A large part of maintaining good mental health is to have fun. However, not everything that we find fun is necessarily healthy for us in the long term.
For example, vegging out in front of the TV and watching 16 hours of Netflix might seem like fun the first time you do it, but it’s anything but healthy in the long term. Likewise, some mental health issues like substance use disorder and anxiety can cause unhealthy behavior that’s often considered fun, such as overeating or drug misuse.
Unfortunately, when people give up these unhealthy habits “cold turkey”, they can be at the constant risk of relapse if their recovery experience is a joyless one.
For this reason, mental health specialists will often recommend that people who quit these habits find alternative activities to replace the unhealthy ones they give up. These activities should ideally not only be enjoyable but also contribute to better physical and mental health, as well. Additionally, they should be accessible enough that they could be done regularly.
Below, we’ll explain how the concept of “redefining fun” works as well as the benefits of this approach for mental health. Be sure to check out this resource of Boston rehabilitation centers to learn more about substance use disorder and mental health.
Why Do We Consider Unhealthy Habits Fun?
One’s upbringing as well as constant mental distress from stress or a mental health condition can give a person a distorted idea of what a fun activity should be. These negative behaviors are likely to be partly caused by ingrained learning as well as a maladapted reward mechanism caused by the constant neurochemical rewards created by the bad habit. In other words, someone who associates harmful behavior with fun has a brain that’s different from that of a mentally healthy person.
Over time, the brain gets trained to associate risky behavior like drug-taking, eating large amounts of junk food, or gambling with a good time. Eventually, there will be a point where the affected person will keep repeating the harmful behavior, even if they know it’s unhealthy.
Even when a person quits this behavior, it will take a relatively long time before the brain forms the fresh connections needed to bypass the old ones that associate negative behavior with fun. In the meantime, the affected individual may find it extremely tempting to continue the habit, possibly with dangerous consequences in the case of some types of drug use.
Benefits of Redefining Fun
Getting into a new positive habit that you find enjoyable does a few things that can significantly improve your mental and physical health. Some of these benefits include the following:
1.) It Helps Heal Your Brain’s Reward Center
Your brain’s reward center can develop maladapted pathways from continued negative behaviors. If you stop that behavior abruptly without substituting anything enjoyable, it can be very difficult to keep your commitment to recovery. Retraining your brain to enjoy something new — or better yet — something healthy that you used to enjoy can help mitigate some of the difficulty of readjusting to a healthier lifestyle.
2.) It Can Stimulate Brain Growth
Even if bad habits aren’t an immediate issue, consciously choosing to do something new over something familiar can be key to expanding your mind in the most literal sense of the word.
The growth of new brain cells and connections can be stimulated by novelty and challenges that do not cause undue frustration. An accessible hobby such as dancing, learning an instrument, or doing detailed book reviews can force your brain to do things that are new to it, which can be key to keeping it young and possibly helping it offset the effects of aging.
3.) It Can Help Keep You Healthy
Some healthy habits aren’t just good for your mind, they can help you maintain a healthy weight and figure as well. Aerobics, yoga, and cardio training are just some of the many forms of physical exercises that not only help keep you mentally sharp but are also very enjoyable in their own right.
About 80% of Americans fail to get enough exercise. This represents a massive missed opportunity for maintaining both physical and mental fitness. Given enough time, the rush from getting a good sweat is not only fun but also habit-forming. This is chiefly due to exercise stimulating the influx of natural feel-good hormones that not only give a natural high.
4.) It Can Expand Your Social Circles
Admittedly, things like exercise and learning new hobbies from scratch are not always enjoyable. However, they can be when you add a social aspect to them. Thanks to the internet, even the most niche hobby can now be enjoyed within a community of hundreds, if not thousands of other people.
Fellow enthusiasts can keep you focused on learning your chosen pursuits and could also be a source of cherished lifelong friendships. Socializing with people who are passionate about the same things you are can also be a good part of developing and maintaining people skills that you can apply in other parts of your life.
Redefine Your Fun Times
By redefining our personal idea of “fun”, we have the power to enrich our lives, stay physically and mentally healthy, and be socially attuned. It also makes it easier to recover from some mental health conditions and can create a mindset that sets you up for succeeding in other parts of life. If you’re interested in changing your ideas of what’s fun or what’s not, working with a therapist can help you achieve better results, faster. Good luck, and be well.