A recent study in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology found that your habits— good and bad—come out in full force during times of stress. That means if you’re in the practice of mindlessly eating junk, you’ll revert to a diet full of Doritos and Frappuccinos when you’re in the middle of a big project; if you’re already in the habit of a more virtuous morning oatmeal, you’ll reach for that during busy times. Your body keeps up what it’s used to and what it knows.
What can you do? Sculpt your habits carefully—from sleep patterns to gym routines. They just might turn out to be the rock your brain turns to in times of doubt.
German researchers hypothesized in 2012 that this phenomenon is due to stress hormones in the brain, which cause it to revert to normal routines in stressful scenarios, even if that means abandoning its goals. When stressed, the brain favors the routine and reduces activity in the decision-making part of the brain.
The best way to keep our heads in times of stress, then, is to make sure we cultivate the best habits in our downtime. You never know what you can train your brain to do—so start making better choices while you have the conscious chance.
It turns out that our behavior is much more important than we realized. It can form the basic building blocks to build our own way out of stress.
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