We all want to improve ourselves. At times our own bad habits get in the way of the life we truly know we deserve. 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. Why do we persist? More importantly how can we stop? Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a Manhattan based neuropsychologist, addresses some of the most common habits and why to kick them now!
1. Overspending your way into debt.
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.
As Dr. Hafeez points out, “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.”
2. Overusing painkillers and sedatives.
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 can over time increase your risk for ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Since these drugs ease pain you may want to keep on taking them, which can lead to addiction.
According to Dr. Hafeez, “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.”
3. Nail biting (onychophagia)
Nail biting can happen when stressed or excited, or in times of boredom or inactivity. It can lead to bleeding and even possibly infection. You might be involved in another activity, such as reading, watching television, or talking on the phone, and bite your nails without thinking about it.
Dr. Hafeez says that, “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 is making sure you control your anxiety.”
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.
“When a person turns to food as a coping tool, they run the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, hypertension, joint pain and other debilitating health conditions,” explains Dr. Hafeez. She adds, “the ability to draw upon other coping mechanisms such as exercise, deep breathing, counting when stressed or daily meditation can help ease off the need to soothe with food.”
5. Cell Phone & Social Media Addiction
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,” says Dr. Hafeez. “This anxiousness is a sign of addiction. I advise gradually challenging yourself to see how you can enjoy a meal, a TV show, or a walk without the need to look at your phone. Start with 30 minutes, then 60 minutes. Then decide to unplug one day per week!”