In our daily lives, it’s all too easy to miss automatic negative thought patterns and behavior that lead to a state of toxic mental health.
These can be habits that have built up over time or seem to be a part of our personalities, like simply believing you’re the type of person who’s always been lonely.
Alternately, these might be routines we develop after a difficult life event, such as avoiding friends and family after a breakup or job loss.
The first thing to remember and acknowledge is that life is not easy and suffering bouts of poor mental health such as issues like depression or anxiety, can be completely normal if they aren’t long-lasting.
What’s important, however, is how we identify and cope with toxic habits that can fuel unnecessary negativity, sadness and depression.
9 Ways to Break the Cycle of Toxic Mental Health Habits
1. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
Everyone has to walk their own path in life. Aside from the fact that no one really knows what’s going on behind-the-scenes in another person’s life, believing that someone else has it better than us will only serve to make us jealous and, worse, unhappy.
Solution: Instead of comparing ourselves to others, take a moment to consider that your own journey through life is unique and worthwhile. Live your life on your own terms and completely own it.
2. Distance Yourself From Negativity on Social Media
Pessimism is contagious. Indulging in negativity on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, according to findings published in Science Daily, are “strongly and consistently associated with higher depressive symptoms.”
There’s a saying that goes “good in, good out” and “bad in, bad out.” If we spend too much time consuming negativity, what we put out will be negativity.
Solution: When our focus is on things that bring joy, our output will lean toward more positivity and a happier outlook on life. Social media is full of positive and negative extremes. Seek out the positive ones and in a short time you’ll find your mental outlook will improve.
3. Whenever Possible, Don’t Procrastinate
The nagging sensation at the back of the brain about an important decision that needs to be made or an obligation to deal with causes tension, both mentally and physically. We all procrastinate from time to time, but when it becomes habitual, it seems like we give in and never get anything done.
Solution: It may seem trite, but writing down (not typing into the phone or computer) a list of what needs to be done and taking care of these responsibilities one at a time goes a long way toward maintaining a positive mental attitude.
4. Develop and Maintain Proper Sleep Habits
One of the biggest culprits of stress that can lead to poor mental and physical health is not getting enough restful sleep. It’s also extremely common.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. If we’re consistently exhausted from a lack of sleep, even the little things in life feel overwhelming.
Solution: Make a concerted effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Some people need more sleep than others and you’ll have to find your own sweet spot, although most sleep experts recommend at least 7 to 8 hours every night.
5. Feed Yourself With a Healthy Diet
It’s strange to think that not eating enough or not eating the right kinds of foods can affect our mental health, but eating fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some lean protein like fish or chicken, can decrease symptoms of depression.
A “bad” treat here or there is okay, but a habit of consuming processed or fast foods can diminish our energy, make us feel sluggish and lead to a poor outlook on life.
Solution: Keep a food journal and note everything you eat each day, including snacks and beverages. At the end of the week, review what you had each day and find places where you can make healthy food swaps.
Take it slow, and try to replace one or two bad items each day with a healthy alternative. Over time, your food preferences will change and so will your mood.
6. Get Regular Exercise and Don’t Spend Too Much Time on the Couch or in Bed
When we’re depressed, it can be extremely difficult to get out of bed or even off the couch. The more we stay put, the worse it gets.
One of the most effective methods for maintaining good mental health is regular exercise. Most experts suggest 30 minutes of vigorous exercise four to five times a week or an hour of moderate exercise every day.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to get busy or tired and skip going to the gym, but it’s never too late to start changing your exercise habits.
Solution: Instead of forcing yourself to exercise just for the sake of it, find something that’s easy and enjoyable like biking or hiking someplace new. Even walking at sunset can get the blood circulating and create feel-good endorphins and lift our spirits. After a few weeks of a regular exercise routine, most people find they begin to crave it.
7. Make Sure Not to Isolate Yourself For Too Long During Difficult Times
It’s true that being alone during a period of sadness or depression can feel better than trying to pretend you’re happy while others are around. But staying isolated from friends and family for too long and going in circles with our thoughts can skew our perspective on life.
Solution: Though it might be difficult, find an understanding family member or longtime friend that you can talk to about your problems or, simply, just spend time with. If neither of these is possible, seeing a counselor can also be incredibly helpful.
8. Avoid Substances Like Alcohol and Drugs
Again, what we put into our bodies is often directly related to our mental health status. Alcohol, illicit drugs and even some prescription drugs can cause substance induced mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
For some people, a moderate amount of alcohol might be okay, but everyone responds differently to many substances. Stay away from binge drinking, or even day drinking because it leads to drinking for longer periods of time.
Solution: Part of maintaining a healthy mental outlook is knowing what substances we need to avoid. If you’re taking a prescription medication that you believe is affecting your mental health, ask your physician if there is an alternative.
If you’re having bouts of anxiety or depression, stay away from alcohol and drugs altogether and in a short time you should notice an improvement in the way you feel, both mentally and physically.
9. Be Nice to Yourself
This, of course is easier said than done. Anyone can beat themselves up for mistakes, both past and present ones. They key here, though, is to remember you’re not the first person to make that mistake, whatever it is, and you won’t be the last.
Certainly, we need to learn from our mistakes, but take the opportunity to be nice to yourself in your thoughts. Always, build yourself up with grace and kindness because tearing yourself down will only cause more grief. Practicing self-care is a necessity and worthy of becoming a habit.