A bad habit can be an easy thing to catch and a hard thing to kick.  A bad habit gone unchecked can have a negative effect on our well-being. Some of the most challenging bad habits we can create are the ones that negatively affect our mental health.  Being able to identify the effects of the ways we treat our bodies and our minds are key to kicking a bad habit and maintaining a healthy mental state. 

Here are a few common habits that can hurt our mental health. 

It’s Nothing Personal

As social beings, we tend to give a lot of weight to the comments and perceptions of others. The things other people say about us can feel incredibly hurtful, even if we have no real relationship with that person.  Most people don’t enjoy being disliked or disrespected by another human being. However, for our own mental wellbeing, it is important to consider that most everything that others say and do is coming from their own history of experience and is not a direct reflection of us as an individual.  Everything that others say and do is simply a projection of their own reality and usually has nothing to do with you 

Lacking Sleep

According to a study by the CDC, one in three Americans don’t get the seven hours of sleep recommended to have a healthy sleep schedule. No one functions well off little to no sleep and poor sleep makes it difficult to solve problems and make decisions. Lack of sleep can also cause us to become emotionally distressed and irritable, making it harder to regulate behaviors. 

Sleep is important, and sometimes special efforts need to be made in order to optimize sleep.  This might mean making the room as dark as possible by turning off all lights (even lights on electronic devices), wearing a sleep mask, and leaving the light off if you get up to use the bathroom.  It is also ideal to keep your phone out of bed and turn off the TV or other electronics before you fall asleep.  Limiting the amount of liquids drank in the 1-2 hours approaching bedtime, adopting a regular bedtime and bedtime routine, and using a sound machine are also tips that might help to optimize sleep. 

When you do have trouble falling or staying asleep, notice what’s on your mind.  Sleep is often disturbed by either thoughts of the past, or worries about the future.  See if you can shift your attention to your breath, counting each inhale and exhale in order to stay grounded in the present intention of sleep.

Not Allowing Negative Feelings to Exist

In order to fully experience what it is to be a human being, we need to be able to fully experience the whole range of emotions, not just the emotions we label as good.

The emotions that we tend to label as “bad” or “negative” emotions, such as sadness, anger, jealousy, or hurt, all exist for a reason.  They are there to tell us something.  Our emotions deserve our attention and need to be felt in order to be processed.  Avoiding the pain only feeds the pain.  

All emotions are valid.  There are plenty of situations in which a “bad” emotion is a normal response to the situation, and trying to gloss over those emotions invalidates our human experience.

Running Away from Discomfort

It’s easy for us to run away from something that is hard or uncomfortable.  We can see ourselves doing this in things such as skipping the part of the workout that is too hard, not having that challenging conversation, or leaving the store because you don’t want to wait in line.  The fact is, life is full of discomfort to varying degrees, and running away from discomfort does not teach us how to live in life.  Leaning into and experiencing the discomfort of everyday life can increase our patience and tolerance, as well as make the larger discomforts of life feel more manageable. 

Constantly Pursuing Happiness

Many of us live our lives striving for the one thing that will make us happy.  We often think, once I get that job, or that car, or that relationship, or whatever, that we will find happiness and everything will be great.  However, once we get that thing we are looking for, inevitably there will eventually be another thing that we believe we need to acquire for our happiness.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Instead we can try practicing appreciation for what we do have right now, in each present moment.  This does not mean that we can’t have goals, but simply that our happiness isn’t tied to whether or not we reach those goals.  Or in other words, our happiness is internal, and not based on short-lived, external circumstances.

Mindless Escapes to Avoid the Present

Engaging in mindless activities to escape the present moment, such as mindlessly watching TV, scrolling through our phones, or excessively drinking or shopping are all ways we can harm our mental health by distracting ourselves.  It is not that any of these activities are inherently bad, but instead that, if we are not paying attention, these things can become a crutch that we use to distract us from whatever emotion or issue in our life that might be asking for our attention.  The problem is, is that it’s too easy to use these things as mindless distraction, which makes us lose our connection to the present moment.  All we really have in life is the present moment – the past is done and the future is uncertain.  If we are constantly trying to distract ourselves from the present moment, then we are essentially missing out on our entire lives.


Laura Walton is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in Phoenix, Arizona. She specializes in working with grief and trauma from a mind-body perspective. She is the owner of the Phoenix Center for Grief and Trauma.