Behavioral Health: How Habits Can Affect Your Mental And Physical Health

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

The link between your overall well-being and the behaviors you display in your everyday life can be a strong one. How you act—or behave—often works in conjunction with your mental and physical health. Taking some time to assess your behavior may help you recognize whether you’re acting in beneficial or detrimental ways. Oftentimes, this can start with being attentive to the way habits form, what type of habits you’re engaging in, and the ways old habits are affecting you physically and mentally.

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What is behavioral health?

The American Medical Association defines behavioral health in the following way: “Behavioral health generally refers to mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. Behavioral health care refers to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of those conditions."

How your physical habits can affect you

In many cases, our physical habits shape the way we feel, how we present ourselves, and the way we react to environmental cues in the world around us. Bad habits like not sleeping enough at night, not eating healthy foods, and using substances like alcohol in excess can create harmful physical effects. If a bad habit is left unaddressed, it can have detrimental effects later on.

Unhealthy physical habits can also negatively affect your brain. One example would be a lack of sleep, which research shows can affect how a person copes with stress and may impact their performance at work and school. In some cases, the effects of unhealthy habits stick with you during various daily activities like driving or operating machinery, presenting a higher risk of accident or injury.

Poor nutritional habits can similarly affect you in everyday life. While a healthy habit like regular consumption of veggies can benefit your physical health, a lack of nutritional foods can affect your ability to concentrate. Different foods can also lead to low energy levels, which may cause tiredness and a lack of desire to engage in physical activity. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain and several other negative effects on the body. 


How your mental health habits can affect you

The state of a person’s physical health may be more apparent than the state of their mental health at first, but mental health habits can affect a person just as much, if not more, than their physical habits can.

Some examples of habits that can have a positive effect on your mental health include journaling, meditating, reading, spending time with family or friends, or participating in any old or new behavior that quiets and relaxes your mind. 

On the other hand, poor mental health choices or behaviors could involve using alcohol or other substances in excess, compulsively using social media, catastrophizing, or engaging in negative self-talk. The American Psychological Association defines negative self-talk as “an internal dialogue in which an individual utters phrases or sentences to himself or herself. Negative self-talk often confirms and reinforces negative beliefs and attitudes, such as fears and false aspirations, which has a correspondingly negative effect on the individual’s feelings (e.g., a sense of worthlessness) and reactions (e.g., demotivation).”

If you are engaging in a mental health habit that doesn’t serve you, you may already recognize it. You might feel a vague sense of guilt or shame, but you may also feel unable to stop the behavior. Poor mental health habits can sometimes take the form of compulsion, which can be challenging or take more energy to overcome. However, unhelpful habits can be changed, and you don’t have to try to change them on your own. There are licensed mental health professionals with experience helping people change their habits, and you can talk to such a professional either in person or online.

What you can do to change your physical and mental health choices

Your behavioral health is something that you can take steps to manage and keep at a healthy level. While you might be experiencing various mental, physical, or overall health conditions, you can also seek support to overcome them. Building healthy habits can take time, but it may help to stay patient with yourself as you make adjustments. Speaking with a mental health professional, like a therapist, may help you stay motivated and make these changes with more ease and clarity.

In many ways, your life may be a sum of the habits that constitute your daily routine. One of the first steps to making lifestyle adjustments can be recognizing that there’s a problem with one or several of these daily habits. You might consider assessing your routines and contemplating whether they are adding to or taking away from your health and well-being. From there, you can decide what you need to focus on to combat negative habits; from there, you can establish a new routine that positively affects you and those around you.

Practicing healthy habits for mental health can help you embark on the journey toward better overall well-being.

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Want to learn how to develop healthier habits?

Online therapy for cultivating habits that serve you

If you feel like your habits are a source of difficulty and you want to change your habits, speaking to a mental health professional may be helpful. If you feel nervous about discussing your habits in a new environment like a therapist’s office, you might consider trying online therapy, which allows you to participate in sessions from home or anywhere with an internet connection. With BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist via audio or video chat. You can also contact them in between sessions via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. This may be especially helpful if you are experiencing challenges relating to alcohol or substance use. You can write to your therapist at any time if you are experiencing triggering thoughts or if you simply have questions or concerns about the benefits of a new habit.

The effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy can be a valuable resource for those wanting to overcome habits, addictions, and mental health concerns. Research shows that online therapy can often be just as effective as traditional in-office therapy for a variety of mental health challenges. One study found that an internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention was “superior to no treatment and wait list in reducing alcohol consumption or cannabis use.” 


Harmful habits can affect your physical and mental health in negative ways, making it hard to live life to the fullest. If you’re experiencing difficulty changing your habits, whether they be physical or mental, you don’t have to face them alone. Working with a licensed online therapist, you may be able to learn new habits and tools that help you move past the unhealthy habits that are holding you back. BetterHelp has more than 25,000 licensed therapists, so you can be matched with someone with experience helping people change their habits. Take the first step toward creating habits that serve you well and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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