Habits are automatic modes of behaviour driven by deeply ingrained neurological patterns. They are the things we do again and again, with little to no awareness on how they can impact the bigger picture.

Healthy habits, therefore, are incredibly powerful tools that allow you to benefit both body and mind without any conscious effort.

However, on the flip side, when you pick up unhealthy habits they can be difficult to stop, because you’re not always even aware that you’re doing them. 

“There seems to be a growing awareness of how bad habits can affect our physical health, but people are less in the know about everyday, unconscious habits that could be having a negative impact on mental wellbeing,” says Dr Emeka Okorocha.

“Changing the pattern, or breaking these unknowingly harmful habits, can have a hugely positive effect,” Dr Emeka continues, “so it’s time to sit up and take note if you’re guilty of any of the following…”

1. Overuse of Social Media

Most of us are guilty of it from time to time, but consistently clocking up the hours on Instagram et al. is a surefire way to promote anxiety and low self-esteem, especially if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others.

“Mental health issues from social media have been noted from several different cases and studies,” says Dr Emeka, “with research finding that 30 per cent of people said using just two forms of social media for a number of hours a day made them feel very lonely.”


Finding a way to control your social media use is essential, and tech can be the solution as well as the problem.

“iPhones now have a great feature that means you can set timers for each app,” says Dr Emeka. “By setting a limit on certain apps, such as Instagram and Twitter, to just two hours a day, you have a quick and easy way to improve your sense of wellbeing.”

2. Poor Sleep

Overuse of social media can be linked to another bad habit that can impact your mental health: poor sleep.

“Sleep is a source of physical and emotional resilience,” says Dr Emeka. “By improving your sleep, you can improve your mood, and improve your natural physical and mental health.”

Poor sleep will affect just about every facet of your life: from performance in the gym, to productivity at work. A wealth of research also links poor sleep to depression, anxiety, and a number of mental health disorders.


It’s a simple solution, but one that works: stop staring at screens before bed.

“Due to the constant access we have to screens, it can be hard to switch them off,” says Dr Emeka, “but spending as little has 30 minutes away from them before you plan to fall asleep can greatly improve your sleep – and your general mood.”

3. Overthinking Everything

We all do it, and often we’re completely oblivious to it, but overthinking is both unhealthy and unhelpful.

“Overthinking,” explains Dr Emeka, “refers to paying too much attention to opportunities you haven’t taken, feelings of regret, or finding yourself anxious and worrying about future tasks you haven’t completed (bills you haven’t paid, relationships you need to work on, etc).

These sorts of thoughts can really impact mental health and heighten the anxiety you feel on a day-to-day basis. However, overthinking is one of the hardest habits to change.”


To prevent overthinking, it can help to see your thoughts in front of you – that way you realise they are just a thought, and you’re less likely to spiral.

“My advice is to write your thoughts down in a journal, or even on your phone,” says Dr Emeka. “This will help you to rationalise your and prevent the thoughts from becoming overly destructive.”

4. Lack of Exercise

Maintaining physical fitness is about far more than running faster, looking better, or lifting more; the benefits extend well beyond performance or aesthetics.

“Many people think exercise is just for physical health,” says Dr Emeka. “But it has hugely positive effects on mental health, too – and a lack of it is likely to have a negative impact on how you feel.

We know that regular exercise may ease depression by releasing endorphins and feel-good chemicals, so dedicating just a small part of your day to exercise can be incredibly beneficial.


If you aren’t sure where to start, or are looking to switch up your fitness regime, fitness apps like Freeletics offer workouts suitable for any age and fitness level, with a wide range of Training Journeys to suit your goals and lifestyle.

RELATED: The 3-Minute Exercise Formula For Longer Life

5. Being Overly Negative

“Another habit that many of us have, which may be harming our mental health, is constantly complaining, and looking at the glass as half empty instead of half full,” says Dr Emeka.

“Perception can be changed by a number of things, such as the things we watch (like the news), how we consume media, and the things we read.”


For a start, if news headlines and media coverage is making you sad, angry or anxious, do your best to limit consumption. That’s easier said than done – especially given the year and a bit we’ve had – but turning off push notifications and reducing screen time are just a couple of quick fixes.

“Waking up with gratitude has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health,” adds Dr Emeka.

One simple exercise is to say – out loud – three things you are grateful for every single day. They can be big things (family, friends, food, shelter), or small seemingly inconsequential daily occurrences, like the coffee you had that morning, or the workout you completed.

Getting into the habit of declaring what you’re grateful for will break the cycle of negativity and remind you that there are plenty of positives to hold on to.

5 Everyday Habits That Harm Mental Health | Men's Fitness UK

Dr Emeka is brand ambassador of AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics