25 Secret Ways You're Hurting Your Mental Health Without Realizing It
These seemingly innocuous habits could be having a seriously detrimental effect on your mental health.
Between coronavirus spreading like wildfire, jobs being lost left and right, and the usual stresses of daily life, it's no surprise you may be feeling overwhelmed right about now. And while some of those problems may require a longer-term strategy to fix, there are numerous mental health mistakes you're making on a daily basis that you can remedy in no time.
With the help of mental health professionals, we've rounded up the best ways to nix those habits causing you harm and improve your mental health in a hurry. And for more easy tips for boosting your wellbeing, check out these 14 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day.
You don't get enough sleep.
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night lately, you're not alone. Unfortunately, skimping on sleep can have profoundly negative effects on your overall mental health.
"Sleep deprivation leads to difficulty concentrating, irritability, and getting more easily overwhelmed," says Patricia Celan, MD, a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University. Celan notes that for people with mental illness or those who might be vulnerable to mental health issues, "Sleep deprivation can even trigger a mental illness episode."
You fish for compliments with negative self-talk.
Sure, it may feel nice to receive a genuine compliment, but if you go out of your way to fish for them, you may be doing more harm than good.
"Making negative comments about yourself serves to cement those beliefs and reinforces brain pathways for negativity," explains Celan. Instead, she recommends expressing positive feelings about yourself, which can give you a much-needed self-confidence boost.
You bottle up your feelings.
While flying off the handle at every little thing won't serve you well in life, keeping those feelings bottled up can be severely detrimental to your mental health.
"If you are not actually able to let go, then you need to speak up," says Celan. "If you silently hold onto grievances then they cause inner turmoil and tension for you." Celan notes that by bottling your feelings up, they're likely to reveal themselves later and become a larger source of conflict than if you had expressed them honestly earlier on. And if you could use a mood boost, Doing This One Thing Every Day Will Make You Happier.
You worry too much about being nice.
Sure, being kind to others can have positive effects on both you and the recipient of your kindness. However, if you're spending an exorbitant amount of time worrying that you're not being nice enough, you could be harming your mental health.
"It's not mean to limit time with people we don't enjoy," explains licensed mental health counselor Dawn Friedman. "We are allowed to not like people and we don't owe them anything more than basic human respect."
You let failure sidetrack you.
Nobody likes feeling like they've done a bad job. That said, if you regularly ruminate on your failures without celebrating your successes, you could be causing yourself undue stress.
"Failure is an opportunity to learn what went wrong, why it went wrong and then course correct," says Friedman. "We cannot change without failure." And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
You think your feelings are facts.
Just because you feel like you're not smart enough, not attractive enough, or not successful enough doesn't mean those things are true—and telling yourself they are is a major mental health mistake you can't afford to keep making.
"We might feel like a loser, but that doesn't mean that we are one," says Friedman. Her recommendation? Try revamping the way you talk about your perceived shortcomings. "Say, 'Ok, so I felt pretty vulnerable so I'm just going to take a deep breath and remember that I tend to get down on myself,'" she suggests.
You're always hoping something better will come along.
Being ambitious can help you achieve your wildest dreams. However, if you constantly compare what you could have to your current lot in life, you could be harming your mental health.
So, how can you combat that dissatisfied feeling? Try practicing a little gratitude. "Being grateful allows you to see what you have. It takes your mind off chasing the next thing and wanting more and allows you to heighten inner confidence as you see all you have already worked for and achieved," suggests therapist Jaime Kulaga, PhD, author of The Superwoman's Guide to Super Fulfillment: Step-by-Step Strategies to Create Work-Life Balance. And if you're feeling overwhelmed, check out these 5 Ways to Manage Stress From "Pandemic Panic," According to a Doctor.
You maintain toxic relationships.
Some people just aren't good friends or partners—and the sooner you can limit the amount of time and energy you spend on them, the happier you'll be.
"If you want to stop hurting your mental health, do not let the toxic person rent space within you. They will make you feel negative and increase self-doubt," says Kulaga. Instead, she recommends either cutting out friendships and romantic relationships that drain you or setting boundaries within those relationships and sticking to them.
You miss out on chances to be mindful.
You've got your phone in your hand, the TV on in the background, and your computer on your lap, but you're probably missing what's going on right in front of you—and in the long run, that can be harmful to your mental health.
If you're eager to improve your mental wellbeing, "Bring your mind to the present moment and focus on your breath. Take a moment to center and be still," suggests Kulaga.
You don't take mental down time.
Your busy schedule may make it hard to take adequate "me time," whether that means watching a movie or going for a jog, but in failing to do so, you're making things harder for yourself.
"In reality, these activities are critically important in protecting against burnout and symptoms of depression," explains licensed clinical psychologist Benson Munyan, PhD. And if you could use a mental health reset, check out these 30 Science-Backed Ways to Relax When You're Totally Stressed Out.
You always say "yes."
While having a positive outlook on life may be beneficial in general, saying yes to everything and everyone isn't actually a good thing.
"Building up the habit of saying yes to others and no to ourselves can result in feeling taken advantage of, feelings of resentment, or compassion fatigue," explains therapist Aisha R. Shabazz, LCSW, who notes that saying yes too frequently may even trigger less-than-desirable behaviors to avoid conflict, like avoidance or lying.
You're too hard on yourself
Being self-critical rather than self-accepting is one of the easiest ways to put a strain on your mental health. To avoid this self-inflicted stress, try to "accept who you are by embracing that 'I am doing the best I can given all the circumstances," says Steven Sultanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University." The easier you are on yourself, the less susceptible you will be to the physical and emotional symptoms of depression and anxiety.
You're constantly trying to be productive.
Dr. Anna Yam, PhD, a clinical psychologist in San Diego, California, says that because we're so focused on always doing something "productive," we don't allow ourselves the time to just think—and this can hurt our mental health in the long run.
"Our brains need time to process all the various inputs we get throughout the day," she explains. "Without this time, we feel 'put upon' and ultimately anxious and irritable."
You start and end your day on your phone.
Your phone may be practically an appendage at this point, but it's important to put down your phone for the sake of your mental well-being, especially as you begin and end your day.
"Often our phone is the first thing we grab in the morning and last thing we see before bed," explains Kelly Bos, MSW, a psychotherapist based in Canada. "Whether it's a never-ending barrage of things to address and follow up on [via] email or the simple temptation to distract, none of this is helpful for mental well-being," Her suggestion? Keep technology out of the bedroom entirely.
You don't take mental health days.
If you feel too guilty to take mental health days when you need them, you're doing yourself a disservice. According to Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, California, "it's important, especially during a period of intense stress, to take a day off from work that we spend nurturing ourselves with massages, walks in the park, or anything else that makes us feel good and relaxed." It's hard to function properly when you're stressed, and so taking a mental health day every now and again could actually make you more productive and less anxious.
You overbook yourself.
Staying busy is one thing, but keeping yourself so overbooked you don't have a moment to breathe can be seriously damaging to your mental health. 'Functioning like this can lead to burnout and signs of anxiety and depression," says Yael Katzman, LMFT, a California-based psychotherapist. If the mere thought of your schedule makes you overwhelmed, it might be time to slow things down.
You say you're fine when you're not
When someone asks "How are you?" many of us instinctively reply that we're fine. But responding in this habitual, superficial way can limit daily opportunities for genuine connection.
"If you have developed a level of emotional trust with someone, try taking the extra time to identify what you're actually feeling and respond in an authentic way," says Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, assistant clinical director of The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia. "One small act of self-disclosure could be the impetus for a much deeper, more meaningful interaction."
You compare yourself to others.
Once you realize that perfection is unattainable, it will be easier to grasp that the people around you aren't perfect either—so there's no need to measure yourself against anyone else. Karen R. Koenig, MEd, a psychotherapist in Sarasota, Florida, says that when we compare ourselves to others rather than focusing on our own talent, skill, and potential, we usually end up feeling badly about ourselves.
"It's better to consider what our capabilities are—an internal focus—than to constantly measure ourselves against others—an external focus," she advises. "For example, rather than looking at how friends are doing in their careers, consider what you could do to improve your chances of a better work life."
You dwell on the past.
Dwelling on past mistakes is another self-defeating exercise that only serves a negative mindset.
"Rather than blaming ourselves for past mistakes, it's best to remind ourselves that we did the best we could at the time, given who we were and what we knew then," says Arlene B. Englander, a psychotherapist and author of Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food. "Focus on the take-away lesson, noting what [you] can learn from the past experience to do better next time."
You don't keep a budget.
Derek Mihalcin, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Oakwood Counseling Center in Warren, Ohio, cautions that "not living on a budget and spending more than you make is a recipe for disaster." Money-related stress is one of the most common things Mihalcin hears about, both in his practice and in life.
"We have the ability to reduce or eliminate financial stress, but sadly, most people don't do anything and live with the worry it creates every day," he says. "We spend too much time trying to justify our actions instead of changing our habits." To improve your mental health, Mihalcin recommends cutting unnecessary costs and using the extra money to create an emergency fund so you don't have to build up credit card debt.
You always strive for perfection.
Perfectionism can lead to anxiety and unhealthy, obsessive work habits, according to Samantha Smalls, a social worker and therapist at New Chapter Counseling Services in Bloomfield, Connecticut. She says being a perfectionist "adds irrational expectations to yourself."
"When a perfectionist makes a mistake, it can cause anxiety, depression, and the development of negative self-talk," she says. Remind yourself that you're human and, like everyone else, are bound to mess up sometimes.
You don't set goals.
These days, it's all too easy to become distracted by constant news updates and social media feeds. As a result, many people struggle to see the big picture: either they don't set important goals for themselves or they neglect the goals they have set. This can lead to poor mental health down the road, including "a feeling of life 'passing [you] by,'" says Forrest Talley, PhD, a California-based clinical psychologist.
"A set of priorities linked with goals that one is constantly progressing toward driven by discipline is the cure," he says. "People that do this are happier and mentally healthier."
You spend too much time alone.
Most of us enjoy some alone time every now and then, and flying solo can indeed be beneficial for both physical and mental well-being. But even if you're an introvert, you should be interacting with other individuals on a daily basis to avoid feeling too isolated.
"Staying inside your house all the time can lead to feelings of depression and loneliness," says Bryan Bruno, MD, medical director at Mid City TMS. His recommendation? "[Make] time to go for a walk or to socialize with friends and family," even if you have to do it at a distance right now.
You don't have a daily routine.
Spontaneity can be fun, but keeping a regular routine is better for your mental health in the long run.
"Establishing regular routines, especially at the bookends of our days (mornings and nights) not only helps to get more accomplished, it provides a predictability that does wonders for our mental health, as well as our physical and emotional health," explains therapist and wellness coach Onnie Michalsky, LCPC, NCC, founder of Michalsky Counseling and Health Coaching.
You use shame as a motivator.
While you may feel like putting pressure on yourself is a good way to spark change, shaming yourself for your perceived shortcomings is anything but.
"We would rather find things that are wrong with ourselves that we can work on fixing that will then allow us to get the results we want, rather than accept there are some situations we have no control over," explains life coach Sara Russell. Instead, try accepting that some things are simply out of your control and move on rather than beating yourself up over them. And if you're struggling, make sure to check out these 17 Mental Health Tips for Quarantine From Therapists.