When stay-at-home orders were in place, did you integrate some new healthy habits, such as eating better, exercising more and being more productive? Or did you slip into some not-so-great ones, such as drinking alcohol more, overeating and not exercising?
During COVID-19, we might have developed some good and bad habits (whoops!) to help us either be more productive or just pass the time. Some of the biggest changes in habits (whether recommended or personal) have been around our eating and shopping habits, socializing with others and working remotely instead of in an office.
Now that the country has started opening back up again, you may find it’s harder to keep those good habits going or kick the bad ones to the curb.
Jerimya Fox, MD, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital offered some helpful tips to support those good habits and coping strategies to evolve the bad ones.
Keep Good Habits Going
While you were stuck at home, it may have been easier for you to get in a quick jog on the treadmill before a meeting, or make healthy home-cooked meals versus the takeout you were used to getting before March 2020. But now that you are back to somewhat of a regular schedule, you may find that you are struggling to keep these good habits in check.
Dr. Fox shared some tips:
1. Pencil in … Schedule it
This one may seem obvious, but so often if something isn’t on our calendar or checklist, it just doesn’t get done. Make your good habit a priority and block off time on your schedule or calendar just as you would for a doctor’s appointment or important meeting.
If eating healthy is a new habit, block off time during the week to shop, prep and prepackage healthy meals and snacks. If all this time at home has allowed you to stop over-committing, make sure you review your calendar before taking on new tasks. If you have ample time, block time off. If you don’t, consider delegating or delaying.
For additional insights on how to work your good habits into your schedule, check out this article where Dr. Fox shared other helpful tips.
2. Reshape Your Environment
When you were stuck at home, it might have been easier to focus on self-care. Now that you’ve gotten back to a regular work schedule, you might find it more difficult to find time for yourself.
Our environment definitely influences our behaviors and how we experience life. To help ensure your good habits stick, set yourself up for success by using visual triggers and cues.
If it’s protecting others from potentially getting COVID-19, you may have started the habit of wearing a mask out in public. To help stick with this good habit, consider leaving cloth masks by the door and in your car or in your purse.
3. Lean in Toward Positive Behaviors
You may have exercised more because you didn’t have to go to the gym, or if you were more of a couch potato while stuck at home you might find going back to the gym is getting you back into a good habit. Whichever side it is that encourages your good habit, lean into them. If you find you’re working out way more than you ever did at the gym, stick with your in-home workouts and forgo the gym membership or vice versa.
4. Remember, It’s Not All-or-Nothing
We are only human and will have some setbacks here and there. Our habits aren’t an all-or-nothing approach, so don’t beat yourself up or use it as an excuse to go astray. If you miss a day working out or decide to eat the last piece of cake while eating healthy, be eager to start back on schedule the next day.
Kick Bad Habits to the Curb
To find ways to cope during COVID-19, you may have self-medicated with junk food, alcohol and lots of reality TV shows. With stay-at-home orders lifted, it’s important to get back to your old, positive patterns of behavior.
Dr. Fox had these recommendations:
1. Recognize and Identify Your Bad Habit(s)
Zig Ziglar said it best when he said, “The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.”
The most important step in breaking bad habits is acceptance. You have to begin by accepting the fact that you have a bad habit and want to change it.
2. Avoid Cues
Our habits are triggered by cues such as time, location, events and emotional state. By identifying your cues, you can work on changing or avoiding them.
If you notice boredom is a cue for late-night snacking or drinking, get these things out of the house or replace them with healthier options for the next time boredom sets in. If your cue to binge-watching TV is your remote, consider leaving it in another room.
Taking extreme measures can help protect you from these bad habit cues and prevent a relapse.
3. Replace It with A Good Habit
As mentioned before, stopping or keeping with a habit isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. You can’t simply stop doing what you are doing. Our habits provide a sense of benefit or relief (whether good or bad for us) that helps us cope with triggers. Ask yourself what alternative habits or behaviors might provide a comparable reward to the one you are trying to eliminate. Focus on new habits that can help you relieve stress and anxiety and leave you in a positive mindset without regret.
For example, could you swap your reality TV shows with a walk with your spouse? Or swap your alcoholic drink with popcorn after a stressful day?
4. Be Patient
The longer it’s been a habit, the longer it will take to change the habit. Remember changing your bad habits will take time and practice. So, don’t beat yourself up or simply quit.
It may be really hard to see the long-term benefits or results, so you may wish to create a tool or method to track your progress. You can use stickers, a journal or any system that resonates with you to monitor progress and help you stay motivated to reinforce your new habits.
5. Anticipate Setbacks
Breaking bad habits—and even maintaining good habits—is hard. Don’t beat yourself up or retreat into negative self-talk. Anticipate and plan for setbacks to happen and find ways to get you back on track.
6. Find Help
If all these changes have you down, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to a friend, loved one or a licensed behavioral health specialist. It’s important to take care of yourself.
“We can all have bad days—especially during this time,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s OK to lean on others for support to help you get through this.”
If your mental health is suffering or you’ve relapsed into a substance abuse disorder, call and speak with your doctor or someone who specializes in mental health and addiction disorders. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
However, if you are contemplating suicide or self-harm, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and get the help you deserve.