by Arielle Tschinkel, contributing writer for INSIDER
As our lives become increasingly busier and more hectic without even a mention of the Coronavirus, it’s no surprise that we end up feeling stressed out more often — the risk for burnout becomes real if you’re not paying close enough attention to your mental health and taking care of yourself as needed.
But even if you’re making your own well-being a priority, there are plenty of seemingly helpful habits that could be hurting your mental health, several of which are often touted as forms of self-care.
These “healthy” habits — from sleeping in on weekends to that harmless online shopping habit — might feel good in the moment, but they’re actually not great for you in the long run.
Here’s how to spot the difference, remembering that each person’s mental health journey is different, so being aware of what works best for you is ideal.
Working from home seems like a great way to minimize stress, but it could backfire.
These days, with technology at our fingertips in many different ways, working from home is easier than ever for people across different industries. And on the surface, it might seem like working remotely — whether permanently or because of Coronavirus crisis — would be great for your mental health. After all, you’re eliminating the stress of commuting, a boss who’s hovering over your shoulder, and face time with pesky coworkers who start drama, so why wouldn’t it be more relaxing and productive to work from home?
Many people fall into several traps when they work from home, which can impact their mental health over time. While it might seem cozy to grab your laptop and stay in bed all day, it can also be super easy to start neglecting your physical health and hygiene when you’re not leaving your house.
It’s also easy to become isolated when you’re not working in a traditional work setting, as clinical psychologist Ryan Hooper pointed out to Huffington Post, so even though it might seem like you’ll get more work done when you’re not being interrupted by your colleagues, you might start to feel withdrawn socially in time.
Lastly, any stress at home from piles of laundry or conflicts within your family suddenly exists at the forefront of your day when you’re not physically going to work. Creating a routine that involves regular exercise, meal breaks, and getting some fresh air, as well as setting boundaries for dealing with issues at home that may arise is the best way to make a remote schedule work for your overall health and wellness.
Those cosy couch sessions are doing you no favours.
The rise of streaming services and endless options for movie and TV marathons means that you almost never have to leave the house to enjoy quality relaxation time. But while it might seem like binge watching your show or movie of choice is a great way to decompress, it may not be the best daily habit.
In a 2015 study by the University of Toledo, the people who self-identified as binge-watchers also reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to those who were not binge-watchers. The reasons why could be myriad, but one psychologist told NBC News it may be caused by disconnecting from other people.
“We are wired to connect, and when we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will ‘starve to death’ emotionally,” psychologist Dr. Judy Rosenberg told NBC News. “Real relationships and the work of life is more difficult, but at the end of the day more enriching, growth producing and connecting.”
Plus, all that inactivity comes at a steep price for your mental and physical health. Research consistently shows that regular exercise can help improve depression, so if you’re spending all your free time glued to Netflix, you might be missing out on the many mental health benefits of exercise.
The occasional marathon TV session is fine — but if it’s your go-to way to relieve stress, you might want to change things up and find a more mindful way to unwind.
Sleeping in on weekends can make it harder to stick to a regular sleep schedule during the week.
When you’re not getting enough sleep, you might think it’s a good idea to “catch up” later on and sleep in on weekends, when you don’t have to worry about that dreaded morning alarm buzz or the rush of harried workday mornings.
But you really need to prioritize getting enough sleep on a consistent basis.
“There’s a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep. So people who are depressed or have anxiety often have trouble with sleep as part of those disorders,” Dr. Lawrence Epstein, Medical Director of Sleep Health Centres and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said, helping to explain the link between sleep and mood.
Consistently getting a good night’s sleep by sticking to a sleep schedule — which means getting up within the same hour during the week as on weekends — will help your physical and mental health in the long run.
Staying inside all the time can lead to a depressed mood.
Whether you’re working from home or staying cooped up inside on days off because you need a little rest and relaxation, you might be harming your mental health without even realizing it.
Not only can being in the sun (wearing sunscreen, of course) be good for your health, but walking for at least 12 minutes can reduce symptoms of depression and help us cope with stress, according to research from the University of Michigan.
Sure, it might feel better to stay comfy inside your house, but if your only time outside is spent walking to and from your car, you might be unknowingly harming your mood and well-being.
Those retail therapy sessions might make you feel poor in more ways than one.
If you’ve been having a rough time, you might think a little retail therapy will make you feel better … after all, we all deserve to treat ourselves to new things from time to time, right?
But if a trip to the shopping centre or late night hours spent online shopping is your go-to coping mechanism, you might be doing more harm than good. Aside from racking up debt and ending up with things you don’t really need or want, compulsive buying might feel good temporarily, but end up leaving you filled with guilt or anxiety over how to pay for your purchases or what to do with the new stuff you’ve bought.
As psychologist April Lane Benson told CNN, “The underlying rubric of the whole thing is to really get in touch with what it is you really need, and how to get that. It’s not that sixth pair of black boots.”
The occasional frivolous purchase is fine, but making it a daily habit won’t make you feel great.
Your nightly glass of wine might be doing more damage than you think.
Even though the buzz of a beer or a glass of wine might feel like a perfect way to relax, relying on alcohol to cope with stress can quickly lead to mental health issues down th e road.
Alcohol acts as a depressant, so while you might initially experience a boost in mood, as you build up a tolerance, you’ll require more and more booze to get those same mood-boosting benefits.
Plus, having some drinks to unwind in the evening might make you fall asleep faster, but will ultimately lead to waking up in the middle of the night and a less restful slumber.
And if you struggle with anxiety, you might find that drinking takes the edge off and helps you relax, but as Healthline reported, too much alcohol can throw off your serotonin levels and cause your anxiety to spike as the sedative effects wear off.
Depending on alcohol to get through situations or events that make you anxious might feel like instant relief, but it’s not a good way to cope with your anxiety or moods.
Giving in to comfort cravings won’t help matters, either.
There’s a biological reason why digging into a tub of ice cream or a box of biscuits after a rough day makes us feel instantly better — comfort food has its name for a reason, as the reward systems in our brains light up as soon as we eat foods we find pleasurable, triggering the release of dopamine, a feel-good hormone, into our systems.
Though it can make us feel better in the moment, turning to food to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, or boredom won’t solve any problems in the long run. And if you find yourself overeating mindlessly, you’ll end up potentially feeling sick or guilty about what you just ate.
Eating for reasons other than true hunger is a normal part of life, but if you find yourself frequently eating to soothe stress or feed your feelings, you might want to chat with a licensed therapist or professional who specializes in emotional eating. They’ll know the best techniques to help you find peace with food and eat intuitively and mindfully.
Constantly looking at your phone stops you from processing your thoughts and feelings.
With more of us being tethered to our devices at all times, it’s alarmingly common to see people with their heads buried in their phones or tablets everywhere we go. And while it might feel like a helpful way to pass time when you get a free minute, it may not be doing your mental health any favours.
Having all that instant entertainment at our fingertips never allows us to actually sit with our own thoughts, because we’re constantly engaging with our devices instead of our own brains. A 2014 study from the University of Virginia found that participants would rather administer themselves with electric shocks than be idle without looking at a screen, further proving the alarming fact that many of us need a constant distraction from our thoughts.
Taking a break from all devices — including phones, TV, tablets, computers, reading and gaming devices — as often as possible is so important for your overall wellness.
Texting your friends might give you the warm fuzzies, but it’s not a real connection.
We’re living in what experts call the “loneliness epidemic,” a hazardous byproduct of our frenetic lifestyles is reliance on social media and devices to connect with those around us. And even though you might not feel isolated, loneliness can affect your health — physically and mentally — in several serious ways.
If your primary mode of communicating with loved ones is through texting, you miss out on quality time with those people, and these feelings are often compounded when you think you’re missing out on social gatherings.
Making plans with loved ones as often as possible — and keeping them — is a much healthier way to stay connected.
Social media use can lead to feelings of inadequacy or loneliness.
Even if you’re not actively texting or posting to social media, endlessly scrolling through apps might feel good in the moment, but some studies suggest it could be harmful to your mental health. Social media has been linked to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and low self-esteem, especially in young adults.
That said, other research has reported our apps and screens aren’t what’s to blame, but our culture at large.
“People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met,” Michael Kearney, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and co author of a study on social media and well-being, said in a statement. “So if they’re not having their social needs met in their life outside of social media, it makes sense that looking at social media might make them feel even lonelier.”
In other words, if you’re already feeling lonely and look at social media, it could make you feel even lonelier.
Being a multitasking master can lead to burnout.
Multitasking might feel like the most effective way to get everything done, but juggling too many tasks at once will end up leaving you feeling fried and frazzled.
According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, our brains are “not wired to multitask well.” When we think we’re multitasking, our brains are really just switching from one thing to another rapidly, which can lead to a “cognitive cost,” according to Miller.
Retraining your brain to worry about one thing at a time will help not only with productivity, but could also improve your mood.
Outbursts of anger may lead to instant gratification, but it could make anxiety worse.
If you’ve ever found yourself angry at someone nearby, whether you’re driving and someone cuts you off or a person skips ahead of you on the coffee line, you might feel instantly relieved to have an outburst of anger.
But one 2012 study found that there’s a strong link between anger and anxiety, and that expressing anger in a non-therapeutic way could have negative consequences for people with anxiety disorders.
Instead of having a knee-jerk response, psychotherapist Jerilyn Ross told Everyday Health that it’s better to take deep breaths, keep a diary, and plan alternative ways to work through difficult situations ahead of time.
Trying to let things slide actually leads to bottled up emotions.
Of course, even though it’s not healthy to be in attack mode all the time, it’s equally unhealthy to keep your feelings bottled up inside. When you bury your feelings by distracting yourself with work, chores, or your devices, you’re never truly connecting with what’s bothering you, so there’s never a moment to get to the root of the issue.
Expressing emotions makes us all feel vulnerable at times, so it’s especially important to find someone that you trust to talk to. Whether it’s a friend, family member, counsellor, or therapist, having someone who you can open up to about things big and small will help you work things out and make healing — and living more peacefully — so much easier.