The COVID lockdown took away so much from us but one thing it gave us was that we had less obligations in life for a while (I guess you could call that more of less).
As we continue to recover from that lockdown period and learn how to deal with COVID as a more regular part of our lives, we have had to readjust to a world that is open again and filled with more obligations.
The COVID lockdown was an interesting time of paradoxes. We saw so many people develop good habits, renovate spaces in their homes, learn new languages or other skills. At the same time, bad habits flourished. In a Healthline article by C. Cassata, (March 30, 2022), she reports on a 2021 survey that showed that 61% of Americans hope to break an unhealthy habit that developed during the pandemic.She reports on five unhealthy habits that were commonly seen. These include excessive alcohol intake, unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, too much screen time, and lack of or too much sleep.
Having nowhere to go caused a sluggish pace in life that partly led to the development of bad habits. It is understandable at some level as we did not know what was happening and how safe we really were. Why would we engage in things that did not feel good immediately when our future was uncertain?
A lot of bad habits are about just that; we want to feel good now. When we are stressed, we are more likely to try to find the quickest way we can to feel good. This makes sense because things like diving into social media, drinking a beer, or eating sugar all provide an immediate reward. You get a rush of dopamine that can be a temporary relief from distress and stress. Under stress, we tend to avoid a healthy but more time-consuming effortful activity like exercising. We do this even with the knowledge of how good exercise can be for the mind and body.
Some people are struggling to adjust to get back to day-to-day activities of healthy functioning that they were engaged in before the pandemic. These were healthy activities like brushing teeth and showering regularly, waking up and going to sleep at consistent times, and completing mundane work academically or professionally in a timely way.
Estimates are that since the pandemic start, the prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders has increased anywhere from 25% to 50% worldwide. It is next to impossible to stop a bad habit and start a healthy habit when depressed or anxious. With those issues, therapy and sometimes medications will be needed.
In the absence of those issues, habit reversal is the focus. It starts with identifying a habit you want to change or establish. Next, a plan of action needs to be developed. Once that is done, it is necessary to commit daily.
The key to changing a habit is acceptance. To forge better habits, it is important to accept that stopping what we were doing will be hard. We will likely miss aspects of the bad habits we are changing. We will also have to put work into the change and that may mean that we are working at something without the immediate reward and that we will have to wait for those benefits.
The good news is that once you get momentum on healthier habits and routines, it gets easier as you feel better.
Writing about your feelings can help with changing habits. Write about the triggers that lead to bad habits. Seeing your feelings and thoughts in writing can give a different perspective and help in changing the habit. It is also important to find a habit that replaces the bad habit. This can be going on a walk instead of cracking open a beer.
In addition, break your future down into much smaller chunks of time. Instead of reaching for that candy bar to feel better now, ask yourself how you will feel in 5 minutes if you eat that candy bar versus how you will feel in 5 minutes if you eat a carrot stick or meditate.
We all know that vegetables are very good for our health and well-being, but they often don’t taste as good as other options. As children, we were annoyed to be told to eat healthy and to be denied sugary treats. As adults, we know how good that advice is.
Whatever you do to build better habits, try to keep the solutions as simple as possible. When all else fails, say this to yourself as much as you need to: “Eat Your broccoli. It is good for you”.