Modern society, particularly a modern society in the midst of a pandemic, can be an enemy for those who struggle with mental illness. Our lifestyles are often a direct reflection of the values held by our culture. And if our culture is image-obsessed, overworked, and driven toward instant gratification, it should come as no surprise that we have to actively work to maintain a healthy mind. Here are a few of the top habits that may be preventing this:
1. Eating Processed Foods
This is arguably the most impactful behavior on mental well-being. The food you consume will directly translate into how your body and mind will feel. So, if you are fueling your body with processed, chemically-rich and nutrient-devoid foods, you are really feeding your body synthetic elements that ultimately leave its cells completely starved. This means the cells cannot function properly, which leads to a host of serious issues, including the inability to properly regulate neurotransmitters within the brain. Hello anxiety, depression, and instable moods. On the contrary, nutrient powerhouses, such as kale and berries, contain numerous minerals and vitamins that have well-researched benefits on fighting depression and anxiety. The connection between nutrition and mental/physical disease is profound and its importance cannot be overlooked.
2. Comparing Yourself to Others on Social Media
Just Don’t. This is a lose-lose game that will never leave you feeling victorious. The first thing you must know about this game is that the rules are not aligned in your favor. Every piece of content you consume on social media has been carefully crafted to portray a certain message, influence you to engage in a certain behavior, or encourage you to buy a certain product/service. Furthermore, the manufactured images you are seeing are almost always the end result of some serious editing. A recent study found that 81% of social media users refuse to post a photo without “touching it up a bit.” So, what you are comparing yourself to isn’t even real. Should you choose to play this game regardless, there are only two possible outcomes:
- You are left feeling worse about yourself because some altered image has given you the subliminal message that you don’t measure up
- You are left feeling better about yourself because you have decided that someone else doesn’t quite measure up to you. And that’s just a cheap and cruel form of validation.
3. Sleeping at Random Times
Our bodies have a natural sleep-wake cycle and function best when we go to bed and wake up at the same time every night/day. Constantly changing the hours in which you sleep wreaks havoc on that natural cycle and negatively impacts our metabolism, which is how we regulate our energy and mood. Not to mention it puts us at higher risk for physical disease, as sleep is also linked to immune function. Telling yourself not to worry because you can always use the weekend to make up for all those sleep deprived weekdays? Don’t bother. Sleep researchers state that “weekend sleep recovery” does NOT effectively reverse the negative effects of lost sleep. In fact, those who engage in this type of extreme sleep pattern experience even more health disturbances during their weekend recoveries than they do during the weekdays. A consistent sleep schedule will synchronize your body’s internal clock and help it regulate both mental and physical processes.
4. Drinking or Smoking
The irony of substance use is rather cruel. Relief from negative emotions and stress is one of the top reasons people list for their smoking and drinking habits. However, both alcohol and nicotine have contradicting depressive and stimulant effects on the brain. While they can start as stimulants, they ultimately end as depressants for the central nervous system. Neither are ideal effects if you are already struggling with anxiety and depression.
5. Hanging Around Negative People
Optimism is contagious, but so is its less charming counterpart. In fact, researchers have found that negative emotions, such as sadness, fear, and pain, are more easily transmitted from one person to the next than positive emotions. While this once served as a biological tool for survival to forewarn you of potential danger, it now contributes greater to your demise. Pessimism is linked to greater risk of disease, shorter lifespan, and an overall unpleasant experience of the world. Choose your crew wisely.
Written by: Aubrey Koel, LPC