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How to Break Bad Pandemic Habits

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Many of us are preparing to transition back to 'in-person' activities on a more regular or ‘normal’ basis, be that for work or for school. I have to admit, I feel a little unprepared as I consider getting back to an in-person routine. While thinking about this, I can’t help but examine the changes to my habits over the past year and a half since the pandemic disrupted everything. 

I think we all can relate to the fact that some of our habits changed during this time. While I’m happy to say I have developed some good habits - like doing my filing every week, I know some bad habits have crept in. So how do we kick the bad ones and maintain the good ones? 

In seeking information on how to help break my bad habits, I came across this relatable list below from the web of some of the not-so-great habits we may all be able to identify with, and what to do about them:

Bad Habit #1: Panic-eating comfort foods. 

During times of high stress, it’s common to return to comfort foods. These can be foods from our childhood or other emotionally soothing times in our lives. They make us feel good by releasing neurotransmitters in the brain which interact with our mood and our sense of well-being.

In the short term, this feels pretty good, but these comfort foods also tend to be high in carbohydrates (sugar) and fat – a combination the brain is wired to crave during periods of stress. When this feeling doesn’t resolve, it can create a dangerous cycle of cravings following by crashing. 

In addition, sugar slows immune function, and contributes to gut dysbiosis, which can have lasting negative impacts on health. 

What to do instead: 

Stick to the foods you know are good for you, because they’ll maintain steady energy to the brain and muscles without the crash, and without affecting your mood negatively.

Frozen veggies, sweet potatoes, squash, and quality protein shine right now because they can be stored easily, are less perishable than fresh produce, and are easy to prepare.

But also, compromise. Be forgiving with your eating patterns and incorporate an indulgence where it’s needed. Should you snack on sugary cereal all day without eating a regular meal? No. But could baking cookies later this week be a good time to destress and bond with your kids or spouse? Absolutely.

Bad Habit #2: Social media binges.

With more time spent at home, we’ve become immersed in our devices. Creating digital discipline is something we’ve been working on as a community since learning that clicking and scrolling interacts with brain chemistry in a way that mirrors addiction.

However, because social media has become an easy distraction from the stress of our lives, it’s usually the first thing we pick up when we need a break from reality.

Unfortunately, obsessively reading coronavirus news (as many of us are doing when we pick up our phone or tablet) doesn’t help our mental health, and the increase in blue light exposure can drastically interfere with sleep patterns, which can spell trouble for immune function.

What to do instead: 

Stay the course with digital discipline. Allow yourself to connect with friends, and maintain healthy social connections via technology (since we can’t do that in person right now), but set restrictions on mindlessly scrolling. 

Physically set a timer to put down your phone after scrolling Instagram or Facebook, and move on to your next task. This can be as simple as making a cup of tea – just something to reset the brain from scrolling.

Do not read coronavirus news before bed if it’s something that contributes to your levels of anxiety. This is an act of self-care to ensure your nervous system stays in ‘rest and digest’ mode to promote a restful night’s sleep.

Bad Habit #3: A total lack of structure.

What do we do when our lives have been upended, and we’re left to create our own schedules every day?

Turns out, we just don’t.  

While some of us may be relishing this at-home time, others are listlessly going about their days in limbo feeling lost and unproductive. 

A total departure from our scheduled routines can disrupt sleep, cause us to miss meals (or the opposite: snack all day), neglect to take medications or supplements, and generally harm our well-being.

What to do instead:

Stick to as normal a routine as is possible. Rise in the morning, eat breakfast, or continue with your morning routine.

Support normal metabolism function by drinking water soon after waking, and eating a breakfast with moderate protein and fiber–scrambled eggs with spinach is a great start. This will maintain healthy energy to the brain, supporting cognition and a stable mood throughout the morning. 

Do not use your time at home to stay up late watching a show, or scrolling social media. This can feel like an impromptu vacation and tempt us to take a departure from sleep habits, but this has one of the worst impacts on immune function.

Do everything you can to promote consistent sleep, and if you haven’t developed a solid bedtime routine yet – now is a great time to do just that.

Bad Habit #4: Not exercising.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we may have seen this break in our workout schedule as an accidental blessing, but now many are starting to feel low energy, and even lower motivation.

Exercise and movement do much more for our health than maintain a physique and muscle mass.

As you increase your heart rate during exercise, you increase blood flow to your brain and muscles, which carries oxygen and other nutrients to cells. The best afternoon pick-me-up might just be a quick workout to get your blood pumping. 

What to do instead:

Everyone from local gyms, to large fitness companies have adapted to support us through virtual workouts. This is one industry that didn’t miss a beat providing excellent alternatives to our regular workouts. 

That being said, finding motivation to workout at home can be difficult. Schedule this time in your day and take actions that help you adhere to it.

TIPS:

  • Put on your normal workout clothes
  • Drink a clean pre-workout drink
  • Put on music that’s 130-150 beats per minute.

If you’re working from home, try standing at your desk, or setting a reminder to stretch or walk every hour. Even these little actions are cumulative throughout the day and will keep us more resilient in the long-run.

 

Now that you recognize some common bad habits that, like me, you may have picked up during the coronavirus pandemic, take note of some things to do instead. Finding better coping mechanisms to keep yourself balanced and healthy at home and work will help all of us.