While most people know that smoking is bad for your health and eating too much processed food can be detrimental, there are many other subtle bad habits that can also slowly sabotage your well-being.
Some of these habits can be hard to recognize, especially if they’re part of your normal routine. You may not notice any harmful effects right away, but over time they can take a serious toll on your relationships, physical health, and psychological wellness. See if you do any of these on a consistent basis.
Rehashing Stressful Events
Thinking about a stressful event from your past—whether it was five years ago or five minutes ago—isn’t good for your psychological well-being.
A 2017 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that ruminating (compulsively focusing on one’s distress as opposed to figuring out solutions) leads to increased depressive symptoms. The more people thought about a stressful event, the more likely they were to grow depressed. Researchers found that decreasing rumination helped alleviate a depressed mood.
Be aware of how much time you spend thinking about the stressful events in your life. Rather than rehashing things you can’t change, commit to putting your energy into more worthwhile causes such as planning for the future or enjoying the moment.
Venting to Your Friends
Along similar lines, you might think that calling a friend to complain about your bad day helps release pent-up negative emotions. But rather than releasing bad feelings, studies show venting is more likely to amplify your negative emotions.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found a link between co-rumination (the behavior in which a peer relationship focused on negatively oriented conversations) and depression. Children who tend to rehash their problems with peers were more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
Of course, venting isn’t just bad for kids. A 2008 study published in Hormones and Behavior found that talking about problems with friends increased stress hormone levels in women.
So while you may think that talking about your problems with friends reduces stress, rehashing your hardships may actually be increasing your negative emotions and keeping you stuck in a bad mood.
Whether you call yourself stupid every time you make a mistake or you point out every flaw you see when you pass a mirror, harsh self-criticism can be a lifelong habit.
Beating yourself up and putting yourself down is bad for your mental health. A 2014 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that harsh self-criticism increases depressive symptoms.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, has been linked to greater psychological health and resilience.
Changing the way you think could help you to feel better. It’s a tough habit to break, but with a concerted effort, you can learn to develop a kinder inner dialogue.
Mindlessly Scrolling Through Social Media
Whether you’re scrolling through Facebook or you enjoy browsing Pinterest, spending time on social media may be detrimental to your mental health.
Ironically, studies have found that social media—a platform that’s meant to bring people together—leads to feelings of isolation. The more time people spend on social media sites, the more isolated they perceived themselves to be. And social isolation is harmful for your mental and physical well-being.
Whether it’s a vacation photo or a picture of a new car, looking at other people’s social media posts may also cause you to conclude your life doesn’t measure up to your friends’ lives. And research shows envying your friends on social media can increase your risk of depression.
Additionally, studies show most people think social media will help them feel better—so they keep going back for more. In reality, researchers have found time spent on social media decreases people’s moods.
Instead of spending hours scrolling through social media, you’re better off investing your time and energy into in-person interactions. Have lunch with a friend, call someone on the phone, or schedule a dinner with your extended family. Real-life social interactions can greatly improve your well-being.
Staying Up Late
You might think pushing off bedtime for another 30 minutes will help you accomplish a few more tasks before bed. And maybe you think you’ll still get plenty of rest because you’ll sleep in a little later tomorrow.
But studies show that when you sleep might be almost as important as how much you sleep. Staying up late and sleeping later in the morning may increase the chances that you’ll make poor health decisions throughout the day.
Going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting up early may be hard to get used to at first if you’re a night owl. But you’ll adjust to your new schedule over time, and it could help you make healthier decisions for yourself throughout the day.
While an impulse purchase at the grocery store or late night online shopping may make you feel better for a moment, blowing your budget may have harmful effects in the long term. And the effects may expand beyond the confines of your bank account.
A 2013 study published in Clinical Psychology Review found a correlation between mental illness and financial problems. Researchers concluded the likelihood of having a mental health problem is three times higher among people who have debt.
There was even a higher link between suicide and debt. People who commit suicide are eight times more likely to be in debt.
Of course, a correlational study doesn’t prove causation. Does debt contribute to mental illness? Or does mental illness contribute to debt? No one knows for sure. But what is certain is that debt can lead to high levels of stress. And too much stress can be bad for your health.
So take control of your finances by creating a budget. Getting your finances in order—and spending within your limits—could have a positive impact on your overall life satisfaction.
While most people know that becoming a couch potato is bad for your body, research shows watching too much TV is also bad for your brain.
A 2016 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that high television viewing and low physical activity in early adulthood was associated with worse midlife executive function and processing speed in midlife.
Researchers found that people who averaged more than three hours of TV per day for 25 years performed poorly on cognitive tests compared to people who watched less TV.
Exchanging TV time for physical activity could be key to brain health. So rather than plopping on the couch after a hard day at the office, go for a walk or hit the gym. It’ll be good for your body as well as your brain.
Eating When You’re Not Hungry
There are many reasons you might reach for a snack or serve yourself a second portion when you’re not actually hungry. Emotional eating, nighttime eating, or overdoing it at social events are just a few reasons you might eat more than you need.
Consuming extra calories may cause you to become overweight. And excess weight increases the risk of a variety of health problems such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and strokes
- Sleep apnea
- Certain types of cancers
- Kidney disease
To maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to use food to fuel your body rather than to use it as a form of entertainment or stress reduction. Pay attention to times when eating doesn’t stem from biological hunger.
Try going for a walk, engaging in a leisure activity, or meditating as a way to cope with uncomfortable feelings or as a way to calm your body. Reducing your caloric intake could help you live a longer, healthier life.
Sitting Too Much
If you work in an office setting, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of time sitting. And sitting for prolonged periods can be harmful to your health.
Spending too much time in the office chair may also be bad for your mental health. Studies show people who sit too much are at a higher risk of depression.
Getting at least one hour of vigorous activity each day can help counter the effects of too much sitting. Try moving around for a few minutes every half hour to keep your body and mind in better shape.
Ignoring Skin Health
It’s highly important that you apply SPF daily, as wearing sunscreen even on cloudy days can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer (including melanoma) by 40 percent to 50 percent.
Also be sure to avoid tanning beds. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration labeled ultraviolet tanning devices as moderate to high risk, and their use is associated with a significantly increased risk of developing squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, and melanoma. As with many other studies, a study conducted at the University of Southern California between 2014 and 2015 found increased melanoma incidence with indoor tanning use.