9 Everyday Habits That Could Up Your Risk For Depression

Avoiding these common habits can lighten your mood and lower your risk of sliding into full-blown depression.

Eating processed foods


A quick hot dog or bag of chips may be a tasty snack every once in a while, but too many highly processed foods might leave you feeling blue. In a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers assessed more than 3,000 people for their eating habits, and found that those who ate the most processed foods also experienced the highest levels of depression. Tellingly, the participants who ate the most fruits and vegetables were least likely to feel depressed. Avoiding processed foods completely can be difficult, especially in a time pinch, but these simple tricks can help train you brain to stop relying on junk food.

Spending too much time alone


Spending some quality time alone every now and then can be hugely beneficial to your mental health, making you a deeper thinker, a better problem solver, and a more concentrated worker. However, Susan Heitler, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Prescriptions Without Pills, warns that spending too much time in solitude can reverse these effects and actually increase your risk for depression. To protect yourself against this, she emphasizes the importance of creating strong friendships and relationships with others. "We can give or receive smiles and laughter," she says. "Any time we connect with someone else, it's an opportunity for positive emotional exchange." These facts prove that friends are ridiculously healthy for us.

Multitasking your media


With smartphones, laptops, televisions, and streaming services all begging for our attention 24/7, it's becoming increasingly common for people to consume media from more than one device at a time. In fact, it's estimated that the average amount of time spent multitasking your media has increased by 119 percent over the past decade. While it's become a habit for many people to scroll through their phones while watching Netflix, research shows that this overload of media may be bad for your brain. A 2013 study by researchers at Michigan State University surveyed 318 people, and found that those who reported multitasking their media more often experienced more symptoms of depression and social anxiety. To combat this, try spending time with only one screen at a time, and limiting your screen time altogether. Here's how to get your kids off their phones, for starters. which may be a bigger challenge.

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Spending time with negative people


Critical, negative comments from your friends, boss, or significant other can do more than put you in a temporary funk. Rather, surrounding yourself with such negativity can actually boost your risk of feeling depressed. "No one likes to be talked to in a snippy or harsh voice," Dr. Heitler says. "Being around someone who's sending that negative energy is problematic. It will make you feel down." Instead, form relationships with people who positively reinforce your actions, rather than constantly nit-picking at your decisions. Doing so can help you view life through a more positive lens, decreasing your likelihood of developing depression. Find out the signs of toxic, negative friendships.

Smoking cigarettes


You're likely aware that smoking cigarettes can cause a slew of problems for your lungs and respiratory health, but recent research shows that smoking can also make you more susceptible to anxiety and depression. A 2015 study by the University College London and the British Heart Foundation surveyed nearly 6,500 people over the age of 40, and found that 18 percent of smokers reported signs of depression and anxiety, while only 10 percent of non-smokers struggled with these issues. Furthermore, the research also shows that people who had quit smoking for over a year as well as those who had never picked up the habit reported similar levels of depression and anxiety, suggesting that the mental illness can actually lessen when you stop. As if that wasn't a compelling enough reason to toss your cigarettes, check out these other surprising ways your body heals after you drop the habit.

Spending too much time in the city


City living can carry a bunch of perks—delicious food, convenient public transportation, exciting nightlife—but spending too much time in urban areas can put a damper on your mood. According to a 2011 study by the Central Institute of Mental Health at the University of Heidelberg, living in a big city is linked to higher levels of stress and mental illness, especially depression. (These are the signs that stress is making you sick.) For city dwellers trying to avoid these effects, try taking quick trips to parks or rural areas to surround yourself with nature and take a break from the city hype. If getting out of the city every once and a while isn't feasible, Dr. Heitler suggests keeping a few potted plants in your living space to lighten the mood. "There is a kind of positive energy that plants and natural things do give off," she says.

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Going to bed late


You've probably heard the old adage that "early to bed and early to rise" makes you "healthy, wealthy, and wise." Well, as it turns out, there's actually some truth to the trope. A 2014 study by Binghamton University found that people who went to bed later encountered more chronic negative thoughts throughout the day, which is linked to depression. Conversely, those who fell asleep earlier experienced fewer bouts of negative thinking. The ideal bedtime for maximizing your mood varies from person to person and is largely dependent on age, but according to Time, the best time to hit the sheets falls between 8 pm.. and 12 a.m. for most adults.

Living a lazy lifestyle


Too much time spent glued to the TV could have a harsh impact on your mental health. As Dr. Heitler explains, exerting physical and mental effort with things like exercise or important projects lifts your mood and lowers your risk of feeling depressed. When you're physically active, your brain releases feel-good chemicals—like endorphins and endocannabinoids—that can alleviate feelings of depression. Exerting mental effort, on the other hand, lightens your mood in a slightly different way. "People need a project that gives them a purpose in order to feel good," Dr. Heitler says. "Having nothing that you feel really invested in makes you vulnerable to depression." Having a project or a passion, such as volunteer work or long-term goals, gives you something to work for and get excited about, increasing your mood. Here are some more creative ways to volunteer your time and efforts.

Using hormonal birth control


An estimated 62 percent of women of reproductive age in the United States are currently using contraceptives, with about 67 percent of them choosing a hormonal approach, such as the pill, an IUD, or injections. Hormonal birth control methods can allow for family planning, but it turns out that these procedures can up your risk for depression as well. A 2016 study by the University of Copenhagen looked at Danish women between the ages of 15 to 34 over a 13-year period and examined both their uses of hormonal contraceptives, and the development of depression that followed using these products. The researchers found that all types of hormonal contraceptives are linked to a heightened risk of feeling depressed. If these depressive symptoms become too invasive in your day-to-day routine, it may be wise to talk to your doctor about non-hormonal birth control options. Find out if you're using the wrong form of birth control.

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