There’s no denying that over the last few years, mental health and wellness has been at the forefront of most social issues all over the world. Countless of countries – as well as global organizations such as the World Federation for Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Psychiatric Association to name a few – are working tirelessly to implement effective mental health programs and interventions, make mental healthcare more accessible, and promote awareness of different psychiatric disabilities and mental disorders.
But while we’ve certainly made a lot of admirable strides in promoting mental well-being and highlighting its importance, there’s still a lot left for us to learn about what it really means to be mentally healthy and how to get ourselves there. And just like with our physical health, there are a lot of positive practices we can adopt to improve it, or inversely, bad habits that could worsen it.
With that said, here are 7 of the most dangerous and harmful mental health habits you might be guilty of doing:
A psychological concept first proposed by Nolen-Hoeksema (1998) in her theory about the origins of depression, rumination is defined as “a form of perseverative cognition that focuses on negative content and results in emotional distress.” Simply put, this is when we dwell too much on our past regrets and mistakes that it heightens our already negative state of well-being and makes us more anxious and pessimistic in our thinking. Of course, it’s only normal to feel sad, regretful, or upset with ourselves sometimes, especially when we make a mistake, but there’s no use beating ourselves up about it when we can’t do anything to change it anymore. In the wise words of the famed poet and writer Maya Angelou, “All we can do is our best. Then, when we know better, we do better.”
Another unhealthy mental health habit you might be doing without even realizing it is called “catastrophizing.” One of several cognitive distortions detailed by influential psychologist Aaron Beck (1963), catastrophizing or catastrophic thinking occurs when we believe (as if for a fact) the worst possible things that could ever happen will, and that we won’t be able to cope with them when they do. This kind of negative thinking not only overwhelms us with stress and anxiety, but also clouds our judgment, paralyzes us with fear, and takes away our sense of agency as a person.
3. Demanding perfection
While there’s certainly something to be admired about someone who always pushes themselves to do their best and give their all to everything they do, we need to be careful about keeping our perfectionism in line. Because as American journalist Gloria Steinem put it so well, “Perfectionism is internalized oppression.” Constantly demanding perfection from yourself or from others is only going to lead you to a lot of stress, frustration, and disappointment. Studies show that perfection not only harms our self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy, but it also puts us at high risk of burnout and depression (Limburg, Watson, Hagger & Egan, 2017).
4. Making comparisons
We might not like to admit it to ourselves or to others, but the truth is, we can’t help constantly comparing ourselves to the people around us and seeing how we measure up against them. And though it might seem like nothing more than a harmless little habit to you – after all, it’s how a lot of us keep our egos in check and have a more realistic self-concept – it’s an unhealthy mental health habit we need to break. Because not only is it a waste of time, it also drains a lot of our emotional energy and damages our self-esteem, especially in the day and age of social media, when we photograph and share all the things that show us living only our most ideal lives (Collins, 2016).
5. Denying your feelings
Think back to the last time you felt sad, angry, or ashamed. What did you do about it? How did you react? For a lot of us, our gut instinct is to try and push the feeling away, to act like everything’s fine when it’s not. We think that ignoring the emotions we don’t want or know how to deal with will make them go away. But you don’t have to feel bad about feeling bad! It’s appropriate and understandable under certain circumstances, and is actually a sign of good mental health! But by denying your own feelings and suppressing your emotions, you are betraying yourself and invalidating your own struggles.
6. People pleasing
Now, you probably don’t need us to tell you why people pleasing is bad, but have you ever actually stopped to think about how much you struggle with it? While there’s no shame in admitting that you crave love, praise, belonging, and acceptance – we all do, after all – there’s a right and wrong way to go about getting it. And having to change who you are or sacrifice your own wants and needs just to be “chosen” by another person is just not worth the cost of your own happiness, peace of mind, and mental health.
7. Having a failure mindset
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, having a failure mindset is one of the most harmful mental health habits that, unfortunately, a lot of us tend to fall victim to. The exact opposite of having a growth mindset – the so-called “secret to success” so many famous, affluent, and accomplished figures swear by – having a failure mindset means that you believe that talent, intelligence, luck, and skill are fixed and set, and no amount of hard work or dedication can change that or turn things around for you. Having a fixed mindset also manifests as: being easily discouraged by setbacks, giving up right away, having a low sense of self-efficacy, and avoiding challenges or taking risks.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Do you have any harmful mental health habits (even ones not included in this list) that you are working to overcome?
The truth is, everyone struggles with their own negative thoughts or emotions every now and then. What matters most is that we are careful to draw the line between normal feelings and experiences (such as insecurity, regret, self-doubt, perfectionism, and so on) and the maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors we use as a crutch against all the things we struggle to deal with.
As explorer and mountaineer Edmund Hillary, first man to climb Mount Everest, once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
- Nolen-Hoeksema, S.; Wisco, B. E.; Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). “Rethinking Rumination” (PDF). Perspectives on Psychological Science. 3 (5): 400–424. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x. PMID 26158958. S2CID 6415609
- Beck, A. T. (1963). Thinking and depression: I. Idiosyncratic content and cognitive distortions. Archives of general psychiatry, 9(4), 324-333.
- Limburg, K., Watson, H. J., Hagger, M. S., & Egan, S. J. (2017). The relationship between perfectionism and psychopathology: A meta‐analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 73(10), 1301-1326.
- Collins, R. L. (2016). For better or worse: The impact of upward social comparison on self-evaluations. Psychological bulletin, 119(1), 51.