Our lives are a culmination of habits, good and bad. Good habits help us experience positive results; bad habits impede progress and diminish our quality of life. Reasons for persisting in undesirable behaviors vary from person to person, but the impact is similar: a combination of guilt, shame, self-loathing, embarrassment, and regret. We need to understand how and why we have developed bad habits before we can deal with them effectively. Many patterns stem from stress or boredom, although some research suggests genetics in certain cases. Consider replacing these bad habits with more productive patterns.

Stress Eating

According to an American Psychological Association survey, one out of four Americans says their stress level is an 8 out of 10 or higher. Stress may suppress appetite temporarily as the nervous system releases adrenaline. As stress lingers, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which does the opposite – it triggers appetite. If cortisol levels remain elevated, a person feels hungry – often for fatty, sugary foods. Combat stress eating with meditation, a technique of training the mind to redirect thoughts and focus. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a meta-analysis suggesting that meditation effectively reduces stress levels, especially in people with high anxiety. There are a myriad of meditation styles that can relieve symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

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Arriving Late

As many as one out of five U.S. employees are regularly late to their jobs. Sometimes life happens, and we cannot help being late, but if you develop a reputation for lacking punctuality, you could be consistently sabotaging your productivity and that of others who depend on your contributions. Lateness also means taking the time of others for granted. According to a 2018 survey by Mattress Clarity, American businesses lose billions of dollars to tardiness. Set a goal to be early instead of on time. Plan to arrive 10 or 15 minutes earlier than necessary. Read inspiring literature, catch up on projects, or work ahead with your newfound extra time.

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TV Bingeing

A 2018 Nielsen report estimates that U.S. adults spend 11 hours a day watching, reading, or listening to television. Not surprisingly, some researchers believe many people have addictions to TV. Signs of media addiction include not being able or willing to predict how much time will be spent watching shows, social withdrawal, and frustration or anger toward anyone or anything that interrupts TV-watching. Consider how you can channel at least some of this time toward what you really want to achieve. Limit your viewing, by canceling subscriptions if necessary. Fill your time with more gratifying experiences:

  • Talk or play with family or friends.
  • Go walking, cycling, or exercising.
  • Work on a business idea.
  • Read self-improvement books.
  • Start a garden.
  • Join a local club or community organization.
  • Mentor teens.

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Pursuing Distractions

We must focus on a task for 15 minutes straight before we become fully engaged in it. At that point, we achieve a state of heightened productivity known as “flow.” People are five times more productive when they are in the flow. A University of California Irvine study observed that once we are distracted, it takes over 23 minutes to get back into the flow. To accomplish tasks or enjoy conversations, avoid even a cursory peek at your phone for a specific amount of time. Check emails, notifications, and texts at a designated point in the day. Focus intently on the work or conversation at hand and commit to being present.

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Not Saying "No"

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco concluded that people who find it hard to say no experience more stress and depression. It is important to limit commitments to what resonates with your personal goals. Many of us are reluctant to disappoint others, but declining new endeavors enables us to focus on existing ones and fortifies our self-control.

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Hair Pulling

At least 2.5 million Americans regularly experience trichotillomania, pulling their hair. According to the Cognitive Therapy Center at Rush University, trichotillomania is a neuropsychiatric disorder. Psychologists believe individuals with this condition could be affected by genetic dispositions in addition to internal and environmental triggers. The TLC Foundation maintains that hair pulling is a multi-dimensional disorder that calls for a multi-dimensional approach. Firstly, they suggest pinpointing the factors involved in the urge to pull hair. Next, look for other ways to respond to hair-pulling triggers. Doctors are becoming more aware of trichotillomania, so medical help is more widely available.

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Nail Nibbling

Twenty to thirty percent of people experience onychophagia or nail-Journal of Dermatological Treatment indicates that onychophagia impairs quality of life and dental health. As with hair pulling, some psychologists suggest nail-biting is a neuropsychiatric condition. To help manage onychophagia, study the triggers and replace nail-biting with positive or neutral behaviors. For instance, if nail-biting is your normal response to stress, learn to crochet or play with silly putty to do something less harmful with your hands. Consider asking your dentist about an oral appliance that makes nail-biting difficult.

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Screen Time at Bedtime

Light helps us stay awake and alert. At night, it makes falling and staying asleep difficult. Late light suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and disrupts the circadian system that governs sleep-wake cycles. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, exposure to room light in the evening lowers melatonin production by 85 percent compared to dim light. The Sleep to Live Institute recommends turning off blue light sources such as computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs at least 30 minutes before bed. Try reading a traditional book under soft, red, or amber lighting. Research from Harvard suggests that reading a traditional book at night promotes relaxation while e-books inhibit restfulness, though other studies indicate both reading sources are suitable.

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Not Getting Enough Sleep

The persistent myth that we can get by with fewer than five hours of sleep has encouraged bad habits with serious health consequences. Researchers point to evidence that indicates regularly sleeping five or fewer hours dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and decreases life expectancy. Establish bedtime habits to help ensure consistent rest:

  • Go to sleep around the same time each night.
  • Leave electronic devices in another room.
  • Avoid junk foods, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime.
  • Create a dimly lit, relaxing sleeping environment.

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Night Time Snacking

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that almost five million Americans deal with night eating syndrome, an ongoing pattern of late-night binge eating. Clinical studies at the University of Arizona Sleep and Health Research Program confirm that sleep deprivation could lead to late-night snack cravings. People often turn to junk foods, which further disrupt the circadian clock, encourage weight gain, and elevate blood glucose and blood pressure levels. To curb late-night cravings, eat healthy, satiating meals throughout the day. Ask yourself what needs the foods are meeting for you. Some people eat to treat emotional issues, and a different activity, such as relaxation or coloring, could have a similar therapeutic effect without the calories and other distruptions. Discover ways to meet your real longings during the day so that you can rest with a greater sense of fulfillment.

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