10 signs your bad habits could signal a psychological disorder

Carl Court/Getty ImagesNot allowing yourself any downtime and consistently overthinking could indicate a larger issue.
  • Although it’s completely normal to have some bad habits, there are certain red flags to look out for that signify your bad habit has become something more.
  • If your bad habit is preventing you from sleeping or doing basic things like showering, consider seeing a therapist.
  • Hyper-focusing on your eating habits or working 24/7 could indicate a bigger psychological problem.

Everyone does something that could be considered a bad habit. From poor communication to picking at your blackheads, no one is exempt from doing something that may be looked at as uncommon or unusual. But what happens when your bad habits start to become more than just that? How do you know if what you’re dealing with can be a sign of a psychological disorder?

“The definition of a bad habit has many interpretations as it is different for everyone,” clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist Dr. Dara Bushman told INSIDER.” Habits are considered problematic when they consume your ability to complete regularly simple or rudimentary tasks. Habits are deemed disorders when pre-occupation is so intense, you stop doing things you enjoy or you begin compromising your self-care.”

So if you’ve been questioning a few “bad habits” of yours or those of someone that you know, here’s how you’ll know if your bad habits can potentially be harmful psychological disorders.


The frequency of the habit has heightened.

iStockAre you consistently looking at photos that aren’t good for your mental health?

When most people realise that they have a bad habit, they do what they can to attempt to break it. So, if the frequency of your bad habit has increased, you may need to consider that it is a psychological disorder.

“A simple but often overlooked question to ask is: “Would you like to stop engaging in this behaviour?” Your reasons for why or why you wouldn’t like to end this behaviour may lead you down a path of seeking professional help,” Dr. Kendra Kubala, PsyD told INSIDER. “Identifying the severity and recognising the frequency, intensity, and duration of the symptoms of your habit, will prove helpful for your own curiosity as well as for a mental health professional, should you choose to pursue treatment.”


You lose sleep or refuse to practice regular hygiene.

Photographee.eu/ShutterstockIf there’s a specific habit that’s preventing you from sleeping, it could be time to talk to someone.

Bad habits can be anything that seems out of the norm to someone else. When the habit starts to negatively impact your days, however, that is when it could be qualified as a psychological disorder.

“If your preoccupation with cleaning the house has become so intense that you are unable to take a shower because of fear that you will dirty the bathroom, this is a sign of a psychological disorder,” Dr. Bushman said. “Additionally, something like checking the doors multiple times inhibiting the ability to go to bed or rest is an example, too.”


You’re constantly in distress.

ShutterstockA habit that prevents you from doing work should be considered a problem.

According to Dr. Erin Engle – Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center – a telltale sign of a bad habit actually being a psychological disorder is simply by you constantly being in distress.

“The main distinction between a habit and a psychological disorder is that psychological symptoms or patterns of behaviour that are experienced by an individual are usually accompanied by clinically significant distress,” she said. “That means the person experiences symptoms that are painful or bothersome and impacts them living life freely. It also causes impairment – which mean the person has or develops difficulties functioning in one or more significant areas of life, such as in relationships, or at work.”


You’ve become overly selective with your eating.

ShutterstockAlthough eating healthy is a good thing, you shouldn’t be hyper-focused on it.

Healthy eating is often discussed as a positive habit, but according to Emily Roberts MA, LPC – psychotherapist and author of “Express Yourself: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are,” if you’re obsessing over your eating, it could actually be a disorder.

“Selective or obsessive eating patterns that lead to obsessing about foods, avoiding particular foods due to fear, cutting out foods that one used to enjoy, classifying foods as good or bad and hyper-focusing on calories or dietary “needs” causes distress in so many,” she said. “It’s a false sense of control and I see people who think about food or their diet, what they will eat next for hours each day. This is interfering with their life if they cannot stop thinking about it. You don’t have to be a certain weight or have certain behaviours to have a diagnosed eating disorder, but it’s often pushed aside as a “socially appropriate behaviour.” It’s actually, however, a symptom of an eating disorder and an anxiety disorder.”


Your laziness or overtiredness has become more apparent.

Flickr/ProcsilasIf you’re having trouble getting motivated, it could be a sign of depression.

If you’ve gotten to the point where your tiredness or laziness takes more control of your life than it should, Roberts told INSIDER that this could be a sign of a psychological disorder. Especially if it’s taking away the joy you have in things.

“If you’ve become tired and lethargic more often, have difficulty falling or staying asleep, constantly feeling like you can’t get enough sleep no matter how long you do sleep, find it hard to get motivated and feeling less pleasure, happiness or joy in things that once made you happy, these are all signs that depression may be at play,” she said. “You don’t have to be hopeless or suicidal to have depression. if you are exhausted, have a hard time feeling motivated or stressed out more often than not, you may have an adjustment disorder that could be the cause of a stressor that occurred recently.”

Read more: These 4 short L-words can help reveal if you might be depressed


Every relationship you have is unstable or destructive.

Warner BrothersIf you find you’re consistently seeking destructive relationships, talk to a therapist.

Though no one wants to be in relationships that are unhealthy and toxic, the truth is, many people experience at least one in their lifetime. If every one of the relationships in your life is like that, however, the border of “bad habit” to psychological disorder has been crossed.

“When we see someone who has trouble maintaining relationships, blaming others, arguing often or has a history of cutting off relationships, it’s a sign that they are struggling internally,” Roberts said. “They cannot manage their emotional reactions. If they want to create healthy relationships or repair old relationships, they need to have the self-awareness to get treatment. They take things too personally and make assumptions about others behaviours, tend to overthink, cause conflict in relationships or feel the need to have reassurance by others. These things could be a sign of anxiety or personality disorder and also may fall under the Disruptive, Impulse-Control, Conduct Disorder Umbrella of the DSM V.”


You’re hyper-focused.

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStockWorking 24/7 isn’t a good thing.

The mentality of “all work and no sleep” has become very common in recent years and while many people think that they will get to their dreams faster, Roberts told INSIDER that this isn’t a sign of being a self-proclaimed hustler. It’s actually a harmful psychological disorder.

“Over-scheduling, having the need to be busy all the time, hyper-focusing on the outcome and hustling 24/7 isn’t a sign of motivation, it’s a sign that someone is struggling with the underlying anxiety of sitting with their emotions,” she said. “It can also be that they are struggling with underlying issues related to self-worth that often accompany anxiety and depression disorders. I see this all the time with adults who feel like their career or goals consume their life and often cannot sit with being alone with themselves because they often don’t approve of who they are.”


Your forgetfulness has made it difficult for you to function throughout your day.

CGAphoto/FlickrForgetting keys occasionally is normal but doing it every day might be a problem.

Let’s face it: everyone has a moment where they forget to do something. From meeting a deadline to forgetting to pay a bill, everyone has had their day. According to Dr. Cali Estes, PhD. – therapist and founder of The Addictions Academy – however, if your forgetfulness has gone to the extreme, that bad habit is a bit more than that.

“A person that routinely forgets their keys, loses their wallet, phone or can not remember where they set their purse five minutes ago can seem to have an annoying habit forgetfulness, however, they can very well have ADD or ADHD and simply remain untreated.”


Your need to be perfect outweighs your need to just simply live.

ShutterstockTaking an excessive amount of selfies in search for ‘perfection’ might signify a problem.

If you know someone that spends more time than usual to get their perfect picture for social media – or maybe that’s even you – it’s not just because they’re a “perfectionist.” Dr. Estes said that there could be something more serious going on.

“Perfectionists, such as those people who refuse to post a picture on social media unless it ‘perfect’ and proceed to take 200 selfies to get the right angle, the right lighting, and the perfect face contour, can actually be exhibiting signs of anxiety and low esteem.”


You spend too much time overthinking.

Flickr/Giuseppe MiloExcessive overthinking could be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Of course, there are times when certain situations or encounters cause us to think too much, but did you know that overthinking can actually be a serious issue?

“Imagine someone who won’t go hiking because they are stressed that they may fall off the side of the mountain and die,” Dr. Estes told INSIDER. “Or someone else who – before a hike – researches the safest shoes to buy, a specific water hydration pouch, an extra phone … all for a two hour day hike. Individuals who engage in this sort of behaviour may actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and not just a bad habit of over-planning.”

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