Having bad habits is simply a part of being human, whether we like to admit it or not. We’re all guilty of doing things that are counterproductive or a waste of time—and frankly, that’s OK. There’s a difference, however, between bad habits and destructive ones, which can take a major toll on our mental health. On the flip side, having good habits can work wonders to keep anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns at bay. It’s important to recognize some of the most dangerous habits to have in your life, as well as the most positive rituals that can have a profoundly positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Fostering habits is important, but learning to distinguish between ones that are toxic and productive is key.

The 10 worst habits for mental health

  1. Perfectionism: Aiming high—in both our professional or personal lives—is important, but it can certainly go overboard. The pursuit of perfectionism is fruitless, as perfect simply does not exist. Failure is a fact of life, and it’s how humans build resilience and learn from their mistakes. Let go of your perfectionist mindset, and instead focus on setting realistic and attainable goals.
  2. Inactivity: There is a positive correlation between physical activity and mental health, and conversely, a lack of exercise can be harmful to one’s mental wellbeing. A couch potato lifestyle is not conducive to an optimistic outlook on life, and it can also be detrimental to one’s physical health. Sitting still for hours on end and consuming mindless content is bad for both the mind and body, and can detract from other, more meaningful aspects of life—such as social interactions, professional pursuits, and physical activity.
  3. Posture: Believe it or not, posture plays a big role in our mental health. Studies have shown that sitting upright can actually improve symptoms associated with anxiety, depression and stress. If you’re walking around or sitting at your desk, slouching is a bad habit that can negatively impact your mood, mental state, and physical condition.
  4. Poor diet: The old adage “we are what we eat,” has some truth to it, especially when it comes to mental health. Consuming processed junk food filled with high quantities of sugar and fat can exacerbate mental health challenges and spur symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  5. Device dependency: Whether it’s your cellphone, tablet, computer or television, being dependent on devices is problematic for a number of reasons. All of us rely on technology to function personally and professionally, but when the attachment becomes constant, it’s an issue. Not to mention, frequently refreshing social media is a very bad habit for mental health, especially since many social networks have been associated with higher rates of mental health issues in users. Living in the present moment as much as possible—and avoiding comparing yourself with people on the internet— is paramount to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
  6. Sleep deprivation: While the quality of our sleep is not always in our control, it’s important to get a solid seven to eight hours of rest every night—or at least as often as possible. A perpetual lack of sleep can have a major impact on mood, energy levels, motivation, overall happiness, and mental health. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule (with the same bedtime and wake-up time) is important.
  7. Procrastination: We all have a tendency to avoid tasks from time to time, especially when they are daunting, but excessive procrastination is a bad habit—and it’s hard to break. Chronic procrastination will not only have a dire impact on productivity and professional advancement, but it can also have negative effects on mental and physical health.
  8. Always indoors: Spending time outside and inhaling fresh air is one of the greatest salves for mental health concerns. Spending excessive amounts of time inside can be detrimental, as a lack of exposure to sunshine can spur a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause symptoms of depression.
  9. Fostering toxic relationships: Whether you’re a perpetual people pleaser or maintaining a relationship (be it platonic or romantic) that you know is not serving you well, having people in your life who don’t bring out the best in you is problematic for a plethora of reasons. Negative relationships can exacerbate anxiety and stress, and can greatly contribute to feelings of despair and mental anguish. Rid yourself of toxic relationships, and undo the habit of putting others before yourself.
  10. Avoiding help: Many people who suffer from mental health issues are hesitant to ask for help, or they avoid it altogether. Listening to your body and mind, and knowing if and when you need support, is essential. People have a tendency to get caught up in the lives of others, and they fail to see that they themselves are in need of help. Putting yourself first will make a huge difference to your overall well being.

10 best habits for mental health

  1. Be kind to yourself: No one is perfect. Set attainable goals for yourself, and celebrate the milestones as they come. Be kind to yourself if you miss the mark once in a while, and chalk it up to a learning experience. Be grateful for the highs and lows, as together, they shape you into the person you are.
  2. Move your body: Exercising every day—even for half an hour—is an amazing habit that comes with endless benefits for your physical and mental health. Taking a daily stroll or doing a yoga class can calm and center your mind, and help you practice gratitude.
  3. Sit up straight: As aforementioned, posture can have a big impact on mental health. If you’re working at a desk all day, write a sticky note and place it on your computer screen, reminding yourself to stay slouch-free.
  4. Eat well: Fuelling your body with nutrient-rich foods will give you the energy you need to get through the day with ease. Consuming whole foods filled with protein and healthy fats will make you feel full for longer, and you will be less inclined to reach for processed items.
  5. Put down the phone: Keep track of your device dependency, and know when it’s time to power down technology. Set feasible boundaries for yourself, such as leaving your phone outside the bedroom at night, or not checking emails until after you’ve done a morning routine. These boundaries can make a big difference.
  6. Sleep more: Giving your body and mind adequate time to rest is an important habit to hone. It’s not always easy to maximize sleep, but making rest and relaxation part of your daily routine is a must.
  7. Set priorities: Make a daily to-do list, and do your best to follow it. It’s OK to get off track, but do your best to focus on the task at hand. Completing the list is both rewarding and fulfilling, and will allow you to properly unwind at the end of a long day. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small.
  8. Get outside: Fresh air is fundamental to keeping a clear mind. Getting outside each day, even for a short period of time, is hugely important, particularly in the winter months when seasonal depression sets in for many people.
  9. Foster healthy relationships: Surround yourself with people who lift you up. While we can’t always control who we encounter each day, we can control who we keep close to us. Think about which relationships bolster your life, and which detract from it. Ensure you aren’t giving energy to those who don’t give you energy in return.
  10. Check-in with yourself: Checking in with yourself and recognizing when it’s time to ask for help is arguably the healthiest habit you can create for yourself. Whether it’s through journaling or meditation, being in tune with your inner thoughts will make a big difference to your quality of life. If you’re unsure where to start, take the YMI survey, which uses artificial intelligence and data science to develop a clear picture of your mental state. It will help you determine where you stand, and what support might be useful to you as you move forward.

The nice thing about habits is that you can break them and make them whenever you’re ready to. Part of taking charge of your mental health means analyzing your habits, and determining whether they serve you. Cutting out bad habits and implementing more good ones will set you on a path to a better, happier, more wholesome life.