook.

Every single person can change because we all have the power to change our attitude!

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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