food

The 9 worst habits for your mental health.

Image via iStock.

We often associate the concept of ‘looking after yourself’ with our physical health. As such, we make an effort to eat a healthy, balanced diet (with room for the occasional cronut and pizza, of course) and squeeze exercise in where we can.

Looking after your mental health, however, is not quite as straightforward – though it’s certainly just as important.

It turns out that there are many daily habits and behaviours that can affect your wellbeing without you even realising it. Here are nine of them to keep in mind.

1. Not exercising enough.

Yes, it’s hard to get excited about a gym class when it’s so cosy in bed and you have two seasons of Mad Men to catch up on. However, getting active doesn’t only benefit you physically: it can also help you manage feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

According to the Black Dog Institute, exercise increases your energy levels, helps you sleep better and acts as a distraction from your worries; research also indicates people who exercise regularly experience fewer depression and anxiety symptoms.

Girls star Lena Dunham says exercise is vital to her mental health. Image via Instagram @lendunham

2. Bad posture.

Did your parents lecture you incessantly about standing up straight when you were a teenager? They were onto a good thing, because the way you hold your body can affect both your muscles and your mood.

A small study last year found bad posture was associated with feelings of social fear, hostility and nervousness, while good posture inspired higher self-esteem and fewer negative emotions. Another very good reason to not channel the Hunchback of Notre Dame at your desk, hmm?

3. Not drinking enough water.

Why is it that drinking eight glasses of water in the course of 24 hours seems impossible, but we’ll happily throw back that much wine on a big night? Water is crucial to physical and mental wellbeing. Even mild dehydration can cause your mood and energy levels to plummet (hello, 3pm slump) along with your alertness and ability to concentrate.

Low fluid intake might even trigger anxiety in some individuals, because many of its physical side effects — dizziness, elevated heartbeat — can be reminiscent of an anxiety attack. Moral of the story? Keep yourself hydrated.

"Moral of the story? Keep yourself hydrated." Image via iStock.
ADVERTISEMENT

4. Sitting for extended periods.

You’ve probably heard by now that in health terms, prolonged sitting is ‘the new smoking’ - which is unfortunate because the average Aussie is estimated to spend between 8-12 hours per day parked on their derriere.

According to a health review published earlier this year, a sedentary lifestyle could have negative mental health impacts, increasing an individual’s risk of developing anxiety. Previous research also indicates it can trigger symptoms of depression. So where possible, try to get up and away from your desk throughout the day – even a quick walk can help offset the effects of sitting.

5. Being in a toxic relationship.

While long-term committed relationships are known to have a positive effect on mental health, not all relationships are good for you. Conflict and hostility can contribute greatly to stress and anxious feelings, and research has found the quality of social relationships – and not just your romantic one – is a significant risk factor for depression.

Although the thought of a break-up is distressing, ending an unhealthy relationship will likely be better for you in the long run – researchers say single people have better mental health than those who remain in strained, tumultuous relationships.

"Although the thought of a break-up is distressing, ending an unhealthy relationship will likely be better for you in the long run." Image via iStock.
ADVERTISEMENT

6. Poor sleep.

Some people are lucky enough to hit the recommended minimum of seven hours’ sleep every single night. Unfairly, many of us don’t, and this has numerous knock-on effects.

It’s widely believed sleep deprivation has consequences for your wellbeing - according to the Sleep Health Foundation, sleep helps to foster mental and emotional resilience, and chronic sleep disruptions can contribute to negative thinking, depression and anxiety. Moreover, people who experience poor sleep have a higher likelihood of developing a mental illness like anxiety or depression.

7. Being surrounded by clutter.

Maintaining a flawlessly tidy environment at all times is just about impossible - that thing we call “life” tends to get in the way. However, living with clutter has been linked to constant, low-grade stress, and can mess with your sleep – which can potentially affect your mental state.

So perhaps it’s time to deal with the ‘floordrobe’ stealthily taking over your bedroom.

8. Lying

Yes, we all do it (show me anyone who says they never lie and I’ll show you… well, a liar), and a little white lie here and there is generally harmless. However, when you tell a lie, the stress of thinking up a story and the subsequent fear of being caught out creates stress and sends your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode - that’s how lie detectors catch people out.

So if you’re fibbing more often than you probably should, chances are your stress and anxiety levels are being affected. Is it worth it? Probably not.

9. Rumination

The human mind can be a very cruel thing. When life throws us a distressing curve ball, the mind loves to hone in on the resulting negative feelings and dwell on them. Obsessively. This behaviour is called rumination, and it’s associated with a heightened risk of depression, anxiety and similar conditions.

Sadly this isn’t a habit that’s easy to kick, but new research has found even the simple act of going for a walk in a natural setting like a park or bushland - rather than an urban environment - can decrease rumination.

How do you look after your mental health?

Here are some famous women who have experienced anxiety disorders.

00:00 / ???