10 Habits Keeping You Depressed (and How to Break Them)
Last Updated: Sep 14, 2015
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Depression, a mental illness that affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide, results from a complicated combination of social, psychological and biological factors. The disorder undermines thoughts, mood and physical health and interferes with daily life and normal functioning. Depression often brings on stress, dysfunction and certain unhealthy coping mechanisms -- which can become habits that, ironically, serve only to exacerbate the affected person's life situation and the depression itself. While our experts outline several of the possible habits that might be keeping you depressed and offer tips on how to conquer them, they all agree if you're unable to make the necessary changes on your own, it's vital you reach out to a mental health professional for help.
YOU FIXATE ON THE NEGATIVE
Rumination is that tendency of replaying in your mind all the negative things that might happen or have happened, says David Sack, M.D., CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, “and it makes you much more likely to develop depression -- four times as likely, according to one study. Whether you're a natural ruminator or have simply formed the habit, it's essential to break the cycle. That means, says Sack, getting into healthier and more optimistic patterns of thought. Accentuate the positive. “Don't just notice the things that go bad. Make a point of noticing the things that go well,” Sack suggests. Mindfulness meditation and yoga are proven techniques for bringing your mind back into the moment and out of its cycling thoughts. And, Sack adds, keep perspective. Ruminators tend to be perfectionists who set high expectations for themselves and others. “Let go of perfection. It doesn't exist.”
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YOU DRINK ALCOHOL OR USE DRUGS TO COPE
While drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary mood boost, “the more we depend on it, the more it ends up doing just the opposite,” says Dr. David Sack. Once the chemicals leave your body and brain, they can bring you to new lows, spurring the need for more drugs and alcohol in an attempt to recapture the feeling -- the start of a vicious cycle. Be aware that alcohol or drugs will not solve your problems. “If you're feeling low and find yourself turning to substances, you may already be dealing with depression and not realize it,” Sack says. Research shows that about half of those with mental health issues such as depression also abuse drugs or alcohol, though which came first is not always clear. Sack advises limiting yourself to the recommended guideline of two drinks a day for men and one for women. Or if alcohol is truly an issue, steering clear of it all together.
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YOU ISOLATE YOURSELF
Connecting with others is in our nature, and it's essential for our mental health, says Dr. David Sack. If connecting with people doesn't come easily, Sack suggests volunteering for a service organization: Stack books at the library, help out at a community event or gather donations for a shelter. “You'll not only be welcomed,” he says, “you'll have the added benefit of feeling useful.” If you're shy around people, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. “The unconditional love you'll find there is a mood and confidence boost that will help you become more comfortable in future social encounters,” Sack says. He also suggests considering spirituality -- that feeling of being connected to something greater than yourself. “Some find it through prayer or meditation, others through nature,” Sack says. “Research suggests that spirituality actually thickens parts of the brain that serve to guard people against depression.”
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YOU'RE OBSESSED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
Spending time staring at screens, chronically checking in with devices and worrying whether your life measures up is not good for your mood and can reinforce negative feelings about self, says Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. This is also associated with not cultivating real-life social networks and connections, which leaves you less likely to have a support system in place that can help you bounce back from life's stressors, says Dr. David Sack. If your social media use is causing negative feelings to surface, find ways to lessen those feelings of envy by finding other healthy ways to connect outside of social media, advises Nicole Amesbury, head of clinical development at Talkspace, the on-demand therapy app.
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YOU CONSUME TOO MUCH TRAGIC NEWS
The 24-hour news cycle, with its perpetual alerts and sensationalism, has found an audience. But some people simply spend too much time watching the news, and this can have a negative impact, says Amit Sood, M.D., author of the book “The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness.” A study in the British Journal of Psychology confirms that those exposed to negative news shows had higher rates of both anxious and sad moods, as well as a significant increase in the tendency to catastrophize their personal worries. Sood suggests monitoring your daily news intake and making changes if the total time for each day adds up to more than 15 minutes. “Whether it's taking a ten-minute stroll during your lunch hour or swapping TV time for reading a good book, there are great substitutes for screen time that can increase your mental health,” Sood says.
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YOU DON'T GET ENOUGH SLEEP
For many of us, sleep is often the first thing to go when other interests interfere, whether it's a project at work or a Netflix marathon. But, says Dr. David Sack, “a full night's sleep helps maintain mood, reduces stress and protects brain health, all of which are crucial to strengthening ourselves against depression.” Sack advises making a commitment to good sleep hygiene. This includes aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults, setting a consistent bedtime and waking time and staying away from heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol late at night. Research shows that although alcohol may make you sleepy, it actually results in less restful sleep. “If issues such as insomnia or sleep apnea are interfering with your rest, reach out for help from your physician or a sleep specialist,” Sack says.
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YOU MAKE POOR NUTRITION CHOICES
What we eat and what we fail to eat has the power to influence our mood for better and for worse. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, such as those found in salmon, have been shown to lower the incidence of depression, while sugar has been linked to higher rates of depression. “In fact,” says Dr. David Sack, “countries with the highest depression levels are the ones that eat the least fish and the most sugar.” Deficiencies of certain B vitamins and vitamin D are also thought to play a role in depression. “Other research has shown that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with greater mental well-being,” Sack says. Sack advises planning your menu rather than eating on the run, limiting sugar, eating more fruits and vegetables and being sure to include foods rich in healthy fats and D and B vitamins.
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YOU DON'T MAKE EXERCISE A PRIORITY
“Where depression is concerned, exercise has been called a 'magic drug,' helping to lift mood and lessen anxiety,” says Dr. David Sack. Additionally, exercise not only helps lessen depression, but can also prevent depression from taking hold. “Researchers believe it has to do with the way the muscles affect metabolism, making the person more resistant to the types of stress that can lead to depression,” Sack explains. “In short, if you're sedentary, you're missing out on a powerful way to make yourself more emotionally resilient.” Add movement to your day. Sack suggests going for a walk, dancing, taking the stairs, hitting the gym or swimming. “Or,” he says, “consider yoga, which exercises not only the body but also the mind and has been shown to be beneficial for those with depressive disorders.” Research shows even moderate activity can help prevent depression.
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YOU'RE IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP
Being in a toxic relationship -- romantic or platonic -- where you feel chronically hurt, bullied or criticized can lead to depression, says Gail Saltz, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. In some cases, cutting off an unresolvable relationship completely is best, while in others, a therapist might help you -- or both of you -- understand the situation, make changes and improve communication. In fact, the recent #HowWeFamily study from Tylenol found more than three-fourths of those surveyed feel that having frequent, open communication is incredibly important for families today. Open communication was ranked number 13 in importance 60 years ago, while it's ranked number 3 in importance today. “Open communication and being accepting of each other's differences can help resolve relationship issues and minimize or resolve feelings of depression,” says Dr. Saltz.
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YOU NEGLECT YOURSELF
A common habit that contributes to depression is our tendency to not give ourselves the time and care we need, says Denee Jordan, mental health services director for the Exceptional Children's Foundation. “Usually there are lots of indicators that we are headed for a depressive phase,” she says, “but we're not aware of them because we have learned to 'push on' and numb out the way we feel.” Jordan advises being proactive in not getting overwhelmed. That means making yourself, your health and happiness a priority -- finally joining that gym, talking to a therapist, learning meditation, making time to eat well, getting enough sleep or doing whatever it is you want be doing but have postponed. “We can't afford not to take care of ourselves if we want to be healthy,” Jordan says.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you ever experienced depression? Do you recognize any of these habits as something you did or still do? Did you know how detrimental they could be? Did you once have any of these unhealthy habits but overcame it? If so, how did you do it? Please share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments below. And as mentioned earlier, it's always highly encouraged to talk with a therapist who can help you sort out these thoughts and behaviors and help you start feeling like yourself again.
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