5 Habits That Are Hurting Your Mental Health

Man holds his head in his hands and looks depressed.You face the end of another workweek tired and frustrated. You didn’t even get close to accomplishing all the things you had on your to-do list.

You come home, shuffle through the door, and barely make it to the couch. Completely drained from the stress of the week, you wonder how you are going to do it all over again.

Sound familiar?

When you feel you have barely enough energy to make it by as it is, taking time to improve your mental health may come up last on your list of priorities. But taking the time to improve your mental strength could be the key to accomplishing your goals and living the life you want, today.

So how can you start improving your mental health right now? Identify the habits in your life that are bringing you down and change them. It sounds simple, but as we all know it is incredibly hard. So, to help you make the change, here are 5 of the most common habits that negatively affect your mental health, and what you can do to break them.

1. Forgetting about exercise and a healthy diet

You get home from a long day at work. Your stomach is growling and you are worn out. Your comfy chair and flat screen are looking especially inviting tonight. You think to yourself how easy it would be just to order a pizza and spend the rest of the evening in front of the screen. Probably the last thing on your mind is exercising and eating healthy.

Imagine this scenario instead. You get home from a long day at work. Your stomach is growling so you grab an apple to tide you over until you finish throwing together some chicken avocado burritos for dinner. Afterwards, you take the kids for a bike ride around the neighborhood, and finish the night off by taking the family out for frozen yogurt.

Making the choice to eat healthy and be active doesn’t require a lot of work. It only requires giving up immediate pleasure for long-term rewards. Mentally strong people are able to sacrifice short-term pleasure (watching TV and eating pizza) because they know that the long-term rewards (family bonding and better health) will be even more satisfying.

2. Skipping downtime

A couple reads together, while sitting side by side.I don’t know of anyone who likes to be stressed and exhausted, do you? We all want to be able to excel amid the difficulties in our lives. When a challenge comes along, we want to have the confidence to act instead of being paralyzed by fear.

But how do you do it? The key is to take time for yourself. You are not magically given the gift of perspective or peace of mind. These qualities have to be developed and earned. You are not going to be able to face challenges with serenity if you fail to do those things which bring serenity into your life.

Go for a hike in the mountains. Mediate in the mornings. Read 30 minutes each day. Take the time to do those things that will give you the fuel you need to start each day hopeful and ready for what life brings you.

3. Forgetting to help others

Not taking the time to help someone in need may be just the thing holding you back from improving your mental health. Studies have shown that people who serve others receive individual physical and mental health benefits throughout their lives. This means that your service won’t just change the lives of those you serve, it can change yours for the better as well.

4. Worrying about things you can’t control

We worry because we care. We want good things for ourselves and those we love, so we worry when things don’t go according to plan. A little worry is perfectly fine. However, when worrying distracts and prevents you from acting, that’s when worry becomes destructive.

What can you do when you find yourself worrying about something that is out of your hands? Focus instead on what you can do that will make a difference. For example, say you are waiting anxiously for test results from your doctor. Take your kids or nieces and nephews to the zoo to help you take your mind off of it. You may not be able to change your test results, but you can show your family how much you care for them by spending the day together.

5. Never knowing when to say “no”

Be realistic—you cannot do everything. There are only so many hours in each day to accomplish everything you need to do, let alone everything you want to do. Because you have so many demands on your time, it is important to learn to keep your goals realistic.

Making a list of twenty different things to get done in a day when you only have time for 2 is setting yourself up for failure. Know when to say “no” to yourself. “No, I don’t have time for that today,” or “No, I have more important things to do.” It’s okay to say it.

It’s okay.

Saying “no” doesn’t mean that you are giving up on accomplishing your goal. You are just saving yourself from the guilt of unrealistic expectations. Just because you do not have time for it now, does not mean you won’t in the future.

Improving Your Mental Health

As is the method for breaking all bad habits, make small, manageable changes to improve your mental health. There will always be something to improve on, but you will have the comfort of knowing that you are working towards your goals and becoming a healthier, stronger you.


Images courtesy of Sander van der Wel and Erin Kelley via flickr