It is time for an honest check in on how we are really doing. Stress levels are high, exhaustion levels are up, and patience seems to be waning. COVID-19 is a motivating factor for some of us to increase our healthy lifestyles and overall wellness. It has for others become a bit of a crutch and excuse for avoiding healthy choices. An example of this is thinking that it’s okay to eat junk food, drink beer, and lay on the couch watching Netflix all day because of restrictions.
All good research on healthy lifestyles, increased energy levels, and stress reducing behaviours point us to three simple aspects: getting good sleep, eating healthy and exercising. The question is, if we know how important these behaviours are why aren’t we doing them? Well, for many reasons. One is that we like quick fixes. If I am feeling down, I know that both going for a walk and eating chocolate will create a cascade of feel good chemicals in my brain. This feeling will last longer if I walk and I am more likely to avoid the guilt factor often associated with eating too much unhealthy food. However, I might pick the chocolate because the feel-good sensation will come quicker and takes less work. Our minds have grown accustom to quick fixes.
Old habits are also causing issues. A common response when talking about sleep hygiene practices (ex. screens off an hour before bed, build a routine, no caffeine in the afternoon) is, “Yeah I know, but I am not going to do all that, I need my coffee and phone.” It is an interesting phenomenon to know sleep is important, to know you are not functioning well without it and still not change habits to gain the benefits of it. Sleep is without a doubt the key to our health and we need to make it a priority by revisiting our old habits and forging new ones such as stretching or meditating before bed instead of scrolling social media.
Self-worth and comparison to others are also factors. When we avoid exercise because we worry that we are not as good at an activity as those around us we greatly limit ourselves. This can lead to a belief that we are not of value and decreased effort to improve our lives through physical movement. In reality to be healthy we just need to move our bodies. Going outside for a walk is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Dancing for a minute in your kitchen will improve your mood. Chair yoga at your desk on a busy day will decrease your perception of stress. Adding in these small movements is far more effective than remaining stationary thinking about how they are not as good as a more complex or endurance based activity.
Reflect on your own sleep, eating habits, and exercise. What is going well? What could use some improvement? What barriers are getting in the way to maintaining these healthy habits? What would help you to break down one of those barriers?
Yes COVID-19 is making our lives different. However, we need to start fighting back against this idea that we cannot do something because of it. We can move our bodies, we do not have to comfort through alcohol or junk food, we can work towards protecting our sleep. The gains we make from these activities will long outlast this pandemic.
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.