Roadmap to Wellness: Breaking Bad Habits to Live a Healthier Life
When it comes to health, we all have our own bad habits. Whether it’s eating too much junk food or forgetting to wear SPF, there are always those little mistakes we make over and over again. The good news is habits don’t have to be permanent. While the exact amount of time it takes to break a bad habit lacks consistency, experts still agree that you can recondition yourself to make healthier choices.
Bad habits are often the result of stress and boredom. You drink half a bottle of wine at night because you had a rough day at work. Or, you don’t know what to do, so you munch away at a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television.
These habits can become even more practiced during the winter because of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), an extreme type of seasonal depression that leads to feelings of stress and boredom. The symptoms of SAD include difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness and even thoughts of death or suicide.* It also reduces the levels of serotonin—a chemical that regulates your mood—and melatonin—a chemical that regulates mood and sleep—in your brain.
*Seek immediate help from a medical professional if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Reduced sunlight during the winter throws off your biological clock and contributes to SAD.
The secret to breaking bad habits is finding an acceptable substitute to provide you relief and comfort when you are stressed or bored. In time, your substitute behavior becomes second nature and your bad habit fades into a memory. Read on for some examples of poor habits for and suggestions for replacements.
Bad Habit #1: Not Getting Enough Sleep
In our modern world, it seems like being busy and up all the time is praised and the importance of sleep is diminished. However, sleep is essential for your physical health. Overall brain function and memory depend on it. Those with chronic sleep deprivation also suffer from low metabolism and weight gain. A serious lack of sleep can even heighten your risk of infection and cardiovascular problems.
What You Can Do Instead
Instead of missing out on your Zzz’s, treat sleep like you would any other appointment in your schedule. Instead of staying up working or watching TV, set an alarm that tells you when it is time to turn off electronics and let your mind unwind. Develop sleep hygiene practices to help ease you into slumber. If you find yourself awake, staring at the ceiling no matter what you do, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.
Bad Habit #2: Relying on Fast Food
Fast food is affordable and accessible. It's also pumped full of sodium, saturated fats, and sugars that can be harmful to your body. When you opt for fast food, you may be saving time and money in the moment, but your health will pay big in the future.
What You Can Do Instead
To help break your addiction to burgers and fries (or whatever your poison is), identify your triggers that lead you to the drive-through. Do you end up there when you are feeling crunched for time? Do you binge on salty fries whenever you are feeling blue? Once you identify your triggers, you will have an easier time recognizing them in the moment. Then you can make the conscious decision not to let your emotions control you and steer yourself towards a better decision.
To make that decision easier, pick out one or two healthy and convenient meals you can turn to when the cravings strike.
Bad Habit #3: Watching TV for Hours
Spending time in front of the television is as American as apple pie. Then again, so is obesity and heart disease. It’s easy to turn on the television anytime boredom sets in, so make it more difficult. Start making more plans to get yourself out of the house. Join a class, make dates with friends, or start taking the dog to the park daily. Only watch television if you have something specific you want to see and consider limiting yourself to the 2/30 rule, no more than two hours of television and only if you get in 30 minutes of exercise that day.
Get Out and Get Healthy
Bad habits are the unhealthy behaviors we repeat over and over, especially when we are feeling stressed and bored during the dark days of winter. Hopefully, these healthy alternatives will help you beat bad habits and diminish the effects of SAD.
about the writer
Justin is an author and the creator of HealthyFit.info, a site dedicated to collecting valuable fitness resources from across the web.