So I’m no mental health expert or conqueror of depression, but if there’s one thing I know really well, it’s how to develop a bunch of bad habits that totally wreck my mental health 😂
Luckily though, I’ve gotten pretty good at breaking them too!
It’s extremely easy to find yourself slipping into bad habits that make depression worse. Not because you’re weak-willed, but because depression is so mentally-debilitating that sometimes it’s an effort to just survive, let alone practise self-care and positive coping mechanisms. There were times during my worst depressive episodes that I could do nothing but lie in bed and fall down a hole of negative thoughts and self-perceptions.
Breaking bad habits when you have depression takes a lot of motivation, patience and self-awareness, but it can definitely be done. I’ve fallen victim to a lot of these bad habits over the years. So, let’s discuss some of the bad habits that make depression worse and find ways to tackle them.
1 – Negative Thought Patterns and Ruminating
Of course, we can’t talk about depression without bringing up why negative thinking is the worst depression symptom of all.
Ruminating – or obsessive overthinking – is my most hated symptom of depression. I used to obsess for hours about missed opportunities, past mistakes and all the bad things that were yet to come.
It wasn’t only suffocating – it was absolutely exhausting and an incredibly difficult bad habit to break.
Negative thinking is the driving force behind the vicious cycle of depression. Every time you get stuck in a negative thought-loop, you give these hurtful thoughts (and depression itself) even more power over your emotions. A huge part of the depression recovery process is learning to identify, challenge, control and transform these thoughts.
How To Break The Habit – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing your patterns of thinking and behaviour by directly tackling negative thoughts. I learnt a lot through CBT (even if I didn’t apply it at the time!) and it’s been crucial in my recovery.
2 – Social Isolation
Loneliness is one of the most common causes of depression, but in true ironic fashion, depression has a nasty habit of making you want to be nothing but alone.
Pushing other people away and spending too much time alone with your thoughts often develops into a habit that makes depression worse and enables other bad habits on this list.
Even though socialising can be draining when you have depression, it’s so important for you to have a break from the chaos in your head. Without it, your brain goes into stress mode and triggers those dangerous negative thoughts you know all too well.
How to Break The Habit– honestly? You kind of have to force yourself to socialise. Start by forcing yourself to do small social things first – maybe call a friend or say hi to a cashier. Once you’ve mastered that, maybe join a peer-support group or try to commit to one social activity a week.
3 – Saying “I’m Fine / Tired / Got A Headache
I understand not wanting to feel like the negative, vibe-killing friend, but when you get into the habit of hiding your sadness it becomes progressively harder to ask for help when you need it. It also allows your feelings to build up to a point where they’re too much for you to handle. This can lead to you falling deeper into depression.
How To Break The Habit – Try to make sure that you have a good support network with at least one person who you feel comfortable talking to in times of crisis. When you feel particularly low, reach out to that person and let your ‘I’m fine thanks, how are you?’ façade slip for a while.
4 – Avoiding Physical Activity
When I’m really depressed, I don’t want to go for a run. Fact. Not happening. However, avoiding physical activity isn’t just not doing the government-recommended 150 hours of exercise a week.
It’s when you stay stagnant for days or weeks on end. It’s when your daily physical activity consists of dragging yourself from the bed to the sofa.
Continuously avoiding physical activity is a bad habit that makes depression worse because not only are you neglecting your physical health, but your mental health can suffer drastically when you live a sedentary lifestyle. This study found a clear correlation between depression and sedentary lifestyles, while this study found that sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of adolescent depression.
How To Break The Habit – Try to reduce the amount of time that you spend sitting down by doing some quick exercises like these. Even just getting up and walking around your house for five minutes helps to break sedentary habits.
Try listening to a podcast or some music while you do it!
5 – Neglecting Personal Hygiene
Not showering, brushing your teeth or taking care of other basic self-care needs can make depression worse. It sucks because depression is often the thing that makes it so difficult to do these simple tasks in the first place. I know that when I get really depressed, something as simple as getting out of bed to shower can be so overwhelming that I just … don’t.
The thing is, by neglecting your personal hygiene you’re neglecting yourself of one of the simplest acts of self-love – basic self-care.
How we treat ourselves on the outside often reflects how we feel on the inside, so neglecting basic self-care is like an act of self-hatred. This is the kind of thing depression feeds off – using your bad habits to justify your low self-worth. It is hugely detrimental to your mental health because it reinforces all of your negative thoughts.
How To Break The Habit – Create a self-care checklist to complete daily self-care goals, or even devise a morning routine consisting of simple self-care activities. Incorporating quiet acts of self-kindness into your routine can help break bad habits and boost self-esteem, a great armour for those negative thoughts!
6 – Not Eating Enough / Eating Too Much Junk Food
I get it. When you’re depressed you just want to reach for something sugary and comforting – if you even want to reach for anything at all.
Depression can trigger a variety of unhealthy eating habits that negatively affect your physical health. Because your physical health is intrinsically linked to your mental health, neglecting one of them often has a negative effect on the other. This study found a clear link between depression and diet, with poor-quality eating habits increasing your risk of depression.
The good news is that eating a well-balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables, fish, whole-grains, antioxidants and low-fat dairy products decreases your risk of depression!
How To Break The Habit – If you use overeating or junk-food bingeing to deal with your depression, make healthier choices by trying out these 10 foods for mental health and a better mood. If you have a problem with undereating, what helped for me was a strict meal plan of two full meals per day (and lots of meal-prepping!)
7 – Relying Too Much On Alcohol, Nicotine Or Other Substances
If you’ve read any of my other posts about unhealthy coping mechanisms, you’ll know that I used to have a bit of a substance dependency. This is how I know that of all the bad habits that make depression worse, dabbling in recreational drugs or reaching for that extra glass of wine is probably the most detrimental to both your physical and mental health.
The effects that drugs can have on depression can be catastrophic. But of course, you already knew that, right?
This is the thing – we know drugs are bad for us in the long run, but the promise of a temporary release can be inviting. You indulge once, and then twice, and before you know it, you have a pretty rigid substance abuse problem that becomes yet another obstacle on your road to recovery.
How To Break The Habit – If you struggle with addiction, there are plenty of charities out there offering support and advice that you can access here. It’s important to seek help if you think you may be developing a substance abuse problem.
Any other bad habits that make your depression worse? Or maybe you’ve experienced some of these? Please share your comments and stories with me down below!