The second week of the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived in Canada. As we adjust to life during these uncertain times, it’s natural to have difficulty maintaining healthy habits. Many people, including myself, are having trouble sleeping, managing their stress and eating right - not to mention coping with the loneliness that often comes with self-isolations and social distancing.
This week on the OLS blog we take a closer look at how you can create and maintain healthy habits during COVID-19. I’ll be sharing a few tips that I’ve found useful as well as referencing insightful industry experts, who provide great recommendations.
Creating a healthy bedtime routine
If you’re feeling stressed, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult. Stress affects the quality of your sleep, making it hard for you to fall asleep, and stay asleep. “We need to get enough sleep to reduce stress and stay healthy,” says Christine Won, medical director of the Yale Centers for Sleep Medicine.
Sleep is a factor in keeping the immune system strong so it can fight off exposures and infections, and it plays an important role in cellular repair functions, she says. “This means seven to nine hours of sleep every night. It is also important to keep regular sleep hours, as well as a regular schedule for eating and exercise,” she adds.
For many people, preparing for a good night’s sleep can be as simple as “having time in the evening where we can settle down into quiet activity, prepare the body and mind for rest, and keep the bedroom for sleep,” says Dwain C. Fehon, chief psychologist of Yale-New Haven Hospital's psychiatric services.
Create quality sleeping habits by practicing the following:
As someone who has habitually struggled with sleep, I’ve found creating healthy habits around bedtime to be extremely helpful. For me that means writing in my journal before I go to bed, using Marcus Aurelius’ stoic method. I divide my page into three parts and write a quick entry based on what I learned throughout the day, what I’m grateful for and then I’ll rewrite my long-term goals. This helps me empty my mind before my head hits the pillow and keeps me focused and motivated for the next day.
Create healthy eating habits
Times of stress and change can disrupt healthy eating behaviours, meaning now is the time to create healthy eating habits and focus on physical health through food. Restaurants and bars are closed, giving you a great opportunity to cook at home and plan your meals throughout the day.
“The more planning the better,” Yale Medicine weight loss expert Dr. Albert Do says. “It’s a key to controlling nutritional intake, and it can help eliminate impulsive eating. Planning also reduces the amount of cognitive work that is required to prepare and eat food—there is no thinking required as it had already been decided earlier.”
Another key to eating better and building healthy eating habits is “purposeful eating,” as Dr. Do describes it. “It has to be a deliberate process,” he adds. “An element of mindfulness can help.”
Follow these tips to create better-eating habits:
For me, daily meal planning has been the way to go. I’ve tried weekly meal prep but always found it wasteful and ridiculously time-consuming. Instead, each day I’ll take a look in my fridge and plan out 3 healthy meals for the day. I’ll then write these meals on my fridge’s whiteboard and voila, the stress of daily meal planning is gone.
Creating healthy mental health habits
Creating strong mental habits during these unprecedented times can be tricky. With constant news updates bombarding us from all angles, it can be difficult to stay calm and composed amongst all the change. Our minds can become our worst enemies during a time like this, replaying our fearful thoughts and worries.
The first step towards creating strong mental habits and stopping negative thoughts is to notice them as they are happening. Focus on becoming more mindful of your thoughts and as you do you’ll realize most of your fears are unfounded. Next, bring yourself back into the present by doing an activity that is grounding.
Grounding means being engaged in an activity that helps provide a sense of peace. Consider what activities calm you down. These will depend on individual interests or feelings of competence, Dr. Fehon says. “It could be knitting, reading, strumming a guitar, meditating, going for a walk, or just sitting outside and watching birds,” he says. As long as the activity requires you to be focused and present, and gives a sense of relaxation, it can help keep away spirals of negative thoughts and build healthy mental habits.
I use physical activity to ground my thoughts and bring me back to the present when my mind is drifting. Prior to COVID-19, I had a daily habit of working out and training Jujitsu. Now with the recommendation that we stay home, I’ve begun a 30-day online yoga challenge. Physical activity helps ground my mental health and helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Written by: Adam Jespersen