If you’re suffering from anxiety and depression, or if you go through bouts of feeling low in the run up to your period, you can help yourself to feel better by cutting out some habits. Some are easier to quit than others, but all will help you feel better in the long run.
Mental health is a funny thing – it’s often caused by a variety of factors including whether you’re pre-dispositioned to any issues, which season it is and therefore the amount of sunlight you’re getting and, of course, in women, changing hormones through the month. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a bout of depression, it can feel like there is no end in sight.
My biggest tip is to take one day at a time and to celebrate the small wins, like cleaning a room, being on time for work or simply getting out of bed! It’s also the perfect time to practise self care and really put yourself first.
Some habits can actually send you down the rabbit hole further. In particular, ones which release dopamine, the quick reward hormone that can actually have you feeling much worse later on. Other bad habits really come down to your confidence and how you feel about yourself, and therefore how you let other people treat you.
But it’s time for change, right? That’s why you’re reading this!
10 Habits You Should Quit Immediately For Your Mental Health
- Bad Sleeping Habits
- Mobile Phone Addiction
- Not Exercising
- Drinking Alcohol When You Already Feel Down
- Poor Posture
- Keeping Toxic People In Your Life
- Comparing Yourself To Others
- Worrying What Other People Think Of You
- Holding Onto Clutter
- Never Spending Time Alone
1. Bad Sleeping Habits
Sleep and mental health are very closely connected, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Studies suggest that 65% – 90% of adults with depression also suffer with some sort of sleep disruption, such as insomnia.
Any interruption in the four stages of sleep will affect how you think and your emotional regulation. We all know that poor sleep will make us struggle to retain information and be bad -tempered the next day!
The good news is there are lots of habits to quit which will negatively affect how well you sleep. The first is to quit drinking caffeine late in the day! If you’re reading this a few months after I’ve posted it, there’s probably an article about why I quit caffeine. Trust me, it’s life changing. Not only is it easier to fall asleep at night, but it’s also easier to get up in the morning!
Another habit to quit for better sleep is eating late in the evening. Eating after 8pm may affect both sleep quality and the natural release of melatonin, the hormone which helps you sleep.
You should also quit napping for any longer than 30 minutes in the day. Power naps can be beneficial to some people but sleeping in the day can confuse your body clock.
My biggest tip is to reduce blue light as much as possible in the evening. That means leaving your phone in another room and reading a book rather than watching the TV. Blue light reduces our production of melatonin which makes the body feel tired.
If you really struggle to sleep without your phone, try downloading a blue light filter which you can actually have on all day, to varying degrees.
2. Mobile Phone Addiction
As a society, we spend lots of time on our mobile phones. As previously mentioned, not only does excessive mobile phone use in the evening affect sleep, but the constant stream of information is also bad for your mental health.
I’ve previously provided tips on how to reduce or quit social media, and a massive incentive to do that is because of links between overuse of social media and feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Social media releases dopamine into our systems when we use it, so it feels like we’re getting rewarded for using it. And when we stop, we feel that drop. Like any drug, you slowly become happier with your phone in your hand than without it.
But this issue of mobile phone addiction goes beyond social media, particularly during the pandemic. Coronavirus means we are checking the news more than ever, and because of the media, the stream of information never ends.
In order to get clicks, news outlets post sensationalist headlines which are curated to evoke emotion. This method of ‘disaster’ reporting can elevate stress, trigger anxiety and cause trouble sleeping.
It is, however, really easy to reduce your mobile phone use. By simply installing an app which tracks your usage, you can more actively put your phone down and pick up a book. Or you can use that phone to call someone you love while on a walk (my favourite Saturday morning activity!).
3. Not Exercising
Exercise, whether it’s light or heavy, releases endorphins into your body. Endorphins are a chemical which reduce your perception of pain, similar to the effects of morphine. This, in turn, will help you sleep, feel less stressed, increase your energy and can even improve your sex drive! Exercise is also proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
And it doesn’t even matter what your preferred way of exercising is: from going on a walk with a podcast to Stand-Up-Paddleboarding down the local canal or even following a YouTube yoga video indoors, it’s all sure to help you feel better.
4. Drinking Alcohol When You Already Feel Down
If you’re already feeling down, it can be tempting to turn to the bottle. While alcohol does numb feelings of depression and anxiety in the short term, alcohol is actually a depressant so you’re causing your mental health far more harm than good long-term.
Essentially, those gin and tonics are affecting your brain’s level of natural happiness chemicals like serotonin and dopamine which can lead to feelings of depression the next day. I tend to refer to this as the ‘Sunday Morning Blues’!
Additionally, the night of sleep you get after drinking isn’t going to be great. Booze impacts the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, so you’ll feel drowsy and have difficulty concentrating the next day.
5. Poor Posture
That’s right, your poor posture could be impacting your mental health. A recent study suggested that people who had good posture tend to have better self-esteem and more positive thoughts. There are, of course, questions over ‘cause and effect’, but the concept of a ‘power stance’ has been around for a while.
This is a concept that if you walk into a room with your head held high, you’re more likely to be perceived as a confident person and be treated as such. Additionally, there’s the concept of the ‘superhero’ stance, where you stand with your feet shoulder width apart and with your hands on your hips before a job interview, and it will give you the confidence boost you need!
6. Keeping Toxic People In Your Life
Trust me, I’m writing this section as much for me as for you! Keeping toxic people in your life is a habit to cut out right away. Is there someone in your life who saps all your energy and doesn’t put anything back into the relationship?
Whether it’s a bad friend or an awful boyfriend, remove these people from your life right away. Even if you think they need you, they really don’t – they’ll just find someone else to rely on when you’re gone.
These people are sapping your time and energy – they have no respect for you. But how do you know if they’re toxic? Usually, it’s someone who you want to help, but you always feel awful after you have seen or spoken to them.
Maybe you feel like they’re trying to change you, and maybe you feel like they don’t appreciate you for you who are. Cut these people right away – it will do wonders for your confidence and you’ll finally be able to concentrate on your journey.
7. Comparing Yourself To Others
I think for anyone born in the 80s and 90s, it’s really difficult to stop comparing yourself to other people. We have grown up in a culture where women are pitched against other women. This starts in the media (on TV and in magazines) and, before we know it, we see our Mums on a diet and the kids in school bitching about who is skinny and who has the best bag.
The good news is you can opt out of this.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that people don’t think about you half as much as they think about themselves. As soon as you stop comparing yourself to other people, you’ll be amazed how you start to glow. And that’s what attracts people to you and makes them believe that you’re a really cool person to be around.
Often, we compare ourselves to others without even realising. The best way to reduce this is just to be more aware of when you’re doing it, and you’ll feel this reduce more naturally.
8. Worrying What Other People Think Of You
Set yourself free of the judgement of other people, because they’re really not thinking about you. Whether you feel like you were sharp with someone at work, or you’re concerned that you don’t wear the most fashionable clothes, when it comes down to it, no one really cares.
By setting yourself free of being concerned with what other people think of you, you’ll feel more confident and comfortable within yourself. The first steps for me happened in lockdown: as someone who usually gets their legs waxed, I simply didn’t start shaving them. And do you know what… no one cared!
It was a great lesson in how people are entirely obsessed with themselves and really have nothing more than a passing concern about you.
9. Holding Onto Clutter
Clutter really can affect your brain and body. Researchers in 2009 found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol was higher in mothers who lived in a cluttered environment. That means that a constantly cluttered space can result in a constant fight-or-flight response, triggering immune, digestive and even heart issues.
Clutter can also impact quality of sleep if your bedroom is full of ‘stuff’, our relationships with others and even our relationship with food. A disorganised and messy environment leads to poor eating choices – people with extremely messy homes are 77% more likely to be overweight.
There are lots of ways you can reduce the clutter in your home. However, I find that doing a big ‘tidy up’ is exhausting over a weekend so I usually plan it around a staycation.
One of the best places to start reducing clutter is your wardrobe. You might own lots of clothes but find yourself only cycling through 10 pieces per season. So why not donate the ones you’re not wearing?
I also find that re-organising spaces helps them look less cluttered (even if you don’t get rid of anything!) and a slightly changed room can really give it a new lease of life!
10. Never Spending Time Alone
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s how to spend time alone and actually enjoy my own company. To begin with, it was super difficult – I spent hours with the radio on, afraid of being left alone with my thoughts. But I actually found that this made it more difficult for me to process my emotions.
In fact, lots of people find solitude necessary for relaxation, which isn’t easy if you have a family and lots of commitments. But studies have found that spending time alone allows you the chance to moderate your emotions, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
If you struggle to spend time alone, start by doing something that you really enjoy. For me, it was reading outdoors, but yours could be painting, walking or embroidery.