Most days, we go about our routines without giving them much thought, but did you know that some habits could damage our health? Most of the time, we don’t realize we are potentially making “wellness mistakes.” Other times, we know what we are doing is not helpful, but living in such a fast-paced world makes it hard to change a habit. Let's examine seven common wellness mistakes and find ways to achieve optimal health.
Long-standing lifestyle habits can be damaging to your physical and mental health if you are unaware of the consequences.
We can forfeit good health and nutrition practices because of our demanding schedules when "quick" is just "easier."
Neglecting self-care can cause sleep disturbances, increased stress, and overall health issues if not managed well.
Preventative health monitors general health and can alert your healthcare provider of any issues to support early intervention.
Making mistakes regarding how our lifestyle choices affect our health and well-being is common. Being complacent is easy, but it's important to be aware of the possible consequences of our choices. This awareness might prompt us to make some lifestyle changes. Here are seven common mistakes made concerning our health and wellness.
1. Overlooking the impact of stress
Stress is the body’s response to demands in our lives. However, the way we respond to that stress can impact our mental and physical health. We often think that stress results from something negative, such as the death of a loved one, but stress can also result from something positive, such as starting a new job or the birth of a child.
When stress continues unchecked, it becomes chronic and impacts physical and mental health. When someone is under stress, the adrenal glands respond by releasing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the "fight or flight" response. It’s a good response when you must suddenly swerve your car or hit your brakes to avoid something on the road. However, when the stressors persist, such as an illness or a stressful job, the results can be harmful, causing:
- Cardiac disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Autoimmune disorders
- Cognitive decline
If you have difficulties managing the stressors in your life, consider consulting a qualified mental health professional to help you with strategies for establishing priorities and managing stress in your life. Prioritizing self-care is also a strategy to consider.
2. Neglecting self-care practices for mental health
If stress can increase disease risk, then managing it is crucial to support mental and physical health. Making self-care a priority and stepping back from stress is essential for optimal health.
You may feel guilty for taking time for yourself, especially if others depend on you. However, caring for yourself is essential, as you can't give from an empty cup. Caregiver burnout, or burnout of any kind, is so prevalent in our society because many don’t take the time to look after their mental health. Dedicating a few hours a week to self-care can positively change your overall outlook on life. Here are some ideas for how to practice self-care:
- Practice guided meditation, mindfulness, or prayer
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Try breathing and relaxation techniques
- Take a walk in nature
- Go for a massage, pedicure, or facial
- Work out at the gym
- Prioritize rest and sleep
- Connect with friends and family
3. Forfeiting sleep for productivity
Having high-quality sleep is vital for our physical and mental well-being. We all understand how awful we feel after a night of disturbed sleep; it’s a struggle to get through the next day. Not getting enough sleep occasionally due to work commitments or socializing will not have long-term effects.
Still, a continuous forgoing of sleep to increase your work production or to binge-watch several Netflix series will ultimately affect your mental and physical health.
Sleep has a set of four stages needed to form a cycle of sleep and several cycles needed for optimal restorative sleep to occur. When we sacrifice sleep for what we believe is productivity, it does not prepare us to be the most productive. Some smartwatches have apps where you can monitor your sleep stages.
- Stage 1. Light sleep when you first fall asleep; can last 5–10 minutes.
- Stage 2. Deeper sleep when brain activity slows down and muscles relax. This stage lasts about 20 minutes.
- Stage 3. Deepest sleep stage when breathing and heart rate slow even more. Your brain waves are now at their slowest. This stage lasts 20-40 minutes and is essential for restoration, boosting immunity, and enhancing creativity.
- Stage 4. REM sleep, also called rapid eye movement sleep, is vital for healthy brain development and is the dreaming stage. Adults require up to two hours of sleep at this stage.
4. Poor sleep hygiene
The term “sleep hygiene” may not be all that familiar, but it means a set of good habits to maximize your sleep quality. Regardless of age, adults should aim to sleep seven to nine hours each night. Good sleep hygiene practices include:
- Keep your bedroom a room for only sleep and sexual activity
- Keep the temperature comfortable and on the cooler side
- Go to bed at about the same time each night to develop a consistent pattern
- Try to limit fluids 1–2 hours before bedtime
- Limit the use of caffeine in the evening
- Avoid the use of alcohol in the evening
- Avoid eating too close to your bedtime, especially a larger meal
- Turn off screens, television, computers, or mobile devices at least 30 minutes before bed
5. Poor nutrition
Because people are often busy and “on the go,” proper nutrition becomes a low priority. Sometimes, picking up fast food or grabbing a bag of chips seems “easier.” This type of eating often means people lack fruits and vegetables and consume too many processed foods. There are ways you can still eat healthy but on the run or with minimal preparation.
- Meal kit delivery. Several companies offer to deliver prepped ingredients to prepare a nutritious meal. Some are at a reasonable cost and offer quick and easy preparation.
- Grocery meals. More and more grocery stores have completed meals that offer a “fast food” convenience with balanced nutrition. This provides a “quick pick-up” for the busy professional.
- Healthy snacks. Purchase more nutritious snacks such as nuts, granola, and fruit for healthier options.
6. Inadequate hydration
Maintaining hydration is not just important in the warmer summer months — it is crucial in all seasons. Water in your body helps to regulate your temperature, cleanse the body of waste products, and moisten your eyes, mouth, and nose while also lubricating tissues.
Dehydration can occur due to illness, such as diarrhea or vomiting, or because someone does not drink enough throughout the day. Inadequate hydration can cause fainting, confusion, decreased urination, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure or hypotension.
Dehydration is a significant factor in falls in older adults. Older adults have less fluid volume, and they can either forget to drink enough or intentionally limit their fluid intake to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom, particularly if they are taking diuretic medications.
You can gauge your adequacy of hydration by looking at your urine when you go to the bathroom. If your urine is dark amber, you need to drink more fluids. If your urine is lighter yellow, your hydration is likely adequate.
You can improve hydration by:
- Drinking 6–8 glasses of water daily
- Increasing water and fluid intake if the weather is warm, you are working out, or you have a fever
- Avoiding too much coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks
- Increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Eating fluid-based foods like gelatin desserts, pudding, watermelon, tomatoes, and apples
7. Preventative healthcare
Some people only visit their healthcare provider when sick and don’t consider preventative care. However, preventive healthcare is needed for the early detection of chronic diseases.
Early diagnosis improves the chances of achieving a cure or avoiding the debilitating effects of disease. Regular bloodwork, vital signs, and cancer screenings are all part of preventative care, especially as we age.
Sometimes, we become complacent in how we manage our busy lives. We take shortcuts, thinking we are maximizing our time and energy when it could create more harm than good. Looking at these few lifestyle habits and changing in even one area could create new habits that optimize our health and improve our well-being.
- The Link Between Chronic Stress and Accelerated Aging. Biomedicines: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI).
- StatPearls. Physiology, Cortisol.
- CDC. Sleep and Sleep Disorders: Tips for Better Sleep.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Caring for Your Mental Health.
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2020 - 2025.