Sometimes mental health can be a bit tricky. What makes some people feel better might make others feel really crappy.
If you haven’t been feeling so hot, these little seemingly normal things might be a problem. To help, BuzzFeed Life talked to a few mental health experts about the most common behaviors that might not be as helpful as you think — and what you might want to consider doing instead.
1. You binge-watch Netflix whenever you’re feeling run down.
While escaping from the world through an extra-long Netflix binge can feel like a good distraction in the moment, it could actually make you feel worse in the long run. Clinical psychologist Jennifer Taitz, Psy.D., previously told BuzzFeed Life: “People have come to me profoundly depressed after Netflix binges. Treatment for depression is getting active, and feeling purposeful and accomplished. Watching TV is passive.”
Better advice: Use your favorite comfort TV show as a reward for productivity, a way to wind down at the end of the day, or as a social activity (all things that will make you feel less depressed). This site lets you sync up Netflix with others remotely so you can watch with a friend even on days you can’t get out of bed.
2. You avoid stressful situations when you’re anxious so save yourself even more anxiety.
No one wants to trigger themselves, so it might feel good to avoid situations that make you anxious, such as a party if you suffer from social phobia. Weirdly enough, though, the more you avoid, the worse you make your anxiety, says Taitz, since you build it up and never get the chance to see that things will be OK.
Better advice: Put yourself in situations that challenge your anxiety, even if it feels bad in the moment. It will help in the long run. “The way to develop or worsen an anxiety disorder is to avoid and the way to recover is to approach your fear of situations,” says Taitz.
3. You take mental health days when you’re feeling overwhelmed with life.
Mental health days are great in theory, but most people don’t actually use them effectively — aka they spend them sleeping, watching Netflix, or doing nothing at all. But according to Taitz, you’ll feel much better if you take them super sparingly — and if you plan out what you’ll do when you take them.
Better advice: First of all, don’t make mental health days your go-to solution, says Taitz: “On days that you wake up and aren’t feeling great mentally, go in, but give yourself permission to leave early if you don’t improve.” Many people will feel better once they get to work.
When you do decide you need to take a mental health day, it should be action-filled, because you feel better when you’re productive and living with purpose, says Taitz. For example, if you’re taking a day because you really hate your job and it’s making you miserable, take the day to meet with a career coach and apply to new jobs.
4. You get a lot of sleep. Like, a LOT.
Getting sleep is super important for your mental health, but it’s easy to sleep too much when you’re not feeling so hot mentally. And that actually works against you. “Too much sleep is bad for your mental health, because basically to feel better in your life, you need to be active,” says Taitz. “You’ll notice also that if you sleep more, you’ll feel groggier. There’s a threshold, similar to food. You need it, but too much of it is going to make you feel sick.”
Better advice: Find out how much sleep you actually need and stick to it, as well as trying to go to sleep and wake up at relatively the same time every day.
5. You distract yourself from the things you’re worried about.
Don’t worry, be happy, right? Nope. That actually backfires completely, cognitive behavioral psychologist Simon Rego, Psy.D., tells BuzzFeed Life, because the more you try to distract yourself from a thought, the more you think about it. “Plus, distraction prevents us from actually learning how to cope with our worries, so we’ll be more vulnerable to experiencing worry again in the future,” he says.
Better advice: It may sound backward, but facing your worries really helps, says Rego. He suggests giving yourself a set “worry time” on a daily basis, so you can put aside worries in the moment and and work through them productively at a later time. You’ll probably find that by the time you sit down to problem solve, you won’t be as worried as you were to begin with.
7. You make to-do lists when you’re depressed to help give yourself a sense of direction and accomplishment.
To-do lists make some people more productive, but for others, it can actually have the opposite effect, psychologist and author of Living with Depression Deborah Serani, Psy.D., tells BuzzFeed Life. That’s thanks to something called the Zeigarnik Effect, which makes you remember things you didn’t finish more than things you did finish. Making a to-do list might set you up to feel bad about anything you didn’t get to — which can be especially harmful on days when even getting out of bed feels like an accomplishment.
Better advice: “It is absolutely more helpful to make a ‘done list,’” says Serani. “For depressed individuals, seeing what you’ve accomplished will create an uptick in your mood and self-confidence. And you don’t need to be living with a mood disorder for this to work. So start taking inventory of your accomplishments, no matter how big or small they were in the day.”
8. You’re putting off therapy until you’re sure you really need it.
“Many people like to try to do things on their own, without professional help. And that’s great!” says Serani. “But making therapy feel like a last resort can make you feel as if you’ve failed at something that perhaps you, or any other person for that matter, couldn’t truly be successful in achieving. Psychotherapy is a tool that helps many and should never be viewed as a last-ditch effort or implied to mean that people who are failures end up in therapy.”
Better advice: Don’t feel as though you have to exhaust your options before going to therapy. If you think you could benefit from talking to a professional, don’t wait. Therapy is awesome.
9. You journal all your negative thoughts and emotions to work through them.
Expressive writing has been shown to help your mental well-being, says Serani, but there’s a line between what’s beneficial and what’s harmful rumination. If you’re someone who feels the need to write at length about your negative emotions and experiences and find yourself obsessing, it might not be the best tool for you.
Better advice: “If you must write, purchase a journal that has lines in it and use the boundary of each lined page as a beginning and ending point,” says Serani. “Or instead of the sentences and passages of journaling, consider the style use of singular words and shorter phrases of poetry journaling to express yourself.”
10. You think lots of positive thoughts in hopes that good things will come your way through the magic of abundant thinking.
Abundant thinking, aka the belief popularized by the book The Secret that suggests thinking positively somehow sets the fates to bring you great things, can actually be a dangerous tool for many, says Serani. “For some who buy into The Secret or other such ideas, you can feel as if you’re not worthy somehow when your wishes don’t come true,” she says.
Better advice: Still think positive thoughts — but keep your expectations realistic and your goals attainable as well as positive. “What positive thinking does is it helps you find purpose in the future and decreases depressive symptoms,” says Serani. “Scientifically, it surges the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, but beyond that it won’t deliver abundance or good fortune.”
11. You’re relying on self-care and ~mental strength~ to deal with a serious funk.
“Depression is a serious medical disorder,” says Rego. “It’s not about how strong you are — as it can impact anyone. Telling people things like this can actually make them feel worse, as it can create a sense that there must be something wrong with them if they are not feeling better.” Don’t put that pressure on yourself.
Better advice: Even if you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with situational or clinical depression, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional to see what steps are right for you to start feeling better.
12. You indulge in lots of comfort food after a shitty day at work.
BEFORE YOU DISAGREE, hear me out. If you have a long, miserable day, you probably WILL feel better after eating your favorite food ever. But funnily enough, a study found that it’s not the actual food that provides the feel-good effect, but the time you take to eat it. The study authors concluded: “You don’t need comfort food to feel better; the mind will do the trick all on its own if you give it time.” That, and Taitz points out that always indulging on comfort food could lead to you feeling physically crappy, which plays into feeling mentally crappy, too.
Better advice: If you want to unwind with a slice of pizza after a miserable day, you do you. But if you always find yourself feeling guilty after regularly rewarding yourself with food, know that time to chill is really what you need to feel better. If you need ideas, here are some smart ways to improve your mood, like, immediately.
13. You use online communities like Tumblr and Pinterest to get advice and peer therapy.
These places are good spaces for finding peer support and others who are going through what you are — but you should be very careful about using it as a replacement for professional help since they can be a hotbed for questionable advice. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you, and taking unprofessional advice might be helpful at best, but it can also be dangerous at worst.
Better advice: If it helps you, definitely find a community of your peers in ways that make sense to you, but don’t rely on them for anything other than emotional support. For safer help options, Serani suggests checking out the support resources at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
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