The Seven Worst Habits for your Mental Health


Mentally healthy people, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all agree that the following good daily habits and abilities can improve mental health:

  • – Realize their full potential
  • – Cope with the stresses of life
  • – Work productively
  • – Make meaningful contributions to their communities

For those with poor mental health, (about 18% – 25% of the population according to the National Institute of Mental Health), whose emotional, psychological and social well-being are impaired, the way they think, feel and act are all negatively affected. It’s not surprising that bad habits result.

You know you are dealing with poor mental health when you see the following types of behaviors, according to the US Department of HHS:

  • – Confused thinking
  • – Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • – Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • – Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • – Social withdrawal
  • – Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • – Strong feelings of anger
  • – Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • – Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • – Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • – Suicidal thoughts
  • – Numerous unexplained physical ailments

Just what leads to poor mental health? Health sources tell us that while there are many factors that create mental illness, generally they are:

  • – Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • – Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • – Family history of mental health problems

But what role do our daily habits play in creating an unhealthy mindset and poor mental well-being? Here are some examples:

  • – Pity partying – focusing on not being or having enough
  • – Negative self-talk about yourself
  • – Comparing yourself to others and despairing
  • – Lacking daily gratitude
  • – Living in yesterday and fretting tomorrow
  • – Demanding, insisting and expecting that you should and must be better than you are, that others should and must treat you differently, and that your life should and must be better than it is
  • – Poor and inadequate sleep
  • – An unhealthy nutritional program
  • – Lack of physical activity
  • – Focusing on the negatives in life, “the thorns on your rose bush rather than the roses on your thorn bush”
  • – Lack of hobbies or work in which you are fully engaged
  • – Dissatisfying relationships
  • – Lack of meaning in life
  • – Poor sense of accomplishment

Some of these may be obvious, and others not so obvious. Let’s highlight those that I find in my transformational behavior coaching that clients don’t often easily understand. The central, foundational, point to all habits that affect mental health resides in, “The link is what you think.” No rule, no tool, no program, no guidebook, no list will ever work unless you think in a healthy way. When you do, you almost don’t need the rules, tools, programs and guidebooks.

1. That’s why a central habit that creates deep unhappiness and anxiety, even anger, is “demanding, insisting and expecting that you should and must be better than you are, that others should and must treat you differently, and that your life should and must be better than it is.” These beliefs create stress. Instead, tell yourself that while you’d “like” or “prefer” that you be different, that others treat you differently and that your life be better (fair?), it doesn’t have to be. Who says it should or must be? How about telling yourself that you’ll be ok regardless? JV thinkers believe they are fine when everything is fine. Varsity thinkers believe that nothing must be fine, and they can be fine regardless. Which team do you choose to be on?

2. Are you avoiding physical exercise and activity? Not enough time, or some other excuse? According to the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, you need 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of more intense aerobic exercise (or a combination), plus two sessions of total-body strength training per week. And you can break this down into three, 10 minute segments five times a week, or three 25 minute high intensity interval sessions, or any other 10 minute breakdown! Your Total Gym is perfect for a quick morning boost towards these goals. With a 3-minute warm-up, a 7-minute circuit, you’ve put 10 minutes towards your goal and one great way to start your day. Check out this post for a great 10-minute early morning workout!

Exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain, as well as stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis has positive effects on reducing stress and creating a sense of wellbeing.

3. How about that lack of gratitude? Research has demonstrated that keeping a simple gratitude journal, or at least be mindfully aware, of three to five things that you are grateful for each day, results in higher levels of emotional and physical wellbeing. When you get into bed tonight ask yourself what three or five things went right today. When you wake up tomorrow, ask yourself what “can” go right during that day.

4. Lack of engagement in your hobbies or work? The more engaged you are in situations, home projects, hobbies or work, the more you “flow” with life, and the more you experience a sense of positive well-being. Ask yourself if you create time for your personal interests. What activities do you really enjoy, feel challenged by, and feel fully engaged in? Perhaps you need to minimize the digital distractions in your life to focus on the present more. That’s where mindful meditation may be of genuine help. Simple box breathing, by inhaling to a count of 4, holding it to that count, and exhaling to the same count before doing it again for several repetitions may slow you down and promote deeper engagement.

5. Healthy relationships are essential to mental well-being. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers or gym buddies, it’s important that you carefully assess which relationships lifts you up, inspires and motivates you and which relationships do the opposite. Be sure you devote enough time to strengthen those positive relationships and begin to be ok with letting go of those toxic forces in your life. They are creating negativity and that builds poor mental health. So call a friend, turn off your email, join a meet-up and smile at the first 5 people you see every day.

6. The type of foods you eat can affect your mental health. Want a healthier brain-mood nutritional plan? Harvard Health suggests adding the following to boost your mood:

  • – Avocados
  • – Flaxseed
  • – Beans
  • – Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and brussel sprouts
  • – Nuts such as almonds, peanuts walnuts and cashews
  • – Blueberries

7. Too much time awake overthinking what’s wrong in your life can drastically affect your mental health. Without enough restorative sleep time to build a better mood, and to give you more energy and develop greater stress resistance, you may negatively affect your health. You need about 7 – 9 hours of sleep. Before you go YIKES! I know you can do it. A warm bath, some tea, soothing music and darkening your room – yes, that means turning off the digital devices about an hour before bedtime, will lull you into a better night’s sleep. The less you vary the time you go to sleep and the time you awake, the better.

There you have it. These are 7 key habits that can contribute to poor mental health, well as how you can promote mental well-being!

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. These points you make are all too familiar… However.. I am at that point where crossing one off every day is my way of getting it done!

    Thank you.. keeping it all simple is critical to making it work!! I need to get a routine going!! Once I have perfected that…..I should be on the road to making it all work. I appreciate your efforts to get us going!! Adding great music to my workouts has garnered me a bit more time on the machine!!

    You will be my guide!!


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