6 Everyday Things That Chip Away at Mental Health

Mental health issues are all over the news.
So many people are suffering. But what if you aren’t?

What if you can’t think of anything you’d want to talk about with a “qualified professional”?

It’s great that you’re doing so well! 

However, there’s always room for improvement. Because we all have our stuff, right? It’s part of being human. Read on to see if you can relate to any of these everyday issues.

  1. Hurry sickness

“How are you?” asks a cousin that I haven’t seen in a couple of years. 

“Keeping busy,” I answer. We both smile. 

“Me, too,” my cousin replies. 

Telling someone that you’re keeping busy is both comfortable for you and affirming for them. In our culture, it means, “I have a life.” I have importance, I’m accomplishing stuff, and I’m proud of it. 

Keeping busy has a cousin too. Meet hurry. Another close relation is multitasking. They’re a lot alike, being family and all. They all like to get it done. Now.

Experts like to say that “hurry sickness” belongs to type A personalities. Still, I know plenty of folks—including myself—who are plagued by feeling like they can’t achieve “enough,” no matter their temperament. 

John Mark Comer, author of the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, writes, “Why am I in such a rush to become somebody I don’t even like?” The problem, writes Comer, isn’t when you have a lot to do: it’s when you have too much to do, and the only way to keep the quota up is to hurry. He points out that, as a result, most of us live with low-grade fatigue, depression, stress, and a feeling of chronic burnout that rarely goes away.

If you’re always in a rush, feel irritable or angry when you face the slightest delay, or live on a mission to do more, more, more, then you may be tearing down your mental health on the daily. A 15-year study—published in 2003—on more than 3,000 young adults found that “TUI” (time urgency/impatience), and the accompanying hostility, increased their risk for hypertension. The study result means your heart (literally) doesn’t like a hurried pace.

Wellness Steps

Experts recommend these valuable strategies to help interrupt the pressure to hurry:

Take breaks and go for walks. 

Retrain yourself to do things intentionally and mindfully.

Read helpful books, talk to a therapist or trusted friend, and ask for help with essential tasks.

2. Binge Watching

Is Netflix your fix? Binge-watching, defined as watching two or more TV episodes in one sitting, contributes to depression. 

It’s true, even though it seems like so much fun. 

Nielsen reported a staggering increase—almost 75 percent—in the amount of time people streamed videos in 2020 compared to the previous year. In addition, psychiatrist Danesh A. Alam, MD, reported in an article for Northwestern Medicine’s Healthbeat that people experience a dopamine high from binge-watching, which establishes “actual neural patterns and habits that are hard to break or change.” 

Researchers who studied 423 young adults ages 18–25 found that 80 percent of the participants were binge-watchers, and one in three struggled with poor sleep. Another study says binge-watching may increase feelings of loneliness and depression. Statistically, excessive television is linked to obesity and increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Slumping in front of the tube can also lead to back problems and poor breathing.

Wellness Steps

Watch less TV, and, when you do, watch it earlier in the evening. Too much TV before bed is stimulating. 

Have a goal for the length of time you spend watching, and have an “end plan.” For example, decide you’ll watch only two shows, and then you’ll end the session by leaving the house to walk the dog as soon as the second show is over.

If you watch TV, try to watch (a reasonable amount) with someone else. A study done in the U.K. showed that 90 percent of those surveyed were watching shows alone. 

3. Slouching

If you were told to “stand up straight” when you were younger, chances are your parents were only thinking of your posture, not your mental health. But what happened to people who were depressed, under stressful situations, when they straightened up their posture? They felt better, according to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. The group who focused on sitting upright to answer questions ended up talking more freely, and they also spoke with more awareness about other people instead of being self-absorbed. Some used fewer “sadness words.” It was a small study, but the conclusion seems straightforward: We embody our emotions. Thus, we can improve our feelings by improving what we’re doing with our bodies.

Wellness Steps

Practice having better posture. 

Posture in motion is even better, so try going for an uplifting walk in nature. Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of this simple activity.

4. Negative Assumptions

Sometimes you just know what other people are thinking, am I right?

Like when a friend hasn’t answered recent texts, you may think, I’ve texted her three times, and no response. Whenever she’s dating someone, she ignores her friends. So, she must have a new boyfriend!

When we feel left out, our past experiences with others informs our judgment, and we imagine what has happened and think our assumptions must obviously be correct. (You know this kind of thinking: My husband’s family doesn’t like me. That’s why I wasn’t invited to his grandma’s luncheon.)

The day-to-day negative assumptions we make about people can affect our well-being, says neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, PhD, author of Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress, and Toxic Thinking. She explains that our thoughts may begin with innocent curiosity. Some of our conclusions might even be correct. And often, we don’t even realize what train of thought we’re riding.

 Ruminating about relationships and why people act the way they do creates toxic thought patterns, Leaf says. The bottom line, Leaf said in a recent podcast, is that you are not an expert on anyone else’s thoughts, emotions, or reactions. So, she cautions against allowing your thoughts to go down endless “mental rabbit holes” when evaluating other people’s suspected motives and behavior. Inevitably, we tend to forget how we came to the wrong conclusions in the past. 

Leaf says that as we toxically shift through various scenarios about other people’s actions, our own “thinking, feeling, and choosing” spins out of control. As a result, we give up our wisdom and make bad choices—like complaining to other people about the person. Before we know it, Leaf says, we’ve become more negative in our thinking, which can lead to bitterness. And it all began because of our speculation.

Wellness Steps

Leaf outlines a five-step process in her new book for a healthier thought life: 

1. Gather awareness. Pay attention to the direction of your thoughts and emotions, and recognize how your thoughts have started to “build up” regarding a situation. 

2. Reflect on what has happened. Using the example of being left out of a luncheon, here’s an example of a reflection: To be fair, Grandma has only failed to invite me over once, and that’s when her grandson and I weren’t married yet.  

3. Write down your observations. (e.g., Wow, I see how this has made me upset for an hour. I need to let this go!)  

4. Get clarity by seeing things on paper and reconceptualizing the situation. Reconceptualizing may look like this: I need to give Grandma grace. Now that I think about it, I’m proud of her. She’s 92 and still invites people over for lunch! 

5. Make an “active reach.” In this case, an active reach might be calling Grandma to see how her luncheon went. (You’ll learn the lunch was only for her book club, and you’ll end up laughing about her leaving the veggies in the microwave.)

5. Social Media and Smart Phones

You knew social media would be on the list of daily downers, and you were right.

The Washington Post reports that these days the average person spends 2.5 hours a day on social media. However, many people—when speaking about how their social media use measures up to their personal standards—say they think they spend too much time on social media. 

A news source in the U.K. reported that in a survey of 1,500 young adults, 40 percent of them felt lonely and “ugly, inadequate, and jealous” when they overused social media. 

Most of us have heard (or read on our Facebook feed, of course) that social media can increase your risk of anxiety and depression. But what is also a detriment to many people’s mental health is simply using a smartphone. Checking certain websites, scanning for texts, and using your favorite apps may be evidence of compulsive behavior and fear of missing out (FOMO). If your phone notifications include negative news alerts or angry comments between your family members, it can increase anxiety, stress, and even depression.

Wellness Steps

Use reminders and rewards to limit your screen time.

In the Washington Post study, the 2,000 participants agreed to install an app to measure their smartphone screen time. One group allowed people to set the amount of time they would spend on social media (after the allotted time expired, the app would force quit social media). Almost 90 percent of people in this group respected the screen time limit function and reduced their social media use by 17 percent over 12 weeks. Some participants received cash to reduce their screen time ($2.50 an hour), which caused almost 40 percent of them to reduce their time on social media. 

The improvements that came with payment and better awareness (via the app) prove we can back away from our phones when we have incentive or intention. Some social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, have screen time reminders, as do iPhones, to help you experience the same weaning success as those in the study.

6. Unhealthy Loss of Self

Few people want to come off self-absorbed and arrogant. But if we go to the other extreme and cross the line from modesty to excessive belittling and negative words about ourselves, it may signal that we have codependent tendencies. 

It’s a big topic, but codependency includes being a “people pleaser.” It’s living with noble intentions to put others first, even if that means feeling lonely in relationships, enabling others’ bad behavior, spying on people you care about, desperately needing to be needed, or giving advice, help, or money when it’s not appropriate. 

Wellness Steps

Losing your own identity because you pour so much into your children, friends, or partner doesn’t help them be healthy, and it certainly doesn’t serve your needs. Instead, experts indicate that you should learn to create boundaries. 

Carve out some distance between yourself and others. Practice stepping away from always being needed.  

Learn to value and be kind to yourself. 

Michele Deppe is a freelance writer based in South Carolina.

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