We all have regular habits in our lives that can lift us up or put us down.
Certain coping strategies, such as practising meditation or exercising to relieve stress, can help you navigate the world around you. But other coping strategies - like substance abuse and eating disorders - may be unhelpful, and these damaging behaviours can contribute to other health consequences or impact on your quality of life.
Reinforcing a situation by using a negative coping strategy can also lead a behaviour to become ingrained. For example, if somebody is depressed and they engage in meaningful steps such as therapy, healthy eating, good exercise habits, and keeping their environment clean and stable, they are more likely to achieve a fast recovery.
But by neglecting your body's needs, oversleeping or not sleeping enough, neglecting to exercise, or not washing or tidying your surroundings, you are likely to feel worse, and this can cause the cycle of low mood to repeat.
Overcoming ingrained coping mechanisms is a difficult process, but it can be done, one step at a time. Here’s a list of the 3 bad habits to quit for better mental health.
1. Substance Abuse
The truth is, most of us have some substance that we feel dependent on to get us through the day. Maybe you’ve never touched an illegal substance in your life, but you like a glass or two of wine every night. Or perhaps you don’t drink or do drugs, but you consume large amounts of coffee to keep you awake and alert at work.
All psychoactive substances affect the way your brain and body work. Alcohol, for example, can cause an initial euphoric 'buzz', created by the rush of dopamine to the brain.
But excessive alcohol use can cause depression, mood swings, a range of health conditions including heart and liver diseases, high blood pressure, stroke and cancers, and can also lead to an increased risk of injuries and violence. Alcohol abuse is also significantly linked to social problems and may increase the risk of issues such as domestic violence.
Meanwhile, caffeine is generally considered to be a 'harmless' drug, but drinking too much can increase feelings of stress and anxiety, and can even raise your blood pressure.
While moderation is always key, and not everybody will want to go completely teetotal, cutting down on your consumption of substances such as illicit drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and even sugar can help your mental health significantly.
2. Poor Sleeping Habits
Evidence shows a close link between mental health problems and sleeping habits.
According to The Sleep Health Foundation, 60-90% of patients with depression also struggle with insomnia, while Harvard Health found that 50-80% of patients in typical psychiatric practice suffer from chronic sleep problems - suggesting that sleep quality plays a significant role in mental health conditions.
Sleep is important for mental health for two reasons. Firstly, sleep is a regenerative process where your body repairs itself after the day has ended, helping to maintain your cognitive abilities, memory, and attention. Secondly, the R.E.M. stage of sleep helps your brain process what you have experienced each day, allowing you to manage new information, store it, and recall it at a later date.
Undersleeping can lead to symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, irritability, and depression. Oversleeping, however, has similar effects and can lead to increased lethargy and feelings of low mood.
For a good night’s sleep, you should be aiming for between 8-10 hours. If this is difficult due to work commitments - such as working night shifts - it’s important that you catch up on sleep time where possible.
If you are struggling with insomnia, speak to your doctor for advice. Home remedies may include improving sleep hygiene by limiting electronic use and lighting, reducing caffeine use, meditation, and herbal remedies such as chamomile or valerian teas.
3. Not Exercising
Exercise is a miracle cure for depression. In fact, according to JAMA Psychiatry, being active three times a week may reduce your risk of depression by 16%.
Doing a workout also helps you to stay mindful and in the moment, taking your mind off stressful situations and keeping you mentally and physically active.
If you're struggling from high stress and anxiety, opt for low-impact sports such as yoga or swimming. Low-impact sport helps to reduce levels of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. Doing at least 1 form of higher impact exercise weekly also helps to regulate your cortisol levels over time.
If you’re struggling with depression and low mood - there’s no rush to get active; you don’t have to run a half-marathon next week. But today, get out of bed and go for a walk around the block. You might find it helps.