We are creatures of habit, and during the pandemic many of us may have picked up some unhealthy ones. Data from the National Library of Medicine shows that alcohol consumption has increased substantially during the pandemic for men and women. People may be unmotivated to exercise, may eat mindlessly more often, or might regularly miss out on sleep.
Bad habits can exacerbate our anxiety, stress, and depression yet they are difficult to break. Here are some fresh ways to incorporate wellness into your daily life.
The bookend method
For long-term stress management and a simple way to incorporate healthy habits into your day, try the bookend method. Every morning and night practice a form of meditation you like — breathing techniques, journaling, stretching, or a guided meditation — for 15 minutes.
“Beginning and ending our day with a healthy routine can make our day go better,” said Pranav Shah, MD, a psychiatrist and wellness educator for Kaiser Permanente employees in California. It allows us to be in touch with our mind and the stress we are experiencing.”
Embrace negative emotions
Commonly people manage stress by avoiding it. Dr. Shah said this doesn’t work. Instead, embrace negative, sad, or stressful thoughts. Recognize them, feel them, and cry if you need to. This makes it easier to let go of these feelings, Dr. Shah said. Thoughts last only 90 seconds if you can move on from them.
“Recognizing unfavorable thoughts helps us see the bigger picture of the situation,” he said. “We often get caught up in small details, but we should ask ourselves, ‘Will I care about this in a week? A month?’ If the answer is no, it allows us to not dwell.”
Journaling and self-reflection are also good exercises to practice this, Dr. Shah said.
Make specific goals
Dr. Shah recommends creating goals that are S.M.A.R.T., meaning specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
“Realistic goals are sustainable goals,” Dr. Shah said. “If you want to exercise more, choose a specific time to do it and make your objectives small at first, such as a 10-minute walk 4 times a week.”
Dr. Shah also suggested writing down goals and posting them to the refrigerator, or partnering with a friend to do them to increase accountability. Additionally, it’s good to recognize and process your fears around your ambitions.
Connect with your mind when eating
A way to help with unhealthy eating habits is to have a stronger connection between body and self.
“When you eat, don’t watch TV, be on your phone, or be distracted,” said Anna Leszczynska, a registered dietitian for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. “Enjoy eating and treat it like a break.”
This allows us to recognize fullness and avoid mindless eating. Leszczynska also suggested to put your fork down between bites and connect with the flavor and texture of the food.
Don’t buy highly processed or sugary foods
It seems like common sense, but it’s easy to grab chips, cookies, or premade meals. If we have less of these at home, we won’t snack on them as much.
Some great choices are raw nuts, fruit, dried fruit, farmer cheese, cottage cheese with probiotics, veggies and hummus, and Greek or Scandinavian yogurt. Another tip: Never go shopping hungry and do bring a grocery list.
Stick to whole foods
A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, fibrous fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats helps with cravings, stress management, mood, and alcohol consumption.
“Whole foods such as eggs, salmon, and edamame are the building blocks of serotonin,” said Leszczynska. “If you don’t eat enough nutritious foods and protein, you will have more cravings for sweets and alcohol, and will have difficulty breaking that cycle.”
Don’t wait longer than 5 hours between meals, eat at least 3 high-protein meals daily (at least 20 grams per meal), and drink lots of water.
Kaiser Permanente offers wellness tools and resources to support your total health.
Healthy food ideas
Contributed by Anna Leszczynska, RD.
Steel cut oats with berries or dates and sprinkled with hemp or chia seeds
Omelet with peppers, spinach, mushrooms, and cheese
Shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce); try this recipe from Food for Health
Plain Greek yogurt with blueberries, honey, and flaxseed
Bananas with almond butter
Hummus and bell peppers
Leafy green salad with salmon
Greek salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese
Buddha bowl with chicken or eggs, rice, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, greens, and tahini dressing
Grilled chicken and veggies with cooked grains
Petrale sole, baked potato, cooked greens
Coconut, turmeric, red lentil stew with potatoes
Bell peppers stuffed with purple rice, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, shallots, and ground turkey