17 Toxic Habits You Didn’t Know You Practice, & How To Quit Them
I realized I have a lot of small, toxic habits that added up and contributed to my unhappiness…
Most of us have a lot more time on our hands to self-reflect. I know I spend more time with myself than ever, and I’d spend a lot of time alone pre-pandemic since I worked from home for about seven months prior. One of the major silver linings of that is that I’ve been able to identify so much more about myself that I need to work on (in a totally healthy way that isn’t mentally exhausting or punitive — for the most part). I realized I had a lot of small toxic habits that added up and contributed to much of the unhappiness I was feeling.
By journaling almost every day, I was able to look back and pinpoint patterns and gave myself exercises. Like, for two weeks I didn’t let myself check on an old colleague’s social media handles because I knew that by doing so, I was making myself feel sad, or sometimes paranoid that they were subtweeting me or something. Eventually, I weaned myself off that bad habit entirely — and it feels so good.
If you know you also have unhealthy habits you need to break, you’re definitely not alone. We are humans and we are fallible and complicated. Even just identifying those habits is a great place to start. And your tiny bad habits may not be impacting just you, they could be impacting your relationships with others — so by working on them, you could also be working on being a better friend, partner, coworker, or family member.
Here are some of the small toxic habits all of us could stand to unlearn.
1. Checking in on ex-friends and hoping you’re doing “better” than them
Whatever your criteria are for “better” doesn’t matter; comparing yourself to others and wishing negativity upon them does terrible things to your mental health (and there’s the whole bad karma aspect). It might be tempting to check in on old friends or coworkers on social media and either consciously or subconsciously measure yourself up to them, but try not to do it. When you’re done scrolling, you’ll just end up feeling grumpy or resentful.
2. Answering non-emergency emails outside of work hours because of self-imposed obligation
Guilty as charged. While I’ve set much stricter boundaries with myself and my work email, I will still occasionally feel compelled to answer an email just to let the sender know I’m on it, don’t worry. You can count on me. I’m dropping everything on a Saturday at 7 p.m. to answer this email, so obviously I am committed. The thing is, the way we think we come across isn’t who we come across. When you make yourself available during times that should be sacredly yours, you’re telling the sender that they can keep emailing you during inappropriate hours and that you’re cool with it. Don’t set that precedent, and be firm about the hours in which you send emails (unless it’s an emergency, of course) by simply not responding until the next morning. After you’ve had your coffee or tea, ideally.
3. Putting off phone calls or texts with your friends and family more than once
When I’m feeling especially burnt out and anxious, just answering a text from a friend will feel like someone is asking me to build IKEA furniture. So, I’m definitely Camp I Will Text You Back When I’m In a Better Headspace. However! Your friends and family likely care about you and love you, and they also need that attention and acknowledgment, too. I know what it feels like to accidentally become neglectful in my communication with people I love, and how I help combat this is by writing a specific time in my planner the next day to text or email them back. That way, I know I have time before my “deadline,” and once I finally do call or text, a) I realize the conversation was much more nourishing than I thought, and b) I feel accomplishment. It’s silly and maybe weird, but it works for me.
4. Spending more money for the sake of convenience only
I have 100 percent spent more on products or services based on convenience, like getting a piece of furniture that is more expensive (and crappier quality) just because I know it’ll ship faster. Or not waiting for a sale on a clothing item I know very well will go on sale (it’ll just take a few weeks). Or failing to compare prices when you’re grocery shopping and just grabbing what’s closest to you. It’s all about patience, patience, patience. You can save so much money if you work on your levels of it.
5. Working while eating all your meals
One of my “resolutions” is to give myself at least 15 minutes of solitude while I eat my lunch during the workweek. Since my home is my office, I would see no harm in answering some emails or being available for others on Slack while I eat my tacos for lunch. And then I wondered why I’m so mentally exhausted by the end of the day. Try to give yourself some time away from the computer to eat your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If this means eating a sandwich on your patio, so be it. Your boss will not get mad at you for taking a lunch break (it’s literally illegal — in most cases — not to get a break during the workday, so if they are irate with your schedule, take that to HR, pronto).
6. Not doing someone a favor when you reassure them you will
Confession: About six years ago, a former student who I taught in grad school asked for a letter of rec and I totally spaced and forgot to write it. It haunts me to this day. I always, always try to honor favors, because a) it feels good to pay it forward, and b) one day, I know I’ll be the one asking for a favor. If you offer someone help, follow through with it and be reliable. If you don’t, it’s frustrating and disappointing.
7. Checking your email or social media first thing in the morning. Like, before you even put your glasses on
Grabbing your phone and wading through all the push notifications is the most overwhelming way to start your day. I do check my phone in the morning just in case my parents have called with an emergency, but I’ve been working on saving the rest until after I’ve gone through my morning routine and have coffee brewing. It’s okay. The direct cause of someone’s death will not be due to you not logging into Instagram or Apple News or Slack first thing.
8. Staying up late for no particular reason
I have screwed myself over the next day by doom scrolling, or binge-watching a True Crime documentary (and then not being able to fall asleep because what if I get murdered?) until 2 a.m. When I was younger, I could pull off staying up late (like, way later than 2 a.m.) and be fine and have a functioning brain the next day. But I can’t handle those kinds of antics anymore. I need 8 hours of sleep, or else there will be hell to pay the next day. I’ve started to give myself a cut-off time when watching shows, and have also moved my bedtime routine to an earlier time to take into account that I’ll probably scroll through Instagram for 15 minutes, or read a few chapters of a book.
9. Spending enough time on social media that it makes you upset
It’s been proven a billion. times that social media is terrible for our psyche. A place that showcases people’s best and happiest moments (and not the hard times that they go through just like anyone else), purposely serves you upsetting news stories even after you’ve gotten your fill for the day, and exposes you to obnoxious comments or posts that make you angry is not a healthy place. I know if I spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, I’ll feel at least 20 percent worse about myself and the world. It’s okay to log off.
10. Finding yourself thinking something bad always has to happen
If things are going well, I am convinced this is the universe telling me, “Not so fast.” Or, “Good things can’t always last forever.” Or, “It’s bound to come crashing down.” What I probably need is more therapy, but I’m also working on squashing these negative thoughts so that I can actually appreciate the place I’m in, feel proud of what I’ve accomplished, and stop forecasting negative outcomes as some sort of defense mechanism that I think will protect me if things do go wrong.
11. Making self-deprecating jokes about your appearance that ultimately make you feel terrible
First of all, you never know if talking about weight with someone could be triggering for them. Second, saying things like, “The pandemic has made me gain so much weight, I am so fat now,” isn’t conducive to anyone! So what if you’ve gained weight during probably the most traumatic time period in recent history? Did your doctor tell you that your weight is impacting your overall health? No? Then stop feeling bad about yourself and don’t project those negative feelings on other people, because who knows what they’re going through. This is definitely a larger conversation to be had (one that involves discussing our society’s beauty standards and the pressures it puts on people to look a certain way), but I’ll just leave it at this: Stop making yourself feel bad. And yes, jokes about your weight still count even if you tacked on an “LOL” at the end of your statement.
12. Assuming you know about a person’s finances
“They probably have a trust fund,” or “Their parents probably pay their rent,” are things I’ve bitterly thought to myself when I literally have no clue about a person’s source of income. This probably comes from a place of insecurity, resentment, and jealousy; I have known (and do know) people with trust funds and mega-wealthy parents/spouses, and it’s easy to get caught up in financial FOMO, especially if you’re struggling and don’t have the privilege of getting help from family members or partners. But, okay! We already know there are people in this world with immense, mind-boggling riches. This doesn’t have anything to do with your life and your finances, and you’re not going to eye-roll your way to wealth. Don’t let it consume you and your goals.
13. Obsessing over the mistakes you made at previous jobs
Every once in a while (and I’m working on this!) I’ll go through old work emails I had forwarded myself, or think about times I screwed up at work. If I let it, these thoughts will consume me and take me to a place in which I’m convinced I’m the worst person ever who’s burned all her bridges, and will never reach success on her own terms. But the thing is, all of us have made mistakes at work. Sometimes, burning a bridge is inevitable. Most of us have said the wrong things, answered an email too abruptly, or miscalculated dynamics between coworkers. Sure, there are some mistakes that you can’t come back from, but most are forgivable. But Chances are, your boss or coworker or employee doesn’t remember your blunder, anyway. Move on and continue to do and be better.
14. Drinking only because you feel like you need to fit in
Pre-pandemic, I would always order a drink when I was out with friends or had a work event — even if I desperately didn’t want to. I totally like and can get down with adult beverages, but especially at the end of a long day, that is the last thing I want to consume. Alcohol makes me tired, I get drunk super quickly, and I also feel hungover almost immediately. Nevertheless, I’d put myself through that so that I wouldn’t feel like people were judging me for not drinking — but guess what? People Do. Not. Care. And if you are out with someone who is questioning why you’re choosing to have sparkling water or a Diet Coke instead of a vodka tonic, then they’re the weird ones (also, it’s never cool to ask why someone isn’t drinking, since they could be recovering from alcoholism, or dealing with medical issues). Don’t put pressure on yourself or others when it comes to alcohol — or any other drug, as a matter of fact.
15. Purchasing cheap, unnecessary things just because you want to buy things
Guilty, guilty, guilty. My easy access to Amazon Prime makes buying things here and there “just because” very dangerous, and I’m working on curbing this affliction. I know that I sometimes will “treat” myself and buy another sweater I don’t need, or will tack on a dessert to my takeout order even though I know full well I already have ice cream in the fridge. These little “feel good” purchases will make us feel very bad once we’ve taken the time to add them all up and find that they’re doing a number on our checking accounts. Whenever I have an urge to buy something, I ask myself why (to suss out the root cause of the need for a quick shopping fix) and if I really need that item. Do I already have something similar? Will this make me happy in two weeks? Wouldn’t it feel better to just save that money and buy myself something I actually need somewhere down the line? Talking yourself off the shopping ledge takes practice, but practice makes perfect.
16. Wondering if everyone hates you
I joke about this to myself, my friends, and my husband (i.e. “They probably hate me, LOL”) but really caring how other people feel about me is something I’ve struggled with for, well, forever. If you’re in the same “everyone hates me” boat, just know that you’re not alone. But also know (and this is something I remind myself all the time) people are way too self-involved to care that much about you. I’m not going to flippantly say, “who cares what other people think?” because it’s hard not to. But you can definitely deserve more credit than you give yourself.
17. Not listening to people
I’ve known (and do know) people who rarely ever ask me about my day, or how I’m doing and will go on for hours about their date, or job, or other friendships. And this can be so frustrating, because how do you tell a person to listen to you and STFU once in a while? It’s hard! And it depends on what kind of relationship you have with them. On the plus side, knowing people who don’t listen has made me work on my own listening skills, and I try to make sure that, in every conversation I have, the person I’m speaking with feels heard and that they’re in a safe space to talk about whatever it is they want to talk about. Earning and having people’s trust is such a key thing in our relationships — and really listening to people is how you get there.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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