5 Daily Habits That Are Actually Hurting Your Mental Health

two men and a woman staring at phones while waiting on a train platform

If you’re anything like me, you have a routine set in place from the moment you wake up.

Open eyes.

Check the dog…yep, still breathing.

Roll over and check on my boyfriend — yup, he’s still breathing, too.

From there, I immediately grab my phone and open each social media app to see what breaking news I’ve missed over the last, oh, six hours, and then begin my day.

Some of my routines, the morning workout, might be beneficial, but the more I work on my mental health, the more I realize that some of my daily habits could potentially be harming my well-being. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and former business writer for the New York Times, writes that “Routines are the organizational analogue of habits,” and that starting new habits can be as difficult as breaking bad ones — but that harnessing the power of routine can have powerful effects on both productivity and our mental state.

Below, we’ll discuss a few of the most common habits, how they might be harming your mental health, and how to improve them.

Scrolling our Instagram Feed

Isn’t it crazy how scrolling across your Instagram feed is an autopilot response when you first wake up, when you’re commuting on public transit, killing a few moments during lunch, or just sitting at your desk? I catch myself doing this regularly during any lull in my day. While this may seem like a typical habit, it could be a contributing factor to your depression and brain fog. When you scroll through your insta-feed as often as I do, it can cause you to compare your life to the lives of others, your body to the next Insta-fit model, or your mellow Friday night to someone else’s night out on the town.

Social media depression is more common that many realize. It’s easy to feel down about your life when you are scrolling through everyone else’s highlight reel.

Complaining to Everyone (and Yourself)

It’s healthy to express yourself, even if you’re feeling frustrated or upset, but negative thought patterns can be destructive. The reason: negative thoughts breed more negative thoughts, which leads to a negative attitude and cynical outlook on life.

It’s important to be mindful of how often we’re complaining to others as well. While some commiseration is healthy, too much can lead to negative ruminations. Complaining can be a difficult habit to break, especially if your friends or co-workers thrive on lamenting to one another during a coffee break. It’s important to stop these negative thoughts as they happen to break the cycle. Practice gratitude, by thinking of the things that you’re thankful for (sounds cliche, I know), or jotting down positive mantras in your planner or journal.

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Weighing Yourself Every Morning

Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight is an excellent goal, but there is a fine line between monitoring your weight and becoming obsessed with the numbers on the scale. Weighing yourself daily often leads to obsessive thoughts about weight fluctuation. What seems like a normal part of your morning can, if engaged routinely without care, lead to obsessive thoughts about your body image and weight fluctuations.

I’ve struggled with this since I was a teenager, and have had to break the cycle with the help of my therapist and an accountability partner. Our weight can change daily based on food intake, water weight, hormone shifts, and even the time of day, so cut yourself some slack and ease off the scale!

Using Your Phone Before Bed

If your cell phone is the first thing in your hand when you wake up and the last thing in your hand before your head hits the pillow, you may find yourself battling restlessness and insomnia. This is because our phones stimulate our brains, keeping the mind active and alert for up to two hours from the last time you last used your cell phone.

Combat restlessness and overstimulation by stopping the use of your phone at least an hour before you fall asleep. Replace that time spent scrolling by reading a book (not on a tablet), coloring in an adult coloring book, meditating, or journaling.

Drinking Caffeine Before Your Commute

Does your high-traffic commute down the central expressway or public transportation trigger nervousness and anxiety? Your morning cup of joe may be the culprit. While caffeine increases alertness and focus, it can also stimulate anxiety symptoms such as heart palpitations, elevated temperature (ever feel like you’re getting a hot flash on the train?), uneasiness, and shortness of breath.

Commuter’s tip: hold off on the double espresso until you’re at your office and have navigated the morning rat race. Replace your usual commuters beverage with something calming, like an herbal tea or bottle of lemon water instead.

It can be difficult to break these small, yet impactful daily habits that may be impacting your mental health. The best way to recalibrate your daily routine is to maintain a state of mindfulness so that you can easily correct whatever habit you’re trying to break. By committing to a healthier routine — with fewer interruptions, distractions, and a little less stimulation — you’ll be giving yourself a more balanced, less chaotic lifestyle.