How to maintain your healthy lockdown habits in the ‘new normal’
As life returns to a ‘new COVID-safe normal’, you might be wondering what the future holds for those good habits you established with more time on your hands. Here’s how to hold onto them.
The coronavirus pandemic certainly made its mark last year – and not all of it was bad. While official surveys confirm that COVID-19 had an adverse impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many people in Australia and saw things like alcohol use climb, it was also the catalyst for some healthier habits, too.
For one thing, it drove time spent online researching recipes for home-cooked meals to all-time highs and, despite gyms being closed, more of us began tracking our physical activity. Reports also suggest that downloads of Smiling Mind’s free mindfulness app surged in 2020.
“For some people, the changes the coronavirus pandemic delivered, whether it was lockdown or working from home, provided more time and headspace to focus on themselves,” says psychologist Michael Inglis, co-founder of Melbourne’s The Mind Room.
“As well as being a chance to rediscover what’s really important and what matters to us, something as simple as not having to spend a couple of hours commuting every day gave people more opportunity to exercise regularly or to plan, cook and eat healthier meals.”
But, with life slowly returning to pre-COVID routines, requirements and rush hours – albeit with some new COVID-safe measures in place – is it possible to hang onto those healthy habits?
According to Michael, it is.
“Just because life may be back to looking more ‘normal’ than it has for a while, it doesn’t mean you have to forgo your new lifestyle.”
Here’s a five-step plan to help make it work.
1. Decide what you want to keep doing – and why
The first step is to review the lifestyle habits you adopted and choose those you want to keep, based on how they made you feel.
“Identifying exactly how or why you felt good or better as a result of a habit you introduced during lockdown can really help you appreciate that it’s worth making the effort to keep it up now,” says Michael.
2. Get your mindset on board
“Sometimes we fall into the trap of living in ‘modes’,” says Michael.
“So we may have considered ourselves in ‘lockdown mode’ but now we’re back in ‘work mode’ or ‘post-COVID mode’.
Unfortunately, it’s a mindset that can make it harder, albeit subconsciously, to maintain those good habits. So try to avoid thinking in terms ‘then’ and ‘now’.”
3. Stay flexible
If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it was how to be flexible.
“Many of us have been able to be more flexible in the way we work thanks to COVID,” says Michael.
“If that’s been working for you and has meant you’ve been doing a great job and had more time to spend on your health and wellbeing, consider talking to your manager about the possibility of continuing to work that way. I think if there was ever a time to have that conversation, 2021 is it.”
4. Be prepared
“It’s when we’re unprepared and unorganised that we tend to make less healthy choices,” says Michael.
“On the other hand, making the effort to plan ahead and organise things will make maintaining your healthy lockdown habits easier to do even as life returns to pre-COVID routines.”
Your preparation, planning and organising will look different depending on the habits you’re trying to sustain, but as an example, stashing a pair of trainers under your desk at work or researching lunchtime gym workouts will make midday exercise achievable.
Likewise, weekly meal planning and food shopping in advance means you’re much more likely to cook a healthy dinner from scratch each night.
5. Think of yourself as ‘a performer’
You may not be an elite athlete, but Michael believes that once you start thinking of yourself as a ‘performer’, it helps you prioritise the things that allow you to operate at your best.
“It works because it’s a proactive mindset and without that, it’s easier to fall into those ‘easy’ habits – like eating whatever’s convenient rather than what’s nourishing,” he says.
“In comparison, once we slip into the mindset of a performer, habits like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly and even meditating suddenly seem like they’re worth prioritising and taking the time to make happen.”