Mental health tends to be one of the most intangible topics for people to consider and yet our life, our work, our relationships, etc, are all projected from how well we’re doing mentally. In the rush of busy days, many of us fall into the flow of our thought patterns without taking the time to step back and reorient how we’re really doing that day or where our mind turned that corner into a downward spiral of anxiety or negativity.
It’s understandable to roll with what’s coming naturally to us and a lot of us get caught in the same habits and thought traps that may have gotten us there without realizing it. And self-awareness is always the first step to practical change. That being said, here are 11 common habits that work against our mental health every day which we can pause and recognize to reclaim our minds toward overall wellness!
1. You’re starting the day from reaction instead of intention.
From the moment that we crack our eyes open, pick up our phones, and sift through our social media feeds to catch the latest status update or check our morning emails, we’ve already given our mind over to the hum of society and the demands of people. We’ve set ourselves up to let the rest of the world set the tone and thought priorities for our day. Even if we’re not engaging, we’re still mentally orienting ourselves around what we’re seeing. And if what we’re seeing is anxiety-provoking or negative, it’s already planted a seed in our emotions.
We can’t always predict how the day will go, but we can choose to create a moment of space and take back ownership of our mindset before we let the rush in. Think about what seeds you’re planting before the day begins.
2. You’re sleep deprived.
Sleep is our body’s most natural healing and recovery system. A full night of rest is designed to restore our minds and bodies to a more stable functioning, including our nerves and brainpower. On the other hand, sleep deprivation leaves us vulnerable to low and reactive moods because we don’t have the energy to fight unstable emotions under fatigue. In fact, some studies have shown sleep deprivation to have the same effects as being drunk!
If you’re having an off day, consider taking a nap if you can or committing to go to bed earlier and eliminating screen time an hour before bed. And if you’re having severe challenges with insomnia, reach out to your doctor because it is playing a significant role in your mental and physical health.
3. You’re enmeshing: automatically absorbing people’s thoughts and emotions.
Whether it be on social media, engaging with co-workers, or really anyone who’s pulled you into their mental space, you’re letting someone else’s thoughts and emotions take ownership of your own thoughts and emotions. This can really undermine our mental health when the other person is being overly negative, gossiping, or comes off very dominant about their opinions. There’s a difference between genuinely listening or empathizing and enmeshing.
First, recognize in each moment that you are a separate individual with your own thoughts, emotions and convictions, and allow yourself the space to process those. You can note that you hear what a person is saying, or that you find it interesting and you may even understand where they’re coming from but it doesn’t mean you automatically have to take on their mentality, particularly at risk of your own mental health. I wrote more about this on my recent post How to Practice Emotional Boundaries and Stay True to Yourself.
4. You get stuck in a rigid mindset.
You’re not allowing flexibility for the course of the day. I get it, it’s upsetting when you have the day planned out to go one way or a set list of things to accomplish but it just doesn’t seem to get completely done. But this rigidity and tight grip on control is actually controlling you. Because the moment something unpredicted pops up or you don’t finish something as plan, you trap yourself in a cycle of shame, anxiety and bitterness- not just with yourself but it begins to project to those around you.
I always encourage having a top 3- these are your biggest priorities for the day- that way you’re being responsible and reducing the major anxieties- and the rest of the things on your list are more flexible to move around in the day or week. Intentionally identify what those are, loosen your grip a bit and try to be more flexible with adapting to each moment as it comes.
5. Malnutrition: You’re lacking essential nutrients that fuel your brain and body.
Let’s face it, you’re hangry. But more importantly, we need to understand food as two things: fuel for our body and the chemical building blocks for our brain. On a basic level, food breaks down into glucose which is the source of stored energy that keeps our bodies going. On a mental health level, we have something called the enteric nervous system which is also known as the gut-brain connection where there is bi-directional communication from what we’re digesting creating the building blocks of nutrients and neurochemicals being relayed to our brain. In fact, many refer to the gut as the “second brain” for this reason.
That being said, having a lack of essential nutrient sources such as found in greens, proteins, and fatty fish (omega-3’s) or energy depletion because you haven’t been eating, can both be immediate (and resolvable) reasons you’re mood has been feeling off. I talk more about this in my post 5 Reasons What You Eat Can Help Improve Your Mental Health This Year.
6. You’re living in the future.
Instead of being wholeheartedly surrendered to the present, and the work and people in front of you, your knack for thinking 10 steps ahead is robbing you from present joys and small victories. By either trying to control the future or striving for your worth through your production, you’re missing the beauty of groundedness in simply being- being without being defined by results. Consider taking breaks in the day to pause and recenter yourself to what’s around you right now with the 24 hours that you already have.
7. You’re over-saturating yourself with bad news & media.
I get it, considering the events of todays world (pandemic, upcoming elections, social justice issues, etc), we want to stay informed. However, too much negative media has been shown to undermine our mental health. And when we are continuously checking into the status of these events, bombarded by hostile and divisive attitudes and opinions, or simply heavy topics multiple times throughout the day, it can slowly eat away at us.
We can still remain informed and maintain personal integrity around all of these issues within boundaries. Consider very practically what that looks like for you, maybe by giving yourself a time frame and time limit on when you view these things or muting/unfollowing accounts that are more instigating than useful.
8. You’re dehydrated.
Water is literally lubricant for your organs, including your brain. Friend, 75% of your brain is made up of water. And I don’t think many of us realize how dehydrated we are. This was an area I always neglected until a nutritionist friend of mine walked me through my habits and tested my hydration levels where I was found to be totally deficient. Now I keep a giant canister of room temperature water (better for digestion) by my bedside and wherever I go because I understand how dehydration can slow down brain functioning, cognition, attention and focus. I also drink water with pretty much all of my meals which is a seamless way to maintain my water intake. Consider what it may look like for you to stay hydrated throughout the day, such as keeping a refill bottle by your bed or on your desk!
9. You’re experiencing light deprivation. Yes it’s a thing.
Do you sit inside in the dark all day with the curtains drawn shut, glued to your screen like a vampire? Due to the development of modern-day technology and recent self-quarantining, much of our population works indoors today and is less likely to labor in the sun for hours. While I’m not complaining at all about it, it does mean that we’re missing out on the essential nutrients that sunlight helps synthesize on our bodies like Vitamin D, which plays a role in the production of serotonin- a neurochemical known for its regulating in our mood.
In fact, low levels of serotonin and a lack of vitamin D have been associated with depression and anxiety. This pattern shows up most strongly during Seasonal Depression in the winter season, which is believed to be brought about from staying indoors more and having longer darker or grey days. That being said, stretch out your body, take a step outside to get in a moderate walk outdoors and soak in some Vitamin D (don’t forget the sunscreen!).
10. You fall into the mental bias of Control Fallacy.
You tend to either believe that everything should be within your control or the contrary, that nothing is within your control. The issue with believing that everything should be within your control is that you put on the unnecessary burden of guilt and shame over circumstances that are out of your control. This is most evident if you struggle with perfectionism, which is an illusion. Literally pause and make a list of the things you have zero control over each day if you have to.
On the flip side, if you believe that nothing is in your control then you’ll more likely fall into a victim mentality where all you see it’s what’s wrong while holding yourself back from taking action in the areas that you can be proactive in, no matter how small. I talk more about all of this in my video How to Overcome Negative Thoughts!
11. You’re clinging to avoidance behaviors.
Whether it be confronting an individual, putting off a deadline or neglecting uncomfortable emotions, we often think by preserving ourselves from a pressing situation we’re momentarily relieving ourselves but it just ends up being the monkey on our back that weighs on us a little more each day until it manifests to a point that is even more out of our control. And I can be the queen of procrastination so I’m not here to judge.
Our approach will typically end up being internal or external depending on the situation. When it’s something that’s out of our control like health results or someone else’s choice, all we can do is internally deal with processing our emotions or change our perspective to something that is healthier and more adaptive for us to move forward.
When it’s something within our control then we can take some external action like setting aside time to finish the assignment, make a lifestyle change, or confront the individual or make the call or appointment to resolve an issue. So think about what steps you may need to take internal, external, or both to realistically address what’s been weighing on you instead of avoiding so that you can breathe a little easier my friend.
Do you tend to fall into any of these mental traps? Did any of these change your perspective about your habits? Trust me, I’ve been through all of these! Drop a comment and let’s chat!
PS. Don’t forget to grab your Free Downloadable 21 Day Mental Wellness Challenge! Every day we’re doing one thing that will benefit our mental wellness over the coming weeks! Click the photo below to grab yours!