There is no question that the past two years were challenging for everyone, and it was often tough to stay positive. We spent a lot of time at home — away from friends and loved ones — and many of us lacked a regular daily schedule. And we all picked up a few new habits.
While some of these habits — such as washing hands often and staying home when sick — were good because they helped slow the spread of COVID-19, we might also have developed some bad habits that can lead to changes in our mood and mental health.
Breaking these habits now might not solve all our problems or erase all our concerns, but the effort can certainly help to improve our mood and boost emotional energy. Both are vital as we begin to put the pandemic behind us and return to “normal life.”
5 mood-busting bad habits to break
- Sleeping too little — or too much
A recent study showed that close to 40% of people surveyed have experienced sleep issues due to the pandemic. Sleeping too little or too much has a significant effect on mood.
In fact, studies have shown that just one week of poor sleep habits leads to increased stress, anger, feelings of sadness, irritability and exhaustion. In a vicious cycle, stress and negative feelings can lead to agitation and arousal, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep — experts recommend that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night — is important to overall mental and physical health. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, create a healthy sleep environment, and clear the mind through relaxation, mindfulness and breathing exercises before bedtime.
- Ditching a healthy diet
The easy access to our home refrigerators and on-demand deliveries made eating and drinking whatever, whenever — often without thinking about how it might affect our health — far too common during the pandemic. However, there is a strong link between what we eat and drink and how we feel.
According to research, a diet with high amounts of red or processed meat, sugary foods, high-fat dairy products and refined grains — and low amounts of fruits and vegetables — is associated with an increased risk of depression and mood disorders. Also, daily drinking of alcohol puts people at risk of overconsumption, which can affect mental health.
Aim for a plant-forward diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil. And try to limit alcohol consumption to special occasions. If you’re having trouble cutting back on your own, talk with your doctor.
- Forgoing fitness
Exercise improves our mood by releasing endorphins and serotonin — the “feel good” chemicals in our brain — increasing feelings of happiness and reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Exercise also promotes better sleep, which leads to improved mood, and can boost a person’s self-confidence. Unfortunately, there were times during the pandemic when gyms closed and in-person activities were restricted, leaving many unmotivated to keep moving and stay in shape.
Try to get back into the habit of doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week. And now that most pandemic restrictions have been dropped, we can meet our exercise quota in groups or with a few friends, which increases motivation and improves the likelihood of reaching post-pandemic fitness goals.
- Social — and emotional — distancing
While it was very important to maintain a safe distance from people outside our household during peak periods of the pandemic, connection with others remained important. People are social animals. Isolation or lack of connection can lead to chronic health problems, as well as anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness.
Now that COVID-19 case numbers have drastically decreased and more people have received a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s time to shake off those social cobwebs that formed during the pandemic and make an effort to connect with others. Identify your personal comfort level before making plans — choosing to socialize only outdoors or with certain groups of people or continuing to wear a face mask in public spaces is certainly acceptable. Do whatever it takes to feel enthusiastic and at ease, as long as you’re connecting with others.
- Scrolling — and scrolling some more — through social media
It was important to stay connected virtually when we couldn’t meet others in person, but that might have led to stress and self-esteem issues that can be caused by spending too much time on social media. Try to limit the time spent looking at screens; use that time previously spent on devices to get out and be with others. Be mindful of who you choose to follow and which online conversations or debates you choose to join. And do your best to fill your feed with positive rather than negative posts.
While we’re limiting the use of handheld screens, we should also try limiting how much news we see on TV and online. A constant stream of current events can be overwhelming. Local news stations provide the national and community news in short 30-minute broadcasts to keep us informed each day.