May 3, 2017 – Everyone is guilty of turning to a coping mechanism that isn’t exactly the healthiest at some point in their lives. During times of stress or sadness, there is nothing like a little dopamine surge through your system to temporarily take your mind off your troubles. The thing is, even behaviors that seem normal or harmless can disrupt your mental health and potentially lead you down a path toward crisis when they are done to extremes.
As you may already know, May is Mental Health Month. This year, Mental Health America is bringing awareness to “Risky Business.” We want to educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental health in a judgement-free way, and encourage people to seek help if they think a habit or behavior is getting in the way of their recovery.
Here are six behaviors that could be having a negative effect on your mental health:
- Marijuana: Despite being legal for recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia, marijuana can cause people to experience symptoms of mental health conditions like psychosis (hallucinations), anxiety (panic attacks), depression, and sleep disorders. These symptoms generally fade after the effect of the drug has worn off, but for some people marijuana may increase the risk of developing psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
- Prescription Drug Misuse: The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over seven percent of Americans had admitted to misusing prescription drugs in the past year. If you’re adjusting your medication without consulting your doctor, you’re playing with fire. Abrupt changes in dosage can have loads of undesirable effects that will make your recovery journey rockier than it needs to be.
- Exercise: “What? Exercise?!” Yup. While exercise is great for improving physical and mental health, even exercise can negatively affect mental health if it becomes an obsession or is used as a way to “purge calories.” It is estimated that between 39-48 percent of people with an eating disorder also struggle with exercise addiction.
- Sex: “First exercise, now sex?” We’re not saying all sex is bad by any means, but if you find yourself turning to high-risk sexual behaviors (like unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, or sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol) to make yourself feel better when you’re sad or stressed, it may be a problem. After the thrill of the act is over, many people find themselves dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, or regret on top of whatever negative feelings they were trying to relieve in the first place.
- Spending: Some occasional “retail therapy” can pick you up out of a slump and get you feeling good about how you look in a new outfit, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you rely on to lift your spirits. If you find yourself frequently consumed by the urge to shop, and feel sad or disappointed when the experience is over, you could be dealing with compulsive buying disorder.
- The Internet: It’s so ingrained in modern life that it can be hard to remember what life was like before the Internet. But if you spend so much time online that you get irritable or have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have Internet access, or your time online causes strain on your relationships with family and friends, you may be taking things too far. Make a list of things you enjoy doing offline that you can look at to help balance your time behind a screen.
Tell us what you think. When has a behavior “gone too far?” Take MHA’s “What’s Too Far” quiz at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/whatstoofar.
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