Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Habits affect all of us. They play an essential part in our lives, as they help us develop a sense of normalcy and repetition in our daily routines. While there are healthy habits out there, it is essential to reflect on practices that may be worsening your mental or physical health.

Harmful habits are negative patterns of behavior that can be detrimental to an individual’s quality of life. Many people develop unhealthy practices as a way to cope with distress or as a cure for boredom. Other people establish them to cope with their addiction or chronic substance use. Everyone has destructive habits, but the main concern is the long-term consequences on an individual’s well-being.

Breaking repetition is challenging, no matter what task it is. It is essential to identify these patterns of choice in your life and determine how they impact your health. Once aware, you must make strides to break these harmful practices and replace them with new, positive ones.

Mindfulness is a valuable tool to help you reflect on your habits.

Habits form through a process where repeated behaviors become automatic. They can start with or without a person intending to create them, although they all eventually become an unconscious process. This means that for a person to acknowledge their patterns of practice, they must reflect on their subconscious mind.

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing the present moment to full, conscious awareness. It is about being aware of everything happening around you and inside of you. Mindfulness is the opposite of living life on “autopilot.”

Meditation is one practice of mindfulness. Although there are hundreds of different ways to meditate, meditation, in general, helps individuals access their subconscious—or unconscious—mind.

When you go about your day, try to practice mindfulness actively. Whether you take conscious breaths every few minutes or allow yourself time to meditate, actively participating in mindfulness will allow you to identify your unconscious habits. Once you are able to identify them, you can try to locate a cause and determine each practice as either healthy or harmful.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that if it is healthy, it positively affects your well-being. Conversely, it produces a negative physical, emotional, or psychological consequence if harmful.

Recovery from unhealthy habits, including experiences of addiction, can be achievable through various means of mindfulness. You can use meditation, yoga, and even deep breathing techniques to help you come to terms with addictive behaviors. When you feel an urge to lean into addictive behavior, try to fall back on mindfulness.

Recognize why your habit formed and identify a healthy alternative.

Habits form for all kinds of reasons. Mainly, they develop because the human brain favors repetition and patterns, turning our behaviors into automatic routines. This also stands true for how addictions form. Once you have identified your toxic or harmful habits, it may help to find a root cause for why your unhealthy or addictive behavior developed. Then you will be able to replace your routine with a healthy alternative that can help fill the void from your harmful habit.

For example, many people begin nail-biting to deal with stress or anxiety as a coping mechanism. Therefore, replacing the harmful habit of nail-biting with something healthy that eases these uncomfortable feelings would be a beneficial alternative. Someone who struggles with nail-biting could replace it by utilizing a fidget toy, chewing gum, or filing their nails instead.

Similarly, those that struggle with addictive behaviors such as smoking may tend to do so to help them relax or have better sleep at night. There are several healthy ways that a person struggling to break an addiction, such as smoking, can do so. Still, it must involve replacing their habit with a healthy alternative to help them relax or receive better sleep. Someone that needs assistance with rest may find that a healthier pre-sleep routine could be exercise, yoga, or engaging in healthier bedtime rituals.

Another example of a harmful habit would be engaging in negative self-talk. This habit is common for people both in and outside of recovery and is self-destructive to self-esteem. People might engage in negative self-talk as a habit because they struggle with depression or have low self-confidence. As a replacement, a person could consider acts of self-care or participate in hobbies that raise their sense of confidence.

Breaking harmful habits will take time.

Most people are not able to break bad habits overnight. It is important to remember that breaking these patterns will take time, especially if it’s been ongoing for several years.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work to break free from your harmful habits:

  • Set realistic goals. As mentioned before, try not to expect your habit to stop overnight. Set smaller goals in between larger ones that you believe you could achieve.
  • Be prepared for discomfort. Have backup coping mechanisms to lean into as you work to break free. Your mind and body might feel threatened as you try to change up your routine, but you know that you are working to live a healthier lifestyle for yourself.
  • Create incentives. Breaking habits might seem a little easier when you establish rewards for making progress. However, be careful not to use stimuli that could eventually become unhealthy practices on their own.

Harmful habits are patterns of repeated behavior that negatively affect our physical or mental well-being. At Pinelands, we help you make positive changes in your behaviors so that your habits do not jeopardize your recovery. For more information about our treatment facility, give us a call today at (877) 557-5372.