3 Sneaky Habits That Can Secretly Sabotage Your Mental Health
Maintaining your mental health is not a one-and-done process, by any means. That's why physician Robin Berzin, M.D., founder of Parsley Health and author of State Change, says it's important to track those small, unconscious habits we do every single day, as these can snowball over time and affect mental well-being. "We do ourselves a disservice when we think about what we eat every day, how we move every day, and how we interact with technology every day as our lifestyle," she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "These things are not habits… These things are core to who we are and our defining actions for how we feel."
That said, pay attention to these three habits below—according to Berzin, they can secretly sabotage your mental health:
Technology use (especially at night).
We've discussed at length the issue of blue light exposure at night (according to Berzin, it does have the potential to sabotage our sleep, which has downstream effects for mental well-being). It's a valid topic of concern, but Berzin points us toward a slightly different avenue: "What we haven't talked about as much are the ways in which technology, and the information we're getting from it, is stimulating us and keeping us from reaching a deeper sleep," she says. "We don't take this seriously enough."
We have the world at our fingertips, information at the touch of a button, and that's wonderful and empowering—but it also has the potential to disrupt our mental and emotional well-being. "A lot of people are scrolling right up until bedtime, and it is the nature of the information we're looking at that can actually keep your brain [wired]," she adds.
For example, Berzin describes a woman she saw with a long history of just feeling off. She tried everything to get her mood back on track, until she finally came to Berzin at a crossroads. Berzin asked, "How much time were you spending on your phone, on social media, etc.?" Her answer? Around six hours a day, two of which were at bedtime. "Why don't we do a one-week digital detox, as a Hail Mary?” Berzin proposed. After that week, her feelings improved by 80%, and she was sleeping like a baby.
Lack of movement.
"We are designed as human beings to move emotions through movement," says Berzin. "The body is designed to do that, and when you don't move and just sit 11 hours a day on average, you store your emotions." And those "stuck" emotions can lead to both physical and mental consequences in your body.
Allow her to explain further: "When you have a thought, like I'm scared, or I'm upset, or I'm angry, you might not even register the words, but the brain has perceived a threat or something emotionally challenging or negative," she says. You have to "take the time to process those emotions, feel them, and experience them through movement," notes Berzin, or they'll affect other parts of your life.
That's why Berzin touts the importance of regular movement, whether you opt for a walk, run, yoga class, HIIT session—and plenty of research backs up the link between exercise and mental well-being1. "It doesn't really matter how you move. Just move," she says.
Berzin believes that alcohol can be a part of a balanced lifestyle (we would agree), but in terms of mental wellness, it's important to ask yourself: Are you having alcohol to feel better, or are you having alcohol to feel even better? "If alcohol is your method for dealing with life, that might indicate to you that you're using it in a problematic way," Berzin notes. "So that's always a gut check I invite people to have."
From there, she also recommends reflecting on how alcohol affects your sleep quality. Poor sleep, as we know, can affect your mental well-being in a major way2. And it's common to drink a glass of wine to wind down at the end of the day—but according to Berzin, this notion is quite contradictory. "That alcohol is making it impossible for your body to reach the lower resting heart rate and lower body temperature you need to achieve at night for deep sleep," she explains. "As a result, your sleep quality is much lower."
That said, she recommends drinking no more than three nights per week; and on days you do pour yourself a glass, try to drink earlier in the night if you can. "Ten p.m. is not the time to have that glass of wine. It's 6 p.m., so you have time to metabolize it," she says.
"There's a lack of realization of how [mental well-being] can really worsen by just low-grade alcohol use," she adds. If you aren't sure whether your drinking habits are affecting your emotional state, Berzin also suggests taking two weeks off for a personal experiment. For 14 days, no alcohol, and note how you feel," she says. "It gives you this objective way of seeing the impact of that change."
When searching for ways to support your mental well-being, make sure these habits aren't sabotaging your progress. They may sound simple, but their effects on your emotions can be pretty profound over time.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.