Yes, we know we’re fabulous (duh), but let’s face it, we can all use some improvement here and there—especially if we’re being honest. You know, when it comes to our bad habits.
We’re all for guilty pleasures, of course. No one’s suggesting you abstain from anything fun here. But some habits are just plain bad, especially when they start getting in the way of the life we want to lead. The obvious question: If we know habits are bad, why do we keep doing them? Scientists have come up with many reasons why we stick to bad habits. Some may be harmless yet annoying while others could be self-sabotaging.
The bigger questions is this: Once we’ve identified and acknowledged our worst habits, how do we stop them? Here are 5 very smart ways from the experts.
The 5 Most Common Bad Habits and How to Kick Them
1. CELL PHONE AND SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
What Happens: It’s actually kind of ironic when you think about it. Countless hours are wasted on devices meant to make us more productive and connected. Look around a restaurant, a city street, a shopping mall, and people are texting, snapping selfies and posting to social media. Many people feel anxiety when they notice their cell phone battery running out. Many get physically uneasy at the thought of going hours without checking their cell phone. This anxiousness is a sign of addiction.
How to Kick it: You can wean yourself off internet addiction by challenging yourself to see how you can enjoy a meal, a TV show, or a walk without the need to look at your phone, iPad or computer. Start with 30 minutes, then 60 minutes. When you get to the point where you can unplug one day per week, you’re on your way.
2. OVERSPENDING YOUR WAY INTO DEBT
What Happens: Money worries can have serious health consequences. In a Rutgers University telephone survey, responders said financial stress contributed to high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, headaches, digestion troubles, aches and pains, ulcers, excessive smoking and drinking, and gaining or losing weight.
How to Kick it: Getting yourself out of debt is a lot like losing weight. It takes time, can be hard on your ego and your lifestyle, you have to be constantly vigilant, and it’s easy to revert back to old habits. But for those who succeed, and many people do, the results are stunning. You’ll feel more in control of your life with less stress and fewer worries. They key here is recognizing the problem and not trying to tackle it alone.
3. OVERUSING PAINKILLERS AND SEDATIVES
What Happens: When not taken properly, long-term habitual use of pain medications can cause more problems than it solves. Using drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin for arthritis or muscle pain seems harmless but over time, these drugs can increase your risk for ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Plus, your body gets used to them. Since these drugs ease pain you may want to keep on taking them, which can lead to addiction.
How to Kick it: New pain relief strategies can ease muscle, joint, and head pain with fewer pills and side effects. Kicking the sedative and prescription pain pill habit is possible with commitment and support, and once the pill taking has ceased, your body will quickly rebound from their effects. You’ll spend less money on medications. You may cut your risk for heart and high blood pressure problems as well as gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding. You’ll also be more alert and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve beaten a drug dependency.
4. NAIL BITING (ONYCHOPHAGIA)
What Happens: Nail biting can happen when you’re stressed or excited, or in times of boredom or inactivity. Again, although it seems like a harmless activity, constant biting can lead to bleeding and even possibly infection. Oftentimes, you’re likely so involved in another activity, such as reading, watching television, or talking on the phone, that you bite your nails without thinking about it.
How to Kick it: Unfortunately, nail biting is as much a habit as it is a response to anxiety. So there are two parts to stopping it. The first part is breaking the habit. The second part, which may be trickier, is making sure you control your anxiety in some other way.
5. STRESS EATING
What Happens: There are many reasons people turn to food when they experience negative emotions, such as stress, sadness, or boredom. Food can serve as a distraction from life’s realities. Research has also suggested that foods that are high in fat and sugar may actually (temporarily) quiet parts of the brain that create and process negative emotions.
How to Kick it: When people turn to food as a coping tool, they run the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, hypertension, joint pain and other debilitating health conditions. The ability to draw upon other coping mechanisms such as exercise, deep breathing, counting when stressed or daily meditation can help ease the need to soothe with food.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a NYC based licensed neuropsychologist, a teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and clinical director of the Comprehend the Mind Institutes in Manhattan and Queens. She specializes in providing neuropsychological, educational and developmental evaluations in her practice.