Sep 13, 2021, 14:15 PM
Nicai de Guzman
Being locked down with a virulent disease ready to contaminate you is not a conducive environment for productivity and optimism. In fact, because you can't go anywhere, the lack of motivation was at an all-time high.
We all know that COVID-19 launched a global health crisis. What many people don’t talk about enough, however, is that behind the overcrowded hospitals and health centres, people endured personal mental health crises at home as well. Based on an article in National Geographic, the pandemic fed into one of the most harmful human tendencies—procrastination, which Carlton University Psychology professor Tim Pychyl described as an “emotion-focused coping strategy.”
Paraphrasing experts, procrastination is the voluntary deferring of a task despite being aware that the delay could be disadvantageous. But when you’re stuck indoors and life seems to be unchanging, we start to form bad habits.
Why is it easy to form bad habits?
According to Psychology Today, habit formation is the process by which behaviours become automatic. It can be either conscious or unmindful.
Charles Duhigg, who wrote the book The Power of Habit, explains that habits develop in a three-step pattern: trigger, action, reward. Your brain receives a signal that launches the automatic behaviour. For example, you feel sad, so you look for some cake. After eating, you feel pleased and satiated. When you do something often enough, you stop thinking about them—until 300 slices of cake later have wreaked much damage.
Based on research by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, you employ something of a dual mind when habits are concerned. The intentional mind makes us mindful and accountable for our actions. The habitual mind, however, functions outside our awareness. Even when we know that what we’re doing isn’t exactly proper, we have a hard time doing anything about it.
The problem is that it’s easy to fall back on bad habits because they usually target the pleasure centres of the brain. Gratification is instant. Eat that chocolate cake and the sugar high comes in a matter of minutes. Eat vegetables and, well, you won’t be able to see the effect till some time.
A study done at Stanford University minces no words: changing a routine in a lasting way is a hard road. During stress or high-pressure situations, individuals tend to revert to their first-learned behaviour.
But now that you understand how habits develop, you can flip the switch. The paper “Making Health Habitual: The Psychology of ‘Habit-Formation’ And General Practice,” published in the British Journal of General Practice, reveals that habits form after continued practice in an average of 66 days. The research focused specifically on the value of habit formation in health. It showed that participants were more receptive to simpler actions such as drinking more water versus more demanding efforts such as doing 50 sit-ups.
It also confirmed the value of conducting a “small changes” approach. For example, an experiment for people who wanted to lose weight split the respondents into two groups: a controlled group that were left to their own devices and another group that followed a list of simple health-promoting actions. After eight weeks, the latter group lost an average of two kilograms each compared to the former’s 0.4 kilograms.
In qualitative interviews post-testing, participants found that the smaller steps eventually snuck into their daily lives without their realising it. Maintenance also became much more effortless.
Let’s go back to the root of the problem: the lockdown. What bad habits have you formed? Can you relate to some of these?
1. Giving up physical activities
When quarantines were first announced, people suddenly became more aware of their health. Many believed that shifting to a healthier lifestyle could protect them better against the coronavirus. In the first half of the pandemic, sales of fitness equipment grew 170%! Home gyms became a strong movement.
But the novelty is wearing off. A UK survey by University College London reveals that two-fifths of people admitted that they have been working out much less this year than they did in 2020. For 40 weeks, researchers followed 70,000 people who mostly responded that they were less engaged not just with the physical activities that they picked up earlier but also in their hobbies. Around 19% also commented that they watched more TV.
2. Choosing “convenient” food
We already touched on the rewards of junk food which manufacturers designed to become addicting[MJM1] . Moreover, the general lethargic mood, as well as the busyness of working from home and homeschooling, let you slip into convenient a.k.a. processed food.
Not only is this kind of food pumping us with bad stuff, but we’re also eating too much of it. Based on research by the University of Maryland, stress-triggered overeating has grown since the lockdowns. Moreover, the University of Minnesota Medical School revealed in a separate study that the pandemic has been linked with six unhealthy eating behaviours.
3. Drinking and other vices as a coping mechanism
From overeating to procrastination, people came up with personal coping mechanisms to get through their difficulties. Fortune noted that the “comfort economy” has grown sharply during the pandemic—from loungewear to nostalgia to cookies to alcoholic drinks. A RAND Corporation study in September 2020 shows that alcoholic consumption grew since the lockdown. There was a 14% increase among adults over 30. Meanwhile, heavy drinking among women rose by 41%.
There continues to be an upward trend in needless overspending, especially among millennials. According to an article on Biz News, millennials have spent more on cigarettes or vape pens and gambling than other generations. In the U.S., four out of 10 consumers even admitted that they dipped into their savings to sustain their vices.
4. Not minding your mental health
The effect of the pandemic on mental health is not unknown. After all, the drop in mental health is primarily the trigger for all these newly formed bad habits. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that four in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. The same organisation also launched a poll that showed how anxiety was manifesting in people's physical well-being[MJM2] , such as difficulty sleeping or eating, increase in substance abuse, and worsening of chronic conditions.
The fear of a deadly virus was compounded by being cooped up as well as the economic consequences of the lockdown. Unfortunately, all of these gang up on mental health, which takes a backseat to the COVID-19 virus itself.
5. Taking a shortcut to feel better
The effects of the lockdown are connected. Poor mental health leads you towards poor health habits, such as overeating and lack of exercise, which then cause you to feel bad for yourself for your lack of motivation or the so-called “quarantine 15.” To put yourself back on track, you try to take shortcuts such as diet pills, fad diets, or over exercising. Not only are these solutions dangerous, but they’re also unsustainable. You’ll find yourself back to where you started—or even worse.
You’re allowed to feel gloomy and depressed after everything you’ve been through and continue to go through. What’s important is that you find the mental conviction to want to get better again. It takes time, but timing is important [MJM4] because you have to be ready and fully committed.
Why now is the right time to tackle your COVID stone
As we said, you can flip the switch. Turn your bad habits into good ones. You know that habits start in small steps and repeated actions turn into habits in 66 days. You know that you want to change for the better.
Taking what we understand from all these studies on habit-forming behaviours, the good news is that we know that once you establish these habits, they will become your fallback even when the routine is disrupted. For example, when you’re nervous, your unconscious response is to gorge on a chocolate bar. But once you’ve planted those good habits firmly in your system, you know that even when you’re shaken up, you’ll respond by eating well or taking your daily walk.
The world slowly reopening is your sign to pick yourself up again. Once you start getting going and focusing on the positive again, everything else will follow.
Once you find the right time to launch into a 66-day habit-forming process, try enrolling in BodySlims. It’s a fitness journey that starts with 70 days but lasts your whole life. The difference of BodySlims among weight-loss schemes is that weight loss is only a byproduct of the entire programme. This program was designed to help you find motivation and encouragement, with a supportive community to even yourself eventually.
Don’t be wasting your time and make sure you’re part of the next intake now!
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