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What bad habits can tell us about our mental health

We all have some bad habits we’re struggling to shake off.

Whether it's mindlessly scrolling through social media, indulging in unhealthy snacks, or procrastinating until the last minute, these behaviors can impact our lives in various ways.

Man with black hair seen from above, sitting and smoking a cigarette

But what can these habits tell you about yourself? Surprisingly, our habits can provide valuable insights into our emotional wellbeing and serve as a mirror reflecting our inner struggles.

Let’s explore some of the most common bad habits, what they say about our mental state and the first steps to break free.

From comfort zone to bad habit

Using bad habits as coping mechanisms for emotional distress is actually quite common. Many people turn to comfort foods, excessive alcohol consumption, or binge-watching TV shows to temporarily numb feelings of anxiety, sadness, or stress.

These (often unhealthy) habits serve as a way to self-soothe and find temporary relief from overwhelming emotions, as a way to find calm in the chaos.

Understanding this connection can be the first step toward addressing the root causes of your bad habits. Rather than just trying to eliminate the habit itself, it's important to try and work out what you are getting out of it. It must be doing something for you or you wouldn’t be doing it!

Does comfort eating help you to manage your anxiety after a hard day at work? Or perhaps binge-watching TV is a distraction from difficult thoughts or problems that are going on in your life. Can you connect your emotions with your behavior?

Learning healthier ways to regulate your emotions, such as through mindfulness, therapy, or stress-reduction techniques, can help break the cycle of relying on “bad habits” or coping strategies that might be damaging to us in the longer term.

The most common bad habits… and what they mean

1) Procrastination: the curse of perfectionism

Always putting things off until tomorrow? Procrastination is a bad habit that plagues many of us, and it can sometimes be an indicator of our mental health.

Of course not everyone who procrastinates struggles with their mental health, some people are just built like that! But for others, procrastination is closely tied to anxiety and perfectionism, where the fear of not meeting high expectations or the fear of failure leads to avoidance behaviors. Here, people who procrastinate tend to delay tasks to avoid the discomfort or anxiety associated with starting them, completing them, or having to make a choice about the best course of action.

If you recognize that anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies are driving your procrastination, there are strategies you can develop to help manage them.

To break the bad habit: Set realistic goals, break tasks into smaller steps, and seek support to help combat procrastination and reduce its impact on your mental health.

2) Too much screen time: a touch of escapism

Let’s be honest: spending too much time on screens, be it smartphones, tablets, or computers, has become quite a widespread bad habit. While technology can provide valuable connections and entertainment (have you met our community?), overindulgence can sometimes signal deeper issues.

Excessive screen time can be an escape from real-life problems, offering a temporary distraction from personal or emotional challenges. In some cases, it can also lead to social isolation, hindering face-to-face interactions and fostering feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Does that sound familiar?

Evaluate the reasons behind your screen time, whether you spend time on social media or other apps. Are you using it to escape or avoid something in your life? Are you neglecting meaningful relationships because of it?

To break the bad habit: Take steps to balance your screen time (there are some great apps out there to help), engage in offline activities, and strengthen your real-world connections to help improve your mental health.

Did you know you can use our “Take a break” feature on the platform if you need some time away from your phone?

3) Body-focused repetitive behaviors: coping with anxiety

Certain habits, like nail biting, hair pulling, or skin picking, fall into the category of body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). These behaviors are often attempts to try and manage feelings of anxiety or to alleviate tension.

If you find yourself frequently engaging in BFRBs and have been unsuccessful with multiple attempts to stop, it's important to recognize that these habits may be indicative of an underlying anxiety disorder. Understanding this connection is the first step toward seeking appropriate help and treatment.

To break the bad habit: A mental health professional can provide guidance in managing anxiety and developing healthier coping mechanisms.

4) Unhealthy sleep patterns: a telling sign

Finding yourself often going to bed at dawn or waking up mid-afternoon? Our sleep habits can provide significant insights into our mental health. Whether you find yourself oversleeping or experiencing insomnia, these patterns can sometimes be linked to low mood or anxiety.

Changes in sleep patterns are often key indicators of shifts in emotional wellbeing. Can you remember when they started and what might have triggered them?

Addressing sleep-related bad habits involves not only improving sleep hygiene but also addressing the root causes of your sleep disturbances.

To break the bad habit: Setting up a consistent routine can help, as can avoiding caffeine later in the day and taking regular exercise. Head to our Wellness Center to learn helpful techniques to help you adopt a healthier sleep pattern.

Consulting with a healthcare provider or mental health specialist can also help identify and address any underlying causes, leading to more restful and balanced sleep.

5) Alcohol and comfort food: regulating difficult emotions

Ever had a few drinks after a stressful day or a chocolate bar when you were down? A quick indulgence can quickly turn into a bad habit if left unchecked. But why do we turn to alcohol and junk food rather than the things that could actually help with our mood – water and vitamin-filled veggies?

Beyond social and cultural influences, bad habits like consuming junk food, chocolate bars, or alcohol are often used as an instant coping strategy if someone is experiencing stress, anxiety, or low mood. If we are feeling bad, it’s not likely that we are going to reach for a salad! However, this can trap us in unhealthy cycles of behavior and make us feel even worse about whatever is going on.

To break the bad habit: These habits can be challenging to break but can be addressed with support, mindfulness, goal-setting, and healthier coping strategies.

If you are having problems stopping using alcohol or eating to excess, it’s important to seek professional help. These types of problems happen to people from all walks of life and they are nothing to be ashamed of. The most important thing is to tell someone what’s going on and to seek professional help. You’re not alone!

6) Chronic negativity: how low self-esteem twists your thoughts

Constant negative thinking, self-criticism, and pessimism are bad habits that can erode your mental health over time. These patterns can sometimes reflect low self-esteem, perfectionism, or unresolved emotional issues. They can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and low mood.

To break the bad habit: Shifting from a pessimistic mindset to a more positive one requires self-awareness and active effort. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and self-help techniques can help reframe negative thought patterns, promote self-compassion, and improve self-esteem.

Here are some tips to boost your self-esteem and reframe negative thoughts.

Our bad habits are not just random behaviors but powerful signals that offer insights into our mental health. Recognizing the connections between these habits and underlying emotional struggles is the first step toward positive change and improved wellbeing.

It's essential to approach the process of breaking bad habits with self-compassion and a willingness to seek help when necessary. Change takes time, and setbacks are a natural part of the process. You can do this!


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