Bad Habits That Exacerbate Stress

Stop These Now: Bad Habits That Exacerbate Stress

When we are under stress, we may engage in activities that help us feel better momentarily, but create more stress in the long run, like compulsive shopping. We may also be more prone to acting without thinking, which can create conflict in relationships, undermine our productivity at work, and more. Worst of all, these habitual behaviors can go unrecognized, but can quietly create a vicious cycle of increased stress and poor coping. Here are some of the most common bad habits that cause stress, and effective strategies for breaking their hold on you, from Elizabeth Scott and other experts at

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can be a powerfully tempting habit that creates additional stress.
Emotional eating can be a powerfully tempting habit that creates additional stress. Photo from

When we are under stress, we are more prone to eat when we're not hungry or to eat less-healthy food that gives us a boost--and then a crash. This tendency can help us to feel better in the short run--indeed, enjoying a delicious dessert can be one of life's pleasures that can lift mood, and in small doses, dark chocolate can be good for us--but too much indulgence in this can lead to poorer overall wellness as well as weight gain, mood swings, decreased energy and other negative consequences associated with a poor diet. And these consequences can lead to greater stress!

The next time you find yourself eating for reasons other than hunger, and choosing foods largely based on factors other than health, take a moment to notice what you are doing and see if you can break the cycle. These important strategies can help you to stop emotional eating when you are feeling stressed.


"Retail Therapy"

Shopping can lessen or increase stress levels.
Shopping can lessen or increase stress levels. It is important to learn how to keep things under control. Photo from

When stress levels are high, shopping can bring a quick and powerful emotional lift, particularly for women, which is why it is sometimes referred to as "retail therapy." (Read more about the research behind shopping and stress.) And shopping has its benefits: buying small items that bring us happiness can be an effective motivational tool for those making healthy changes, or can provide a useful mood lift, provided that these shopping trips are kept under control.

The obvious trouble comes in when the shopping becomes so frequent or the items so expensive that the cost outweighs the benefits. And this can happen quickly! Just as we find ourselves eating when we're not hungry, we can often buy things we don't need (or really even want) when stressed, and this habit can lead to financial difficulties as well as more feelings of anger, frustration, and heightened stress. If you find yourself shopping too often, here are some alternatives to help you stop.


Rumination, or Obsessing Over The Negative

Rumination can deteriorate into a repeating negative loop.
Rumination and co-rumination can start out as problem-solving, but can deteriorate into a repeating negative loop. Photo from

Things can start out innocently enough: you have a bad day, you talk to a good friend, you receive support, validation, or empowering ideas, and you feel better. This is why social support is beneficial for us and can be one of the more helpful stress relievers we can use. The problem comes when we talk about our problems too often, too intensely, or too singularly. When we get to the point where we seem to only focus on the negative, don't want to hear solutions that could potentially be useful, or don't return the support, this can get into the territory of co-rumination, which is a type of rumination that you engage in with others, and is a less healthy response to stress.

Rumination may start out as a problem-solving attempt that goes awry and becomes a repeating loop of negative thoughts. There are many damaging physical and psychological effects associated with rumination. When we focus primarily on the negative, it becomes more difficult to see what is going right with our lives. It can become a downward spiral, and can increase stress levels, which can be felt in many ways in the body. (Read more about rumination here.)

If you find yourself engaging in rumination or co-rumination, these strategies can help you to manage stress in a healthier way.


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