Hitting the gym exactly five days a week, sticking to a balanced diet, and taking care of our mental health comes more easily when life is somewhat steady. But throw in the pandemic, and many healthy routines are completely upended. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’ve “fallen off the wagon.”
It’s not you that needs to change — it’s your habits.
“Many people feel as if they’ve lost sight of diet and exercise goals. While these feelings are valid and real, certain aspects of your life prior to quarantine are bound to change and be affected by the events occurring around us,” says Amy Cirbus, PhD, director of clinical content at Talkspace. That’s not a bad thing. Take this time to re-evaluate and adjust your habits and goals so you “stay true to yourself and prioritize what your mind and body need,” Cirbus says.
Below are suggestions for how to identify and establish healthy habits for the “new normal.” For any of them, La’Tia Baulckim, a board-certified health and wellness coach, recommends trying your new routine for a few weeks, then reflecting to determine what’s working, what’s not and how to adjust. We’re all a work in progress, right?
- Physcial Activity
Chances are, you’re not going to the gym or fitness studio five days a week like you used to. Heck, many of us have no plans to return to indoor training outside of our homes. So pause and think about a realistic fitness goal given your current schedule. Can you carve out time to work out the same number of days at home, perhaps using online training programs and buying some resistance bands or dumbbells? Or maybe you’ve discovered you actually enjoy running. Great! Figure out how many days or miles a week are achievable.
If you’ve struggled to move regularly, start small, perhaps with a goal of 20 minutes of activity two days a week, and block out those times and workouts. Once that goal becomes easy, increase the number of days (frequency) or length (duration) of your workouts.
See this as an opportunity to explore new, fun ways to exercise. “Maybe it’s virtual group classes, maybe it’s at-home HIIT workouts, maybe it’s a virtual personal trainer,” Cirbus says. Don’t forget the free workouts you can find on YouTube and Instagram TV. You’ll know when you find the right classes and trainers.
- Healthy Eating
When you have a routine and are going into an office every day, meal prep becomes effortless. When that routine goes awry, your eating habits can, too. No worries. “You didn’t wake up one day and start meal prepping,” Baulckim says. “You got into a groove — now it’s all about finding that groove again.”
Start small: Identify which meal needs the most help. Then determine what, specifically, will make it easier to consistently eat healthy at that time of the day. It could be meal prep. Or it could be buying specific ingredients so they’re on hand. Or maybe what you really need is to try some new recipes and bust out an oatmeal breakfast or burrito bowl lunch. As with exercise, once you are in the habit of one improved meal, see how you can build upon that success and tweak other meals or snacks.
- Mental Health
“The world we live in can throw us a lot on top of our own daily stressors. It is important to release those,” Baulckim says. But when the world throws us a lot, it can also make it more challenging to prioritize mindfulness practices such as meditation.
Try this: Find five minutes in your day (morning, midday or night) and choose one practice, such as meditation, journaling or simply breathing. If five minutes seems like too much, start with one minute. Use an app if that gives you more support to make this habit stick.
Or try picking up a new hobby such as gardening or writing, Cirbus suggests. “Think about hobbies or interests you had prior to the pandemic, and adapt them for our current lifestyle. This is a great way to continue doing things you love as much as possible,” she says. As with every habit, see how this goes and trust your gut to know if you’d like to increase the length of your mindfulness practice, try something new or mix it up day-to-day.
- Social Life
Even social butterflies may feel the need to have fewer virtual or IRL interactions than they used to. We’re still in a time of high stress and anxiety, and some of us need to recharge with more alone time. That said, connection is also key to our mental health. Try to have at least one in-person interaction or video call a week. “I encourage clients to do video chatting with a purpose,” Baulckim says. “Each attendee invites a friend. The friend comes with a positive quote, thought or a picture for the group to talk about. This not only alleviates stress, it allows you to meet new people and gives you something to look forward to in the week.” Assess your energy after these kinds of social activities and use that to decide if you want to see more people and how you prefer getting together.