44 Unhealthy Habits You Need to Rethink

Cut Back on Sugar


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Cut Back on Sugar

Kick the Habit — Hard

Once you’ve developed a habit, engaging in it too often becomes a prerequisite for feeling good about yourself. Unfortunately, this applies to bad habits as well as good. Since it can be so hard to recognize the full effects of any habit once it’s established, we’ve compiled a list of common bad habits, complete with some evidence of their negative health effects and testimonies on how to overcome them.

Related: 12 Healthy Habits You Can Carry Into Your 80s and 90s

Cell Phone Plan

Too Much Screen Time

Adults now spend a majority of their waking hours looking at screens, whether computer, television, or phone, averaging 11 hours per day. There are numerous negative mental and physical health effects associated with this amount of screen time, including eye strain, back pain, obesity, sleep disruptions, depression, and impaired dopamine functioning.

What to do about it:
 While the scientific consensus around modern digital technologies is evolving, the Mayo Clinic recommends limiting screen time to two hours or less per day. Office workers using computers for their job can at least break up the periods they spend staring at a screen, such as eating away from the desk, taking standing breaks, and looking away at distant physical objects every 20 minutes or so.

Related: 10 Things Robbing You of Sleep, and How to Beat Them

Phone in bed
Delmaine Donson/istockphoto

Screen Time Before Bed

However often you have to look at a screen during the day, avoiding them in the hour before bed can be key to getting a full night’s sleep. The blue light of backlit screens disrupts the body’s internal clock, which can delay sleep and reduce its quality and duration.

What to do about it:
 Blogger Joe Flanagan is one of many whose sleep habits suffered due to too much smartphone and social media in bed, which would keep his thoughts swirling around and lower productivity the next day. “I have overcome this by setting a night routine that allows me to have better sleep quality,” he says. “I dine two or three hours before my bedtime, stop watching TV series or movies and stop checking my phone as well.”

Related: 12 Benefits of Banning Electronics from the Bedroom

Social Media Management

Too Much Time on Social Media

It’s not just how much time you spend on screens that can affect your mental health, but what you’re doing on them. A growing body of research links spending more time on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram to greater rates of depression and anxiety, perhaps due to the perceptions they create about peer groups. 

What to do about it: 
One study’s authors recommend limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day.

Related: 26 Ways Social Media Can Land or Lose You a Job

Avoid Selfie Cliches

Focusing Too Much on Yourself

Social media and other elements of Western culture often promote focusing on oneself, which can actually lower self-esteem. While self-awareness is important, it can easily be confused with self-indulgence, leading to obsessive rumination over what we’ve done “wrong,” or how others have wronged us. Studies have even linked greater use of first-person singular pronouns such as “I” and “me” with greater likelihood for depression, marital dissatisfaction, and social anxiety.

What to do about it:
“The more you think and focus on ‘you,’ the worse you are going to feel,” explains author and relationship coach Jess McCann. “By learning to take more of an interest in other people, and not yourself, you'll raise your baseline level of happiness and peace and lower your risk to anxiety and depression, both of which have self-obsession at its core.”

Related: 12 Signs It's Time to Talk to a Therapist

reading news

Too Much News

We too often focus on negative information, and increasingly graphic news peddled by a profit-motivated media industry has a way of attracting us even as many recognize the harmful effects: News viewers can feel increased sadness and anxiety or even experience vicarious trauma from watching reports about upsetting events, resulting in imbalanced perceptions of the world as more dangerous than it really is.

What to do about it:
 Even during a pandemic, experts recommend limiting news exposure to one or two instances per day from reliable sources.



Streaming services such as Netflix have made binge-watching movies and TV shows a premier activity to fill up free time, but there are downsides to downing that much entertainment in one sitting. In addition to the negative effects of sitting in one place or excessive snacking, the repeated dopamine hits of watching episode after episode can have an addictive effect on the brain, leading to social isolation, sleep interruptions, and depression or anxiety.

What to do about it:
 Try avoiding such risks by limiting TV consumption to two or three episodes at a time.

Related: Companies That Have Changed the Way We Live Over the Past Decade

Watching TV to Unwind from Work

Watching TV to Unwind from Work

Relying on TV as a reward after a hard day’s work can make you enjoy your work and leisure hours less. According to a 2014 study, people who felt stressed from work did not feel relaxed by watching TV or playing video games afterward, but rather that it contributed to feelings of guilt and failure.

What to do about it:
 To limit these sensations and be realistic about your desired productivity level, try reflecting on or writing down your day’s accomplishments before rushing for the remote.

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Moyo Studio/istockphoto


Multitasking to get more than one thing done at the same time may seem like the smart choice, but research suggests it can impair productivity by as much as 40%. Frequent multitasking also makes us more distractible and impairs cognitive ability, exhausting the brain’s executive functioning by switching back and forth between tasks.

What to do about it:
 Try reducing the negative effects of multitasking by eliminating potential distractions and practicing the “20-minute rule” — devoting attention fully to one task for at least 20 minutes before switching to another.

Related: 25 Ways to Be More Mindful at Work

Spending Tiers

Emotional Spending

Have you ever bought a product just to relieve stress or improve a subpar mood? If so, you’ve engaged in emotional spending, a habit that can lead to financial ruin if left unchecked.

What to do about it:
 Cut back by limiting exposure to advertising, which promotes the assumption you can buy happiness, and opting for healthier stress-relieving activities such as reading or exercise.

Related: 30 Money Mistakes You're Probably Making and How to Avoid Them

Not Retiring Early Enough

Not Getting Enough Sleep

Less sleep means more risk of an early death. Because the body naturally repairs itself during sleep, getting less than six hours of quality sleep a night is associated with all sorts of health risks, including weight gain, mental decline, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

What to do about it:
 The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night

Related: 15 Things That Make It Harder to Sleep As You Get Older

Lesson 9: Get Enough Sleep

Getting Too Much Sleep

Everything works better in moderation, so don’t get too comfortable in bed. Getting more than nine hours sleep a night is associated with health risks similar to getting less than six, such as an increased likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and death.

What to do about it:
 Don’t get in the habit of vacillating between too little and too much sleep either, as trying to make up for lost sleep can actually worsen the effects on metabolism.

Related: 16 Sleep Myths That Could Explain Why You're So Tired

Inflammatory: Stress

Burning Yourself Out with Overwork

Burnout is now a work-related issue of chronic emotional and physical exhaustion, characterized by fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and depression, among other symptoms, according to the International Classification of Diseases. If these symptoms sound familiar, it may be because your job has unclear expectations, allows too little control over your own schedule and workload, or demands over-engagement at the expense of a healthy work-life balance.

What to do about it:
 You can take this up with human resources, find creative outlets outside the office, and set goals around work to keep it from creeping into leisure time.

Related: 23 Natural Ways to Boost Energy and Fight Fatigue

Avoid Isolation

Social Isolation

In the age of COVID-19, it’s easier than ever to fall into a pattern of social isolation and loneliness. Both increase chronic stress and are proven risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke.

What to do about it:
 While social engagement can seem like a luxury competing with more practical obligations, make sure you’re taking the time to reach out to loved ones or pursuing hobbies that provide the positive face-to-face interactions your mind and body need, even if it’s socially distanced.

Related:  20 Ways for Older Relatives to Stay Connected With Loved Ones While Social Distancing

Breaking Promises to Yourself or Others
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Breaking Promises to Yourself or Others

We all make commitments to ourselves and others, not all of which we can follow through on. Breaking promises regularly, however, reflects a devaluation of our own word that can compromise relationships, which are always founded on some degree of trust.

What to do about it:
 To avoid damaging your own self-image, self-esteem, and social reputation, be realistic about what you can hope to achieve, and only make promises accordingly.

Focus is a skill only mastered by the successful

Holding Grudges

Feeling hurt or betrayed by someone you trust is never easy, but holding onto that hurt can take a physical as well as emotional toll. Research shows that the resentment and bitterness makes people more likely to die from heart disease and stroke, primarily due to chronic stress.

What to do about it:
 The benefits of letting go and practicing forgiveness are enough to recommend themselves, including improved relationships, higher self-esteem, less anxiety, and lower blood pressure.

Related: What to Do When a Family Member Becomes a Stranger

Pheelings Media/istockphoto


Procrastination — delaying a task despite knowing delay has consequences — can be hard to characterize as a habit, but we all know it when we do it by the feeling of failed self-control. Research links regular procrastination to higher rates of stress, lower self-esteem, and poorer mental health overall, and it can even delay our seeking treatment for these problems.

What to do about it:
 There are strategies to overcome procrastination, but most come down to just being more mindful of your feelings and finding the intrinsic motivation to do what you need to do because it makes you feel better than avoiding it.

Related: 10 Tips and Tools to Fight Procrastination



We all have voices in our heads that drive and debate our behavior, but when one or more get excessively negative or critical, it can wreak havoc on our happiness. It’s been linked to increased risk of mental health problems, decreasing motivation and increasing feelings of helplessness that manifest in depression.

What to do about it:
 To start counteracting the inner critic, Very Well Mind advises, you have to note when it takes over and cross-examine it with more positive perspectives.

Learning New Skills and Hobbies

Declining to Learn New Things

No matter your age, taking on new challenges and learning things helps maintain neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt. This was illustrated by a 2013 study in which seniors who learned a new skill showed improved memory over control groups that simply watched movies or played games.

What to do about it:
 Making a habit of avoiding challenges or declining opportunities to learn can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, accelerating mental decline.

Drinking Too Much Water

Not Hydrating Enough

Experts recommend consuming about 15 cups of fluid a day for men or 11 cups for women. About 20% of this daily intake may come from foods, whereas most of the remainder should be plain old water, rather than sodas or other sugary beverages.

What to do about it:
 While different people will have different needs, neglecting the body’s principal chemical component can cause adverse effects such as headache, weakened immunity, dry skin, and fatigue. Drink up.

Related: 18 Foods That Will Help You Hydrate

Cut Out Soda

Drinking Soda, Diet or Regular

People who drink sodas are considered to be at a higher risk of mortality, with each 12-ounce serving increasing that risk. These beverages provide no health benefits, but plenty of empty calories from added sugars — and diet sodas make a poor alternative, with artificial sweeteners increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome and weight gain.

What to do about it:
 Eliminate soda and juice from your diet. Just by that one step, personal trainer Jamie Hickey testifies that she lost 37 pounds in five months. “I don’t think people realize how bad soda particularly is for you,” she says, “especially when those empty calories are combined with a diet high in processed foods.”

Related: 20 Items You Should Avoid Buying in Bulk

Junk Food Causes Acne

Mindless Eating

As with other forms of multitasking, eating during other tasks, such as working, socializing, or watching TV, can make both activities less satisfying. A 2013 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compiled studies to conclude that not paying attention to a meal was associated with eating more, during that meal and later.

What to do about it:
“By being more mindful, you can reap the benefits of eating less, leading to weight maintenance or loss, reduced GI issues, and better enjoyment of food,” writes Emily Danckers, registered dietitian and founder of Emily RD Nutrition Coaching. “Research shows that the brain takes 20 minutes to tell the body that it is full. Next time you eat a meal, try waiting 20 minutes before going back for seconds.”

Related: With These Healthy Recipes, You Won't Miss Packaged Snacks


Washing Raw Chicken

It may seem wrong to start cooking raw chicken without somehow treating it first, but washing it will only increase your risk of exposure to harmful bacteria such as salmonella by splashing it around the kitchen sink.

What to do about it:
 Never wash raw chicken before preparing it, and always cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or more before eating.

Related: 35 Foods That Are Dangerous If Not Prepared Properly

Avoid Junk-Food Aisles

Eating Ultra-Processed Foods

At the start of quarantine, Stacy Caprio got in the habit of reaching for highly processed snack foods such as pretzels and chips instead of fresh vegetables and proteins. “After a few days of doing this I would notice my skin get worse, my body bloat and gain weight, and my general energy levels dip,” Caprio says. “I felt horrible.” Research shows that consuming ultra-processed foods — from packaged snacks to reconstituted meat products such as chicken nuggets — is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, high cholesterol, and an early death. Yet these food products still account for between 25% and 60% of daily calorie intake for developed nations such as the United States.

What to do about it:
 There’s plenty of good advice on eating better. Start with the latest version of the venerable food pyramid.

Related: The 20 Least Unhealthy Junk Foods


Consuming Too Much Salt or Saturated Fats

Key to the addictive tastes of most ultra-processed foods are their high content of salts and saturated fats, also common in red meats, cheese, and fried foods. High intake of either is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke.

What to do about it:
 Check food labels and keep your intake of salt and saturated fats below 2,300 milligrams and 13 grams, respectively.

Related: 26 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Cut Back on Sugar

Consuming Too Much Added Sugar

Added sugars contribute health risks too, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 150 calories of added sugars daily, or the equivalent of one 12-ounce soda can.

What to do about it:
 Practically, this means being wary of condiments, protein bars, breakfast cereals, canned fruits and beans, and sugary beverages in general.

Related: I Banned Sugar From My Diet for a Week and Here's What Happened

Drinking Late at Night

Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Whether you’re locked in quarantine or going out socially, having a few drinks can easily become a problematic habit, if not a life-threatening addiction.

What to do about it:
 There are health benefits associated with moderate drinking, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming only one drink per day for women or two for men.

Related: Don't Believe These 19 Myths About Alcohol

Quitting Vaping
Sergey Granev/istockphoto


Though marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, vaping is still addictive, and too little understood to recommend. The nicotine content of vape juice may cause developmental problems in younger users, and even bigger unknowns come from the usually unspecified flavoring agents used to give cartridges their distinct tastes.

What to do about it:
 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves these additives as safe for oral consumption, but the effects of their inhalation remain understudied. Best to stay away. To stop vaping, look to the same resources that smokers of traditional tobacco use to break their habit. 

Weight Fluctuates

Inconsistent or Trend Dieting, or Obsessing Over Diet

The main bad habit registered dietitian Colleen Christensen encounters in clients is, counterintuitively, dieting. “When we follow strict diets, many times we’re actually making ourselves less healthy,” she says. “Not eating enough … will shut down aspects of our biological process like hormone production, reproduction, [and] thermoregulation.”

What to do about it:
 Chasing fad diets or other unrealistic goals for our eating habits can create a pattern of weight cycling and inconsistent self-care leading to confused metabolism, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and weight gain.

Related: Don't Fall for These 17 Weight Loss Gimmicks


Mouth Breathing

Breathing through the mouth can be necessary during periods of intense exercise or nasal congestion, but doing it regularly is associated with all sorts of negative health effects. It can cause facial deformities and impaired growth in children, or gum disease and chronic allergies at any age. This is because the nose works better to filter air while improving the lungs’ ability to absorb and transport oxygen throughout the body.

What to do about it:
 Chronic mouth-breathing is usually caused by some form of nasal blockage or sometimes stress and anxiety, which may benefit from medical treatment or over-the-counter nasal sprays.

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Body-focused repetitive behaviors are physical disorders in which normal self-grooming routines, such as hair pulling, nail biting, or skin picking, become compulsive and harmful. They’re often related to anxiety, impulse control, and obsessive compulsive disorders, and suffered by about 3% of the population; many more likely struggle with milder but similarly uncontrollable physical habits.

What to do about it:
 The most effective treatment approach is cognitive behavioral therapy to minimize personal shame, identify triggers or patterns, and replace them with more adaptive behaviors.

Related: 25 Mental Health Conditions You Might Not Know About

Flossing Is Key To Dental Health

Not Flossing

Brushing your teeth just isn’t enough to maintain good oral hygiene. According to Dr. Joseph Salim, owner and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates in New York City, flossing is the only thing that can cleanse the contact points between teeth to prevent what are called interproximal cavities and inflammation of the gums leading to gum disease. “Another corollary of not flossing is that many people end up over-brushing forcefully to make their teeth feel cleaner,” Salim says. “This mistake causes trauma and leads to irreversible recession of the gums.”

What to do about it:
 There’s no getting around this one: Floss. You can also ask your dentist if they approve of a flossing alternative, which will surely be pricier.

Related: 30 Medical Myths That Have Been Debunked

Feet hurt

Wearing Ill-Fitting Shoes

According to a 2018 study, only about 28% to 37% of people wear shoes that are the right length and width. This might seem minor, but ill-fitting shoes can cause all sorts of negative health effects, such as corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, deformities, and a condition called peripheral neuropathy characterized by numbness and decreased spatial awareness around our feet.

What to do about it:
 Finding a more appropriate fit could actually cause a noticeable improvement in your quality of life.

Related: We Asked Nurses: What is Your Favorite Walking Shoe?


Not Having Enough Sex

Sex is an integral part of a healthy adult life, with psychological as well as physical benefits. Regular sexual activity provides good cardiovascular exercise that can lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, improve sleep, and reduce stress. Johns Hopkins reports that having sex at least twice a week makes one less likely to have a heart attack.

What to do about it:
 If it’s difficult to find the time and get in the mood even with a cohabiting partner, remember: Not only does it feel good, it’s good for you too.

Related: 11 Exercises to Improve Your Sex Life

Using Computer on bed

Watching Too Much Pornography

While experts debate whether excessive pornography viewing constitutes an addiction, there’s no doubt using it can be a problem when it seems to exceed one’s control or infringe on other responsibilities and interests, contributing to greater impulsiveness, desensitization to reward, and lower tolerance for delaying gratification.

What to do about it:
 One expert in Psychology Today advises setting gradual boundaries – and writing them into an actual contract with yourself.


Not Getting 30 Minutes of Daily Exercise

Experts recommend adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise each week, or about 20 to 40 minutes per day. Unfortunately, 80% of American adults fall short of that goal for numerous reasons, most relating to a sedentary lifestyle.

What to do about it:
Rather than counting steps or quitting your desk job outright, strategize ways to build regular exercise such as walking or stretching into your daily routine.

Related: 11 Ways to Get Exercise While Just Going About Your Day

Pile of shiny chrome dumbbells disks lying around grip


Anything can be taken too far, including exercise. Constant intense exercise can result in diminished strength, worse moods, and greater body fat, due to excessive release of the stress hormone cortisol.

What to do about it:
 The body needs time to repair its muscles, so make sure you’re not pushing yourself considerably more than usual without plenty of sleep and relaxation in the following days to recuperate. If you are overexerting yourself, your body will be sure to tell you.

Related: The Biggest Exercise Mistakes You Can Make After Age 50

Distance Running
Break for Exercise
miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

Spending Too Much Time Indoors

Humans have gotten a lot better at sheltering and entertaining ourselves indoors, but since we evolved to spend time outdoors, this brings side effects we’re only beginning to understand. Americans spending an average of 93% of their time indoors as of 2001 is associated with more food allergies, shortsightedness from too much up-close work, and vitamin D deficiencies from lack of sunlight, which can also disrupt sleep cycles and worsen mood. People have an easy time overlooking just how much time we’re spending indoors and how it may affect us, and it’s gotten even easier in a national quarantine.

What to do about it:
 Finding clear reasons to go outside may have gotten harder, but even staying close to home it’s possible to clear the 120-minutes a week hurdle recommended for higher well-being.

Related: 12 Outdoor Workouts Perfect for Social Distancing

Flu shot
Listening to Loud Music Unprotected

Listening to Loud Music Unprotected

Exposure to loud sounds, whether long-term or in one short burst, damages the cells of our inner ear, contributing to high-frequency hearing loss. Some of the most common culprits for this loss include listening to earbuds or attending live concerts without earplugs, especially for people over 50.

What to do about it:
 Experts recommend keeping sound levels between 60 and 85 decibels, which you can gauge with a sound meter or other, more commonplace strategies.

Bad Posture

Bad Posture

Bad posture is another habit that’s easy to overlook, even as it affects nearly every aspect of our daily experience. The benefits of simply straightening up can include alleviating migraines and chronic back pain, promoting weight loss, reducing stress on joints, increasing oxygen intake, and boosting energy and confidence.

What to do about it:
 While many common activities and sitting positions can contribute to bad posture, it just takes a little mindfulness and some regular physical corrections to start improving.

Related: 15 Stylish, Ergonomic Office Chairs That Won't Break the Bank (or Your Back)

High angle view of unrecognizable African American man writing on a yellow note pad
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Not Writing Things Down

As a tutor and academic coach for Rocket Prep, Justin Menda says the most common bad habit he encounters is people neglecting to write things down. “So many people try to do far too much in their heads,” Menda says. “It drives cognitive workload through the roof. You’re trying to remember all the variables involved, assess each one, hold your attention on the task, and control any emotions that might flare up.”

What to do about it:
 Since these tasks all enlist the limited resources of our prefrontal cortex, elaborating on ideas in writing can free up working memory and improve decision-making by putting the considerations literally right in front of you. Research confirms that people who vividly describe their goals in writing are more likely to achieve them.


Fixating on the Past

Our capacity for thought can be an invaluable tool for accomplishing tasks and making sense of the world around us, but can prevent us from enjoying the present by keeping us preoccupied with what’s already past. In the worst case, “this creates a false identity of self that limits the person's future to only what happened in the past,” says JClay, a self-described rapper and philosopher. Feeling taken advantage of in the past might lead to a person being “destined for a life with not so many friends.”

What to do about it:
 Instead of fixating on or ignoring the past, admit the influence of the past to differentiate the present. In simpler terms, don't repress or fixate on your past — accept it.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxious Rumination

As director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Paul Greene says he often helps patients break the habit of “anxious rumination,” when we spend excessive amounts of time worrying about what and how bad things might happen. “Sometimes we do this even if it's very unlikely the bad thing would actually happen — like getting a rare disease,” Greene says.

What to do about it:
 He recommends overcoming this by writing out how likely the bad thing is to occur based on actual evidence; learning to practice mindfulness; and doing something besides ruminating that will command your full attention, such as vigorous exercise or face-to-face conversation.

Related: 21 Signs That Your Worrying Could Be an Anxiety Disorder