Smoking, overeating and lack of exercise are all known hazards to your health. However, have you picked up a few other daily habits during the pandemic that might also be negatively affecting your well-being? If so, you’re not alone.
According to the American Psychological Association, our collective health may be declining due to attempts to cope with pandemic-related stress in a variety of unhealthy ways. Difficulty managing this stress can lead to serious health consequences, such as chronic illness and mental health concerns.
The first step to breaking your pandemic bad habits is to identify them. Here are 10 bad habits to break to improve your health and quality of life:
1. Sleeping with your cellphone by your side
Not only does the blue light emitted from smartphones disrupt sleep but scrolling through work emails or social media before bed or immediately after waking up can boost stress and anxiety. This is especially true if you find yourself “doomscrolling” — scrolling online through bad news, even though it is upsetting, such as news about COVID-19 or political discord.
Make it a rule to store and charge mobile devices outside the bedroom overnight, and take a few minutes to meditate — rather than lose yourself in the depths of the digital world — before getting in and out of bed each day.
2. Skipping breakfast
All meals are important, but breakfast provides your body the fuel it needs to start the day. Also, studies have shown that people who eat breakfast have better blood sugar control and perform better on cognitive tests than those who skip a morning meal. Make sure you balance your breakfast with protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and fiber for the best results.
And while you’re at it, plan the rest of your meals following the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, which can contribute to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
3. Caffeine all day, every day
There’s nothing like a cup of hot coffee to start the day. But do you continue to drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks until the sun goes down? If so, it can cause anxiety, stomach trouble, rapid heart rate, “caffeine crash,” a frequent need to urinate, and insomnia. Caffeine has its benefits, such as boosting your mood, metabolism and energy level, but drinking more — or all day — isn’t necessarily better.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 400 milligrams of caffeine each day — the equivalent of 4 to 5 cups of coffee — is a safe amount for a healthy adult. After that, try exercise, a regular sleep schedule, getting enough water, and a diet filled with whole grains, vegetables, nuts and healthy oils to boost your energy instead of another cup of joe.
4. Sitting, slumping or snoozing for long periods of time
If you found yourself moving from bed to desk to couch — and right back to bed to do it all over again — during the pandemic, chances are you have not been getting enough physical activity for nearly two years. Unfortunately, this puts you at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. In fact, too much sitting could lead to early death, even for those who regularly exercise.
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid sitting for some of the day, remember to take breaks every 30 minutes and move your body. Stand up, take a walk around the block or try an exercise video. Your body, mind and couch will thank you.
5. Keeping food delivery services on speed dial
While convenience can be great in many instances, when it comes to food delivery services, being a top customer can lead to real health concerns. In fact, researchers found that whether you’re ordering from a fast-food outlet or a full-service restaurant, you’ll consume about 200 more calories a day than if you made your own meals. You’ll also consume more saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
Get creative and go beyond the basic bagels, sandwiches and pasta dinners that are so easy to turn to when preparing food at home. Set aside some time to plan your meals for the week and make sure you have plenty of fresh food on hand — fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. An occasional delivery is OK, but less is definitely more when it comes to eating out ¬— even if you’re actually staying in.
6. Daily drinking
Approximately a quarter of all adults have reported they’re drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress during the pandemic. While a drink with friends or on a special occasion is OK for most — and completely understandable in celebration of getting back to our social lives and spending time in person with loved ones — drinking alcoholic beverages every day might be problematic.
In fact, daily drinking can lead to a variety of health issues, including alcohol use disorder, heart disease, liver disease and certain cancers. Try to skip the drink on “school nights,” or limit the number of nights you drink each week, and you might notice an improvement in how you feel, on the scale and in your wallet.
7. Constant stimulation
Are you talking to, listening to, reading or watching something or someone from the moment you wake up to the time you lay down to sleep? Have you grown too used to replacing in-person human interaction with your favorite TV shows or funny online videos? If so, you probably need to give yourself a timeout every once in a while.
A quiet timeout gives you the chance to rest and renew your physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Take a moment to breathe, meditate, stretch or just be. You might find it helps you reduce stress, clear your mind for better concentration, increase your self-awareness, boost creativity, enhance relationships and better prepare yourself for what comes next.
8. Working out for all the wrong reasons
All the experts told you to make sure you continue to work out throughout the pandemic. And they weren’t wrong, of course. In fact, you should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. But are you doing it for the right reasons or even enjoying what you’re doing?
Working out for weight loss only or doing an activity you don’t enjoy — or, even worse, causes you pain — will likely lead you to either give it up altogether or get injured. Keep up the level of activity, but find something that brings you joy, is done in a group to add a social element, makes you feel strong, and best suits your personality, skill level and schedule. The better the exercise fit, the greater benefits you will enjoy.
9. Switching around your sleep schedule
Nearly 70% of Americans say they have been sleeping more — or less — than they want since the pandemic began. With no early morning commutes to face or structured days of kids in school and scheduled extracurricular activities, our sleep schedules took a hit. Whether you stayed up late binge-watching new shows or stayed in bed throughout much of the day, it’s important to get your sleep back on track.
Quality sleep helps your body and mind recharge and keeps illness at bay. Listen to your body and let it show you your natural rhythm. It might feel best when staying up late or when waking early in the morning. What’s most important is keeping the schedule consistent and getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night.
10. Wake, work, sleep, repeat
Doing the same thing the same way every day may provide a sense of order or stability. However, it can also be boring, stifling and leave you wishing for more. And the last 20 months of pandemic living — mostly alone in our own houses — could feel pretty stifling at times.
Start shaking things up — take a different route to work, eat dinner outside, or grab a friend to join you for your daily walk — to add a little spice to life and get you out of a rut you might not even know you’re in. Change allows you to grow, learn to be flexible and gives you the chance to see your own strengths. It might also open you up to new opportunities you might not have found if you’re always doing the same ol’ thing.
Sure, we may have experienced far more change in the age of COVID than we might have liked but coping with change leads to resilience. And we have all learned firsthand the importance of remaining resilient in times like these.