The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
It is estimated that only about 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health. There is emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved health outcomes.
While some causes of mental illness are out of your control, there are some common habits that can prevent you from reaching optimal mental health.
Here are 14 of them.
Being sedentary: By now, you probably know that sitting too much is bad for your overall health. It can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sitting for more than six hours a day might be just as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. And, a recent study found that greater sedentary behavior was linked to greater anxiety. Exercise helps alleviate stress and anxiety. You don’t have to go out and run marathons: even fitting in 10 minutes a day three to four times per week is a good start. Chances are, you will enjoy the benefits so much you’ll make it a regular part of your daily routine.
Staying in toxic relationships: According to research, long term, negative social interactions are linked to inflammation, which can develop into cardiovascular disease, cancer, and hypertension. Unhealthy relations with family, friends, and co-workers can also result in low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. If you think you’re wrapped up in toxic relations, seek help from a professional or talk to a supportive friend or family member.
Taking life too seriously: Breathe. It’s going to be okay. When you feel tension building, take a break. Watch a funny video, read a humorous story, or chat with a friend who makes you smile. Things happen, and while you don’t always have control over everything, you DO have control over how you handle issues when they arise.
Doubting your competence after a failure: Failure offers you lessons that can teach you how to manage challenges more effectively in the future. Unfortunately, our “automatic” response to failure is the belief that we set unattainable goals or that we are not good enough. Lowering your opinions of yourself and your expectations is not going to help you learn from past mistakes.
Not sleeping enough: Poor sleep habits can have a negative effect on self-control, which presents risks to your personal and professional lives, according to research. A recent study found that sleep-deprived individuals are at increased risk for succumbing to impulsive desires, inattentiveness, and questionable decision-making. If you don’t feel rested upon waking, are tired during the day, are unable to focus or concentrate, or are irritable, you may be sleep deprived. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night.
Not taking ME time: Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries to prevent burnout and stress. Set aside at least 30 minutes every day for YOURSELF. You can break that time into smaller increments if necessary. Put it on your schedule or calendar. During those breaks, don’t multitask. Sit outside and drink a cup of tea. Read. Go to a yoga class. Go for a walk in the park. Soak in the tub. Get a massage.
Too little human interaction in REAL life: While social media interactions have their value, they are not true conversations that allow you to fully understand people. According to Michael Mantell, PhD, a behavioral sciences coach based in San Diego:
Personal electronics (like smartphones) have also impacted attention, demands for immediate gratification, and expectations that the press of a button can lead to instantaneous connection. We have also learned to not have face-to-face connections, only virtual. This impacts our ability and interest in sitting in the same room with someone, and actually talk with people face-to-face.
Social media can also can lead you to compare your life to others and feel you are missing out or are not good enough.
Taking too many photos or videos: If you are always focused on taking pictures or videos of your activities and outings, you are likely not enjoying moments as they are happening.
Living with regret: Regret is a negative cognitive/emotional state that involves blaming yourself for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing you could undo a previous choice that you made. If there is an opportunity to change the situation, regret – while painful to experience – can sometimes be a helpful emotion, but don’t dwell on the past for too long. Rumination can trap you in a mental rut.
Trying to please everyone: People-pleasing behavior stems from wanting everybody to like you and overvaluing others’ opinions at the cost of your own time, energy, and self-esteem.
Procrastinating: While all of us procrastinate on occasion (who wouldn’t prefer surfing the internet to washing the dishes?), some of us take it to a level that is, well, destructive. Chronic procrastination can hold you back at school, at work, and at home. It can prevent you from fulfilling your potential, and from fully enjoying life. If you are prone to procrastination, this may help: The Real Reasons You Procrastinate and How to Stop
Perfectionism: Are you your own biggest critic? Is nothing you do ever good enough to meet your own standards? Perfectionism can result from a rigid mindset in which you don’t change your expectations based on the situation. It can lead to second-guessing, procrastinating, feeling constantly overwhelmed, or giving up and not trying. Practice being easier on yourself. You are human, after all.
Letting others get to you: Snarky relatives, bossy coworkers, online bullies…chances are, you have to interact with some of these kinds of people. Sure, you are stuck with some of them – after all, you can’t choose your relatives or your coworkers – but you can control how you react to them. Worrying about what others think of you only wastes your time and energy.
Letting YOU get to you: Harshly criticizing yourself can damage your self-esteem. Self-confidence makes you more “resistant” to refusal or failure. Are you too hard on yourself? Pay attention to your self-talk. Is the dialogue in your head positive, or negative? Do you put yourself down? Do you tell yourself you are stupid, clumsy, or incompetent? Would you talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself? It’s been said that we have approximately 16,000 thoughts a day and 75 percent of them are negative. What you think about, you bring about, so focus on the positive.