Published on May 26, 2021

16 Brain-Damaging Habits To Stop Doing Now

16 Brain-Damaging Habits To Stop Doing Now

Have you ever felt like your mental health is getting worse by the day? Like you are slowly going backward mentally instead of improving? Well, it may have something to do with your habits that can be brain-damaging and harmful to your mental health.

See, some habits may seem to fit our lifestyles and desires but affect various aspects of our mental health without us knowing. Maybe you are used to drinking eight cups of coffee every day as you work on demanding projects so that you can hit your deadline. It helps to do that since it will keep you alert and productive, but this destroys your brain slowly.

To learn how excessive caffeine works against you, along with other habits that you have made as your second nature that are slowly and quietly killing your brain, read on.

You will learn what not to do so that you improve and maintain optimum mental health for years to come. Here are 16 brain-damaging habits to stop doing now.

1. Allowing Yourself to Be Overwhelmed by Stress and Anxiety Frequently

If your life is filled with stress-inducing events that constantly weigh you down, this might affect your mental health in the long run and damage your brain. Studies show that stress may cause long-term changes in your brain that make you vulnerable to various mental illnesses by influencing a process known as oligodendrogenesis.[1] This process involves the formation of oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the nervous system.

Myelination, which happens to the cells of the central nervous system, is when there is an increase in the fatty myelin sheath that surrounds the neuronal fibers and processes that make electrical transmission in the brain much smoother. When stress accumulates in your life, it affects the extent or rate of myelination, which then brings about exposure to mental health conditions.

To avoid getting stressed all the time, you should consider reducing the factors that increase your chances of having stress. A problem-solving plan or strategy that helps you solve the problems you face regularly can also go a long way for you. Moreover, working with a stress-relieving technique such as meditation can also help reduce the high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

2. Failing to Take on New Challenging Activities

If you are used to doing the same tasks every day for a long period, chances are that you are slowly destroying your brain. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you are a doctor or a lawyer and you are doing the same tasks almost every day, you are hurting your brain. No, having a career or becoming an expert at something by regularly doing it is okay, and it has positive benefits. However, if you don’t go out of your way to do something new and stretch your brain a little, then you are bringing problems to your life.

Research shows that doing new things creates new patterns for your neural activity, making your brain sharp and maintaining optimal mental health.[2]

Learning a new skill has been found to create these patterns so learning fine arts, driving a motorbike (if you only know how to drive a car and vice versa), learning a new language, or learning any other skills, craft, or activities that you have never done before really adds value not only financially but also mentally.

Even in your place of work, you can increase your knowledge and skill-set in different aspects of your career by advancing your studies as this also helps. You don’t necessarily have to pick up an entirely new hobby or skills that are unrelated to your line of work or interests.


3. Avoiding the Gym Room

We can all admit that we are not always pumped up to go to the gym or follow the fitness routines that we have set for ourselves. Sometimes, a day comes when we are not feeling it. And then a day becomes two, and then three, and before long, it has been months or years since we worked out.

Being inactive for long causes functional and structural changes in the brain, which increases the chance of getting cardiovascular problems.[3] Sitting for hours without following it with some serious exercise can have a significant effect on your health and be brain-damaging. That is why you are always advised to spare a few minutes out of your day to do some form of physical exercise that will get your blood running.

Becoming active fitness-wise means doing it every so often, not every day. If your work schedule doesn’t allow you to work out each day, you can do it on those days when you have little to no work, at least three to four times a day.

Remember that your body is the only body you have throughout the years you are going to be here on earth (and maybe mars, too, if Elon Musk makes it habitable before we die). You don’t get another body at some other point in the future, so you have to ensure you take care of it by frequent exercising, whether it’s aerobic exercise, strength training, or balance exercises, or any other type you find fit for you.

4. Making Binge Eating Your Second Nature

Overeating is considered to be a bad eating pattern that causes brain-damaging health problems in the long run. It affects you physically and also puts you at risk of getting serious health conditions, such as obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and these conditions are associated with brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and others.

According to a study presented in the annual meeting held by the American Academy of Neurology, having too much food has also shown the increased possibility of mild cognitive impairment or memory loss after a few years.[4] This applies to binging on both healthy and unhealthy foods for a prolonged period.

To solve this, you first need to be aware of the dangers you are exposing yourself to by overeating. Would you like to have to suffer for a lifetime for eating the large pizza every day for a month or more? Is it really worth it?

Awareness of this when you get tempted to eat or when your cravings are high, coupled with a strong will to change your life for your peace and health’s sake, can help you make a positive change in your life.

5. Obsessing Over Sugary Foods

Taking foods that have no nutritional value work against your body and brain. Your brain requires nutrients to perform well and if you fall into the habit of having high sugar foods, you are denying your brain the opportunity to function well and develop well and thus, cause a condition called malnutrition.

On top of that, the brains of people who are used to taking junk food have been found to have regions that are associated with memory and learning to be relatively smaller than those of people who eat healthy foods.[5]

You should make an effort of eating healthy foods often and in favorable amounts to make sure that your body is making the most of them and improving your health.


6. Not Getting Enough Restful Sleep

We all require refreshing sleep after a long day at work, but we don’t always get to have that. Maybe you have some tasks you need to complete or an assignment that you need to submit before the deadline, so you steal some of your sleep time to work on that.

Making this a habit and depriving yourself of sleep makes it hard for your brain to function properly. Other aspects such as alertness, memory, the ability to learn verbally, and the emotional state of your brain are also affected.[6][7][8]

Very few hours of sleep also reduce your rate of productivity and your ability to decode people’s emotions. Managing your time well during the day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, keeping away electronics, and avoiding stress are better ways to ensure you get the amount of sleep that your brain requires to perform at its best.

7. Juggling Many Tasks at Once

The main reason why we multitask is to achieve more in less time. However, doing this is more counterproductive than you might think.

Firstly, you think you are doing more in a short period when in fact, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Our brains are not designed to multitask. We are meant to handle one task at a time, and when we multitask, our attention is divided and we end up doing low-quality work. You give your brain very little time to process and prepare how you should approach each work the right way to get the desired results and thus, strain it.

Also, research shows that multitasking increases the levels of the stress hormone, which can be brain-damaging.[9] In the long term, your actions affect the overall performance of your brain.

8. Constant Information Overload

We live in a world where we constantly seek new information or receive information that is meant to improve our lives in different areas. However, if we frequently put ourselves in a state where we are receiving more information than we can handle, this takes a toll on our brains.

If on a typical day, you are taking in a lot of new information and trying to process and work with it, you put a lot of pressure on your brain’s ability to decode and apply the information in the needed areas, and this makes you ineffective. You also affect your memory and decision-making abilities.

Whether it is a new training at work, or trying to keep up with new technology, or even doing your studies, you should try to do it in moderation so that you benefit from it and you keep your brain operating well. Also, creating a plan of how you are going to take in the information in small bits, process it, and then give your brain some rest and then get back to it based on your schedule will save you big time.

9. Loving the Couch Too Much

The brain is structured in a way that only gets better when it’s put into work. Think of it like a muscle. You are supposed to do training now so that you can be strong. In this same way, you should train your mind by involving it in a series of tasks during the day, some of which are fairly challenging so that you get it to go the extra mile, which results in better performance and improved mental abilities.

For example, when you are working, if you are used to concentrating for 30 minutes to one hour and then you take a break, you can try doing one hour to one hour and 15 minutes three times a week. Then, when it becomes fairly easy for you to do it, you make it a daily thing.


If you stay idle for a long period, you will be subjecting your mind to mental decline, which will, later on, impact your life and make it difficult for you to be efficient like other people. However, if you push your mind just a little once in a while, you will get better and utilize your full potential.

10. Limited Socializing

Well, this one is going to disappoint most introverts, although not much. Staying alone for a long period might be working against you more than you think it does for you.

See, human beings grow and get better with more interactions. The very act of interacting with a person involves the brain and boosts its function at the same time. When you are speaking to someone, you have to think, reason, and process what you are told so that you can give good responses. You have to retrieve some information from your memory and use it in your discussions, and you also have to store new information that you get from the person you are speaking to for future benefits.

When you fail to meet new people or talk to the close people you already have, you are losing out, and this can be brain-damaging. Research has shown that creating and actively maintaining social networks helps to keep mental decline at bay and enables you to be more mentally sharp.[10][11]

Even if you are an introvert and find more power in being alone, try to strike a balance between your alone time and time to get to know people. You will be amazed at what you’ve been missing out on.

11. Blasting Your Headphones

Neuroscientists from the University of Dallas found that being exposed to loud noises might affect your brain’s ability to process sound and also makes it more likely for your brain to struggle even more to understand speech sounds.[12] It may also bring about impaired memory and alterations in moods and behavior.[13][14] And this is one of the reasons that cause memory-related conditions in older adults later in life. In other words, frequent exposure to loud noises can be brain-damaging.

Since the brain is being overtasked, it becomes hard for it to keep up with the daily demands and still operate at its best for years to come. While having loud music seems appealing, you should try to reduce the number of times you listen to loud music or being in a place with a loud noise to protect the key areas of your brain.

You can work with the ratio of 3:1, that is, for every three times you listen to low music, you listen to loud music once. Alternatively, you can give it up entirely and focus only on moderate volume.

12. Heavy Smoking

When a pregnant woman smokes, she prevents the brain development of the baby she’s carrying, something that later on affects the baby.[15] Smoking also makes your brain shrink, promotes an imbalance of hormones that are brain-controlled, and makes you twice as likely to suffer from dementia as the average person.[16][17]

Heavy smoking also weighs your memory down.[18] If you are a big-time smoker, you should consider getting therapy to help you overcome the destructive habit or use other self-improvement methods such as awareness meditation, subliminal messages, and others that you feel may work well with you.

13. Having a Thing for Darkness

Staying indoors in dimly lit rooms the whole day for weeks can make you feel depressed and also increases your chances of getting cognitive impairment.[19]


Sunlight offers vitamin D that is responsible for regulating the cerebrospinal fluid and enzymes in the brain, which are associated with nerve growth and synthesis of neurotransmitters that help with sending electrical signals in the brain.[20] It also promotes a healthy circadian rhythm that also sharpens the brain.

Sparing a couple of minutes to bask in the morning and afternoon sun carries a lot of nutritional value for your physical and mental health.

14. Covering Your Head When Sleeping

When you cover your head when you’re sleeping, you increase the intake of carbon dioxide and reduce oxygen levels in your brain. And since your brain requires oxygen to function properly, you end up hurting yourself.

Also, this is among the actions that may contribute to sudden infant deaths.[21] That is why you are always advised to keep your head as well as your baby’s uncovered when sleeping.

15. The Smart Device Addiction

Using mobile devices in this technological era is inevitable. But when you do it too much, especially at night, you risk your ability to fall asleep easily, which brings the brain-damaging effects of lack of sleep.

On top of that, it limits your level of creativity and makes you dependent, which is not a good thing for someone who is required to be active and productive during the day and sleep peacefully at night.[22] Smart device addiction is also associated with increased mental health conditions, low self-esteem, limited learning abilities, and high chances of cognitive decline. [23]

While you have to use mobile devices, it is good practice to make sure that you are controlling the amount of time you are spending on it and keep it to the minimum.

16. Strong Relationship With Caffeine

Caffeine is good for remaining alert and busy, but when you have more than 400 milligrams, which is estimated to be around 4 cups, then you put yourself in a position where you are most likely to fight with headaches, drowsiness, and migraines. In some cases, it might cause hallucinations and more confusion in your life.

Having caffeine, just like all the other habits mentioned here, is a simple and ordinary thing that we do and appear okay but may have a huge impact on our brains over a period if not controlled. Too much caffeine can be brain-damaging, but you can easily avoid this.


In summary, embracing habits that seem comfortable and more fitting for us in various situations may seem to improve our lives but in fact, they may do quite the contrary. They may be brain-damaging or even harmful to our physical health.

Instead, you should aim at engaging in various mental and physical exercises like meditation, going to the gym often, getting involved in challenging brain games, learning new languages, using your other hand instead of the dominant one, being careful how you sleep and how you handle stressful events in your life, and remain active for the better part of the day. And also, don’t forget to make new friends often.


These habits will not only get you out of your comfort zone but also challenge your mind in a way that will improve it.

More Tips on Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Nubelson Fernandes via


[1] Nature: Stress and glucocorticoids promote oligodendrogenesis in the adult hippocampus
[2] Science Daily: How the brain changes when mastering a new skill
[3] Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla
[4] Harvard Medical School: Overeating may reduce brain function
[5] Medical Express: Eating junk food found to impair the role of the hippocampus in regulating gorging
[6] Nature: Altered brain response to verbal learning following sleep deprivation
[7] Wiley Online library: Neural basis of alertness and cognitive performance impairments during sleepiness. I. Effects of 24 h of sleep deprivation on waking human regional brain activity
[8] Science Direct: The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect
[9] NCBI: Psychobiological responses to critically evaluated multitasking
[10] Plos One: Psychological well-being in elderly adults with extraordinary episodic memory
[11] US National Library of Medicine: The evolution of episodic memory
[12] Science Daily: Effect of loud noises on the brain revealed in study
[13] US National Library of Medicine: The Effect of Noise Exposure on Cognitive Performance and Brain Activity Patterns
[14] US National Library of Medicine: Loud Noise Exposure Produces DNA, Neurotransmitter and Morphological Damage within Specific Brain Areas
[15] Wiley Online library: Effects of maternal smoking in pregnancy on prenatal brain development. The Generation R Study
[16] Science Direct: Nicotine and the central nervous system: Biobehavioral effects of cigarette smoking
[17] Science Direct: Non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers: Effects of chronic cigarette smoking on brain structure
[18] US National Library of Medicine: Brain Activity in Cigarette Smokers Performing a Working Memory Task: Effect of Smoking Abstinence
[19] US National Library of Medicine: The Relationship Between Long-Term Sunlight Radiation and Cognitive Decline in the REGARDS Cohort Study
[20] Scientific American: Does Vitamin D Improve Brain Function?
[21] Consequences of getting the head covered during sleep in infancy
[22] Harvard Medical School: Screen Time and the Brain
[23] Springer Link: Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Neurodevelopment, Learning, Memory, Mental Health, and Neurodegeneration: a Scoping Review

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David Oscar

Mental Health Researcher

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]


Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.


4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.


7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.


Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via



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