5 Ways To Live A Healthier Life In 2020

You and I both know that some of the things we are doing in our everyday life, our daily habits – are harming us.

Specifically, these lifestyle habits are impacting our mental health.

The goal is, by the end of this post, you will understand how exactly these lifestyle habits are negatively impacting your well-being.  

I’ve taken the time to outline 5 unhealthy lifestyle habits most of us have.

With each unhealthy lifestyle habit, I also discuss tips to help you develop healthier lifestyle habits so you can live your best life.

Alright, let’s get right to it shall we?

1. Multitasking

Multitasking is an extremely common lifestyle habit, so let’s take some time to really get into it.

In this fast-paced world, we live in, multitasking is often seen as a strength.

How many times have you seen the phrase “must be able to multitask” in a job description? I can also admit to using it as a buzzword in my resume because that’s what employers want to see.

Our bosses expect us to juggle multiple tasks during the same day, never falling behind and always producing high-quality work.

Unfortunately, even though this is a job requirement for many of us, do we ever practice healthy multitasking? Is there such a thing, even?

Check: As you’re reading this article (be honest), are you doing something else at the same time?

  • listening to music or scrolling through Instagram?
  • reading this post in the middle of another task?

Or something else? If so leave a comment below and let us know!

The Art Of Multitasking – Strength or Weakness?

I can personally attest to doing multiple things at the same time.

Right now, I have an episode of The Office on in the background (Dwight just started a fire in the office), while working on the research for this article.

I'm also sitting with my family, monitoring my email, and trying to schedule phone consults and book clients.

If that made you exhausted just reading it, imagine how I must feel. But that’s thing – I, like many of who multitask, don’t realize how tiring this all is.

My brain is so wired to do multiple things at the same time, I sometimes can’t focus properly when I’m supposed to be doing a specific task.

At work, besides multi-tasking with multiple forms of media, you may also work on different tasks simultaneously.

You may have a few tabs open, switching between them but never really focusing fully on one particular task, thinking you’re being super productive.

But are you really?

Multitasking - Information Overload For Your Brain

It turns out that multitasking can cause you to be less efficient and less productive. You may think you’re good at multitasking but the truth is, your brain is just good at tricking you into believing you are.

When you're doing multiple tasks at the same time, information that should go into one area of the brain goes to another.

This constant switching between tasks aka multitasking burns up precious energy that your brain needs for other cognitive things, like concentrating and memory recall.

Multitasking can also lead to anxiety, which can manifest itself as irritability and frustration. In a workplace, these aren’t exactly the healthiest behaviors to exhibit.

You’re not off the hook if you multitask with social media either. Media multitasking is associated with problems in filtering out irrelevant information and ignoring distractions.

This lack of attention and ability to stay focused can lead to depression and anxiety, including social anxiety.

So, Should I Stop Multitasking?

It’s easy to say “stop multitasking”. But if your brain is so wired into doing multiple things at once and constantly switching between tasks, it will take some time to re-calibrate it.

Research tells us that we need to schedule things and work on one task at a time if we want to be productive.

Here are 5 concrete steps to take the next time you need to get multiple tasks done:

Make a list. A simple to-do list (on cool stationary, if you’re so inclined) of tasks you need to accomplish will get you started and on track. Prioritize based on deadlines and how long you'll need to finish.

Schedule in time for each task during your day. Setting aside time will make you more mindful of completing tasks sequentially, instead of working on them all at the same time.

Stay off of social media while completing those tasks. If you can, keep your phone  aside if you don’t need it and stay off of social media sites. This way, you’re not tempted to check your notifications while completing your task.

Take breaks. During this time, you can check your social media but log out once your break is over.

Cross off each task as you get through it. You'll feel accomplished when you see the visual representation of your hard work and self-control.

2. Constantly Checking Your Phone and Social Media

Perhaps the biggest reason we fall into the habit of multitasking is because of the easy accessibility of social media right at our fingertips.

The Disadvantages of Cellphones

Ever since cellphones became the norm, we’ve all been told how bad our phone is for us. And it looks like science might agree with them.

Using your cell phone frequently and for longer periods of time has been linked to depression, anxiety, stress, lower mental well-being, and the BIG one - sleep problems.

Of course, using your phone isn’t automatically going to cause you to become depressed. I’m not telling you to throw your phone into the toilet and delete all your social media accounts.

However, this research tells us there is scientific evidence for a link between problematic phone use and mental health issues.

Think about the last time you lost your phone – did you feel anxious or even depressed when you couldn’t find it?

Not because you thought you lost it forever. But maybe just the thought of missing out on notifications or updates gives you anxiety or makes you upset?

Those close to me have heard my social media rants for days, so at the risk of them blocking me, I will dedicate an entire post to the impact of social media on mental health.  Stay tuned!

Social Media and Your Mental Health

It's no surprise that spending more time on social media has been associated with higher rates of depression and lower self-esteem.

Again, this isn't as black and white. Just having an Instagram or Twitter account doesn’t mean you’ll immediately develop an anxiety disorder or depression.

But if you’re emotionally invested in your multiple social media accounts and you use them frequently, you may be at risk for experiencing more anxiety and depression on a daily basis.

Just Checking My Email Real Quick

But Sarah, it’s fine – I don’t really use social media and I only use my phone to check my work email. That’s ok, right?

I’ve got some bad news for you, bud.

People who regularly check their email outside of work hours have reported higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of well-being.

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Just feeling like they needed to check their email was enough to cause people stress and anxiety.  I can definitely attest to this - and it's NO fun.

As if that wasn't enough, spouses of individuals also felt the negative effects of this habit. They reported lower levels of well-being and less relationship satisfaction. Yikes.

To Connect or Not to Connect

We may not realize that our phone and social media are causing significant problems in our lives because these things are part of our cultural norms.

However, it’s starting to look like our need to stay plugged in and connected with the world around is causing us to disconnect from ourselves, our own well-being and our relationships.

The good news is, there are some simple (but not necessarily easy) ways to combat this unfortunate, yet common lifestyle habit:

Avoid installing any software or apps that will give you easy access to work email remotely, unless of course this is a part of your job requirement.

The best way to resist something is to just avoid it. This is precisely why I don't bring a bag of chips into the house.

Track your screen time on social media and other phone apps. I know my iPhone sends me statistics every Sunday about my screentime use for the week.

Screentime tracking for Iphone:

monitor screen time on iphone ipad or ipod touch

Screentime tracking for Android:

monitor screen time on android digital wellbeing

You can always download third-party apps that help as well. There is Screen Time which seems to be very well rated on the app store.

screen time app on google play store

This will help you get some concrete data on what your phone use looks like.

Keep your phone away during social interactions. Trust me, you’ll only benefit from less-distracted and more focused quality time with your loved ones.

Be mindful of how you’re feeling when you’re on social media. If you feel anxious, uneasy or just plain sad as you scroll through Instagram or social accounts, this is a likely a good indicator that you should disconnect and log off for some time.

Shut down your phone. Schedule some time on a daily (or weekly) basis to shut down your phone and disconnect for a while. Read a book, learn to cook or bake something new, or explore other hobbies.

3. Are You Getting Enough Exercise?

If you are like me and have a job that requires a lot of sitting, it’s probably difficult for you to sneak in some exercise on a daily basis.

If you’re a student, you’re probably exhausted from running to class to class on little sleep and energy as it is.

The thing is, no matter what your occupation or schedule, we all need exercise.

Remember, one of the biggest pitfalls about exercise is people go too hard too fast and then crash. There are several things you can incorporate in your day to day that doesn't require you to be at the gym 3-5 times a week.

Healthy Body = Healthy Mind

What exactly happens when you don’t regularly exercise or have an active lifestyle?

Anecdotally, I know I feel my unhealthiest when I’m lounging on the couch watching Netflix or not doing anything remotely active for weeks.

We all know how exercise can prevent us from developing serious physical illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

But in case you didn’t know, research has shown for decades that exercise is also good for your mental health.

Time and time again, research tells us that having an inactive lifestyle is a risk for depression and other mental illnesses.

Those who have severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may also be less active, which makes their mental health worse.

Its one of those chicken or the egg situations.

And thankfully, there’s more good news.

You don’t have to become a marathon runner overnight if you want to see the benefits of exercise on your mental health.

By slowly cutting down the time you’re sitting on your couch eating cookies and spending more time walking or exercising, you can improve your mental well-being and even your sleep habits.

The Benefits of Exercise

Of course, exercise may not be cure-all for every mental illness but it does help with a lot of different things.

It can help prevent the onset of mental disorders and be used as a treatment for others. Long-term exercise can also increase self-esteem, and the sense of accomplishment you feel as you complete each workout only adds to improve your mood.

Just 20-40 minutes of cardio exercise can improve your mood and lessen your anxiety symptoms for a few hours after you finish working out.

In fact, if you have anxiety or depression, you may benefit more from exercise as compared to someone without mental health problems.

Even non-cardio exercise like yoga or flexibility training has been shown to improve mood and anxiety symptoms.

To learn more about the science behind how exercise can help manage your mood, here are 3 ways exercise can reduce your anxiety.

And if you are feeling exceptionally burnt out, tired, stressed, anxious and or depressed, just do this quick 15-minute stretch.

Exercise and Your Brain

Have you heard of the “runner’s high”? It’s the feeling athletes get when they finish a race – a rush of euphoria, excitement, and exhilaration.

But this feeling isn’t just for athletes. When you exercise, your brain releases all kinds of molecules (including dopamine and serotonin, the “happy molecules”) which contribute to this “high”.

You feel rejuvenated and refreshed, even if you’re exhausted and you don’t feel as much pain, either (you probably will feel sore tomorrow, though).  

Exercise can also help you feel less stressed out over time, as your brain fine-tunes its stress-signaling pathways.

In addition, regular physical activity allows your brain to use more oxygen and access more energy.

Exercise can improve not only your mental health and well-being but also your cognitive skills, like memory and attention.   

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Pretty cool right? One activity hits all the sweet spots for us.

How to Incorporate Exercise Into Your Busy Schedule

Of course, balance is key. I’m not saying you should jump into an intense boot camp just to instantly cure your depression (not a thing, trust me, tried-tested-failed).

Make small but meaningful changes to incorporate exercise in your daily life, while also keeping in touch with your mental health.

Here are 3 simple tips to incorporate exercise in your daily schedule:

Make time to be active during work/school days. Walk from the station instead of taking the bus. Take the stairs instead of the escalators, or take a 15 minute break after lunch to take a walk around the block.

Try out a weekly fitness class. Make exercise fun! It doesn’t have to be painful or unpleasant. Zumba, dance, yoga/pilates – there are lots of options, so experiment with what works best for you.

You can also find lots of at-home exercises on YouTube.

Take a walk with friends, family and/or your pets. Catch up with your family and friends while incorporating some kind of exercise.

Or bring out the inner child in you with a skipping rope and give this a try!

Check out Zehra's RIDICULOUSLY IMPRESSIVE skipping dance routine!

https://www.instagram.com/tv/B9kJh9ghTvs/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

4. Skipping Meals and Eating Junk Food

Ok, yes, I’m also guilty of this. Skipping breakfast cause I decided to hit that snooze button one (or five) too many times. I promise myself I’ll grab something on the way to work but that never happens during the morning rush.

By the time lunch rolls around, I’m starving and of course, a healthy meal won’t cut it so I step out to grab a burger and fries (and sometimes a milkshake).  

How Food Affects Your Mental Health

Of course, this isn’t a healthy habit. We all know it. In fact, skipping breakfast increases the risk of depressed mood and stress in young adults.

Unhealthy diets (consisting primarily of fast food, lots of sugar, fried food, soda, cakes/cookies) have also been associated with serious mental health concerns in adults.

Even without the science, we all know how bad skipping meals and eating junk food is for our mental just through experience.

I don’t feel great while I chow down that burger and fries (and milkshake), and even if I feel full, I also feel a little sick and my mood isn’t great either.

So what can we do to combat these unhealthy eating habits?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that food isn’t the enemy. We need it to survive, plus it tastes good, so we should enjoy it!

Remember, it’s important to incorporate long-term healthy eating habits, instead of fast crash diets. Food isn’t your enemy!

3 Tips To Eat Healthier:

Plan your meals ahead. As an adult, it sounds daunting, but planning what you’re going to have for breakfast beforehand can save you the stress the morning of, and prevent you from skipping it.

Explore YouTube for some fun meal plan ideas for your next lunch and dinner!

(Healthy) snacks are your friend. No, chips, cookies, and candy don’t count.

Look for some fun and easy snack ideas that you can prepare quickly for work/school.

They'll keep you full throughout the day, and will prevent you from craving junk food. Experiment with what tastes good to you and is easy to prepare in your schedule.

Treat yo’self. No one is saying you need to cut out junk food completely.

Rather, be more mindful of when indulging in snacks and try having a small treat just once a day to a few times per week.  

5. Not Getting Enough Sleep

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, then you’ve probably heard this multiple times. But again, you need to sleep! And contrary to popular belief, sleep isn’t for the weak. However, if you don’t sleep enough, you probably will become weak (haha, see what I did there?).

Look, I get it. In today's day, many of us are doing multiple things at the same (sometimes, even multiple jobs).

As a result, we don't have that much time, to begin with. Add on time for friends and family, time to eat, some me-time and really, you don’t have much left in a day.

You only have 24 hours, after all.

When's The Last Time You Got a Good Night's Sleep?

At this point in my life, booking a hotel room, sleeping in and ordering room service feels like the BEST GIFT EVER. However, my 2 year old niece, might not be as excited about getting sleep.

Think back to the past week – when was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Where you slept peacefully and woke up refreshed and rejuvenated?

But don’t just take my word for it – let’s see what the scientists have to say.

In teens, short sleep duration and late bedtimes were associated with mood, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Sleeping too much isn’t necessarily good for you either – teens who slept 9 hours or longer had poor mental health, similar to those who slept less than 7 hours.

In older adults, poor sleep quality is associated with reduced brain volume.

We're still not sure of the direction of this relationship but what we do know is that those individuals who described themselves as having insomnia, had an increased risk of dementia.

Alright, enough about the reasons why sleep is crucial for your mental health.

Lets talk action items  -  what can you do to get a good night's sleep?

Tips To Improve Your Sleep Habits

We have a detailed post on how to improve your sleeping habits, and here are 7 quick tips you can use to help improve your sleep:

1. Maintain A Consistent Sleep Time And Wake Time

2. Light Exercise Throughout The Day, But Not 2-3 Hours Before Bedtime

3. Get Exposure To Sunlight

4. Make A To-Do List Of Tasks To Accomplish The Next Day

5. Wind-Down Before Bed With A Bedtime Ritual

6. Have A Pleasant Sleep Environment

7. If You Can’t Sleep Right Away, Get Out Of Bed

You can also track your sleep with all the fancy watches. However if you are like me and don't own a smartwatch, try these sleep apps that can help you track your sleep and fall asleep easier.

Let's Wrap it Up

Congratulations on getting through this long call-out post! You had to face some tough truths, and you did it!

All jokes aside, I hope you were able to get some insight into some of your daily lifestyle habits that may be negatively affecting your mental health.

The tips I mentioned can help you change unhealthy lifestyle habits into more healthy, sustainable routines.

multitasking cellphones ◆ exercise ◆ food ◆ sleep

Which of these 5 areas will you start with to develop healthy lifestyle habits?

If you have a question or would like to hear more about a topic, leave a comment below or flip me an email. I would love to hear from you!

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services