Emotions are different from behavior, which is different from your thoughts or beliefs. But all of these affect each other in profound ways. This is a core understanding in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
A good clinician is aware of basic CBT skills, and is clear on the difference between these three things, and may communicate which areas you are specifically struggling with.
When your clinician communicates that certain symptoms are “behavioral”, what does this really mean?
The first thing that this is indicating is that the symptoms will probably not be alleviated by medication because it is not a matter of a hormone disturbance or a biological issue in the body. The uncomfortable symptom, whether it’s hopelessness, low motivation, irritability, or even self-harm, is more related to your behaviors or habits.
Such behaviors could be poor routines, not following through on an established structure or schedule, poor nutrition, addiction behaviors, avoidance, codependent behaviors, not wanting to take ownership in treatment, lack of boundaries in the home, or even resisting change because you feel like your diagnosis is your only identity. There is an unlimited list of behaviors that could be contributing to the symptoms.
The solution in this case is not necessarily a med adjustment, but behavior modification. Behavior modification is living out: " I don't feel like doing it, but I'm going to do it anyway because I know it's good for me."
Behavior modification goes beyond how you feel about things, your mood, or your emotions, and straight into action. And the good news is that you can control your actions…. it may feel difficult at times, but you can always control them. When you start living out healthy behaviors, this can dramatically impact your mood. For example, the person who dedicates themselves to getting up and going to bed early, eating certain foods, practicing certain coping skills regularly, and spending regular time away from screens…. They will eventually feel less depressed and more centered, motivated, and balanced.
Or, when an addict struggles with alcoholism - rather than hyperfocus on how he got to the alcohol abuse, the immediate intervention is how to obtain abstinence through behavior modification. The mood and what led to the alcohol use will certainly be targeted eventually, but the behavior modification has to be addressed first.
For the individual who is not struggling with addiction, but rather a variety of mood symptoms that are deemed behavioral, addressing the behaviors is essential first and foremost. Once the behaviors are addressed, you can get a more accurate baseline of where the mood is and how it can be further supported with medication (if they need medication at all).
The purpose of medication isn't to resolve behaviors or actions, but rather help certain moods or emotions become less intense or overwhelming. The goal is to use medications to help you cope better and utilize our skills quicker. The behavior modification is going to be the lifelong treatment that will help lifelong stability.
Behavior modification is not fun or easy, but it is extremely effective. It is one of the most practical lifestyle means to address mood and function. Behavior modification helps you to set up realistic schedules and routines, helps with productivity, and feeling empowered. Once you have modified behavior, it is much easier to understand the deeper picture that may be driving mood symptoms. But we must not get the cart before the horse and avoid the importance of your behaviors. Remember, you have control over your actions/behaviors…. So allow yourself to take ownership of this and empower yourself with your habits!