There are various causes of mental illness, and genetics is easily the most influential factor. However, a genetic predisposition alone doesn’t determine whether a person experiences mental health issues. Studies have revealed five bad habits that have been linked to an increased likelihood of depression and other mental illnesses: diet, physical activity, sleep, your social life, and substance abuse. 

5 Unhealthy Lifestyles That Are Hurting Your Mental Health

Mental illness has become a significant health issue affecting millions of people globally. According to the World Health Organization, depression alone affects over 264 million people worldwide. These are the 5 things you should focus on to improve your mental health:

Poor Diet

The gut and the brain are connected by a complex network of neurons, hormones, and immune cells known as the gut-brain axis. This allows them to work together to regulate various physiological processes like digestion, metabolism, and immune function. This relationship also means that your digestive system can have a direct impact on mood, cognition, and behavior. Did you know that 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut? 

However, where there is disturbance in digestion like with the gut’s microbiome (the healthy bacteria that permanently live inside our digestive organs), it can lead to dysregulation of the gut-brain axis and carry a higher risk of mental illness. Gut health is largely a direct result of the food we consume, and when we make poor choices that are lacking nutritional value, it can cause a domino effect that starts in the stomach and ends in the brain. 

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that Mediterranean-style and Japanese-style diets which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can reduce the risk of depression and improve mood and had up to 35% lower risk of depression than traditional Western diets which is heavy in processed foods and refined sugars.

Lack of Exercise

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that regular exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression and improve overall mood. The reason behind this is the same reason why exercise is known as natural mood booster. Exercise can lead to increases in neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel happier and less stressed. 

One of the most essential of these is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that deals with feelings of happiness, well-being, and satisfaction, and plays an important part in regulating mood. However, serotonin imbalances have a direct correlation with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Exercise can naturally ramp up production of this vital neurochemical, thus lowering this risk. 

Poor Sleep Patterns

Sleep plays a critical role in mental health. Disruptions to our sleep can lead to imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine which are involved in regulating mood and stress. As a result, chronic sleep disruptions can lead to mood disorders, irritability, and fatigue. Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, have been linked to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. 

Sleep deprivation can also lead to increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can negatively affect the brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and lead to impaired cognitive function and emotional regulation.

Social Isolation

Humans are innately social creatures. Social support and positive relationships can lead to increased feelings of happiness, reduced stress levels, and a more positive outlook on life. Conversely, social isolation and negative social interactions can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that social isolation is a significant risk factor for depression. Similarly, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that social support can reduce the risk of depression and improve mental health.

Substance Abuse

Drug use is notorious for impacting neurochemical balances in the brain. The euphoric highs caused by many drugs are because of chemicals artificially increasing levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. This can lead to a domino effect that causes imbalances in other neurochemicals which can trigger or exacerbate any predispositions to mental illness.

Need help maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Everyone knows the saying “You are what you eat” but it’s not just food that defines how our bodies function. You are also how active you are, who you spend time with, and the content you consume. And these lifestyle choices don’t just affect physical health, they can make a sizable impact on mental health as well, shaping how we perceive the world and how we react to it. Talk to a mental health therapist today to change your bad habits once and for all. 

Your initial reaction might be one of exasperation that there’s yet another important health decision riding on your lifestyle. The good news, however, is that even though these lifestyle choices are ones that many Americans struggle with, these areas are within our ability to change, meaning we have much more control over our mental health than we might realize.