So, while you have likely picked up a few good habits in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 — washing your hands often, wearing a face covering and social distancing when around others outside your home — you might also have acquired more than a few bad habits that can lead to changes in your mood and mental health.
Breaking these habits might not solve all your problems, nor wipe away all your concerns, but the effort can certainly help to improve your mood and boost your emotional energy so that you can keep calm and carry on through it all.
10 bad habits that affect your mood
- Sleeping too little — or too much
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. And, in a vicious cycle, stress and negative feelings can lead to agitation and arousal, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Getting back on a regular sleep schedule is important to your overall mental and physical health.
- Ditching a healthy diet
There is a strong link between what you eat and how you feel. In fact, studies have shown that 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. Aim for a plant-forward diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil.
- Forgoing fitness
Exercise improves your mood by releasing endorphins and serotonin — the “feel good” chemicals in your 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. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week.
- Not just social — but emotional — distancing
While it’s important to maintain a safe distance from people outside your household during the pandemic, connection with others is also 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. Make a point of staying connected with friends and loved ones through technology or in person, remembering to maintain at least 6 feet of distance and wear a face covering.
- Binge-watching the news
Right now, the news can seem overly negative and downright overwhelming. While it’s important to stay up to date with what’s going on and how to keep yourself and loved ones safe, try to limit the amount of news you watch each day and your overall screen time. Your local news station will likely give you the national and community news you need to know in short 30-minute broadcasts, enough to keep you informed each day.
- Taking in too much caffeine
While it might taste great to start your day with a hot cup of coffee, and can even play a beneficial role in reducing inflammation, too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, stomach trouble, rapid heart rate, “caffeine crash,” insomnia and a frequent need to urinate — all mood busters, rather than boosters. Try to follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines and stick to no more than one to two cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks per day.
- Overindulging on alcohol
It can be tempting when you are unable to go out and socialize with others to try to create a restaurant- or bar-like experience at home, but don’t let yourself slip into a routine of overindulging on a daily basis. Signs you might be drinking too much include increased irritability and extreme mood swings; using drinking to relax or manage fear, loneliness or stress; and distancing yourself from family and friends. Daily drinking puts you at risk of overconsumption — seek help if you’re having trouble cutting back on your own.
- Bailing on work-life balance
Unless you’re a health care hero or work in another essential industry, you were probably sent home to work to help curb the spread of COVID-19. This means that your workplace and all that comes with it is mere steps from your personal space, a situation that can lead to increased stress, feeling overwhelmed and overall burnout. Create a work schedule that includes the time your workday begins, the breaks you’ll take and when you will "clock out" to focus on your home life — and stick to it.
- Scrolling — and scrolling some more — through social media
It‘s important to stay connected, but equally important to monitor your screen time and avoid the unnecessary stress and self-esteem issues that can be caused by spending too much time on social media. Be mindful of who you choose to follow, which online conversations or debates you choose to join, and focus on the positive posts, rather than the negative ones.
- Leaving a mess that leads to stress
With everyone at home for most, if not all, of the day, your home can become pretty messy. If you put off dealing with the mess, you might find yourself feeling quite a bit of stress. Mess causes stress by making you feel “out of control,” creating conflict with loved ones because your ideas of cleanliness may not match, and offering a tangible representation of the disorder you might be feeling inside. Set aside some time each evening to tidy up and disinfect so that you can start the next day in a clean and serene environment.