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Posted on May 12 2021 by

Are you a lockdown bad habit addict? Here's how to ditch your secret sins

This story is written by Alexandra Thompson, and originally featured on Yahoo.

Many of us adopted coping mechanisms while contending with the stress, boredom and uncertainty of lockdown.

Whether it was an extra glass of wine or incessantly checking social media, the odd not-so-healthy habit may have brought a moment of relief amid the chaos of the pandemic.

For some, however, these habits have tipped over into an addiction that could "drain the usual enjoyment of life".

With social distancing due to come to an end on 21 June, now's the time to ditch bad habits before we embark on a post-pandemic life.

"For some, the stresses and strains of WFH [working from home], juggling home schooling with endless Zoom meetings and being cramped indoors with little respite has led to maladaptive coping behaviours, such as comfort eating and drinking more than the recommended amount on a regular basis," Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist working with Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

"Doomscrolling" has also become something of a buzzword amid the pandemic, with people incessantly checking social media for the latest bleak development, knowing it is unsettling them.

Incessant bad news has left many enduring stress, fatigue and insomnia.

Nevertheless, some people have taken advantage of the slower pace of life to adopt healthy habits.

"I've observed many people have been able to use this time to form adaptive coping strategies, such as spending more time connecting with nature, eating together as a family at mealtimes and appreciating the little things in life," said Dr Arroll.

"The reality is although we've all been in the same storm, some of us have been fortunate enough to weather it in a yacht, whilst others have battled the rain and winds in a dinghy."

A September 2020 study suggests more than half of adults struggled to maintain their weight during the UK's first lockdown.

Nevertheless, research by Queen's University Belfast found more people prepared meals with their children and batch-cooked amid the initial restriction.

University College London scientists also found smokers quit, but high-risk drinking rose, during the first lockdown.

Ditch unhealthy habits

When it comes to ditching not-so-healthy lockdown habits, Dr Arroll recommends people first be honest with themselves.

"Create awareness around any habits that are not life-enhancing," she said. 

"It can be useful to note down these behaviours, how you're feeling and who you're with to uncover the drivers of these suboptimal habits." 

The habit should then be replaced with something that enhances your wellbeing. Pour yourself a wine immediately after clocking off? Replace it with a stroll around the block as soon as your working day comes to an end.

People should also be aware of their unhealthy habit triggers.

For those who turn to alcohol, "anxiety, uncertainty, [a] lack of a sense of control, loss of employment – which comes with a loss of identity – and fear of what a post lockdown future looks like" could be to blame, according to Liz Ritchie, one of our psychotherapists at St Andrew's.

Identifying these triggers could help people avoid the unhealthy behaviour. If boredom is to blame, try to distract yourself with things you enjoy – such as a book you cannot put down, comfort TV or phoning a loved one.

Doomscrollers could limit the time spent online with apps that monitor their social media use and hold them accountable, like Forest, Moment and Freedom.

People could also establish a series of time periods when they check social media and news updates, putting their phone on "do not disturb" in-between.

"We are now in a place where we can perhaps limit our usage, with a view to promoting a sense of calm and being present with ourselves," Ritchie told Yahoo UK. "This will provide us with clarity in terms of what we want versus what we need to view online.

"Implementing the above, can help manage social media consumption more effectively and safely, and can ultimately reduce the negative effects it can potentially have on relationships and our self-perception."

When establishing healthy habits, remember: progress not perfection.

"On average, it takes 66 days to replace an old habit with a new, healthier behaviour," said Dr Arroll.

"Behaviour change and habit replacement is not a linear process.

"We should aim to be much kinder on ourselves and appreciate a lapse does not equate to a complete relapse. 

"Slips and blips can be used as important learning opportunities so when these happen, as they invariably will, do take another look at the who, what, and where to uncover the why. 

"Once you know why the lapse occurred, you can develop strategies to maintain your new, optimal habit."

Ritchie agreed, adding: "We are still living through a period of heightened anxiety, although now greatly reduced. It is so important to cut ourselves some slack."

When to seek medical help

In severe cases, the odd glass of wine can gradually become more frequent, until someone cannot get through the day without alcohol.

"A habit may be becoming an addiction if it prevents you carrying out your activities of daily living or if it affects your quality of life – that is the joy and pleasure you receive from being you," said Dr Arroll.

"If you start to feel your habit is stopping you living your life as you used to, or if it is draining the usual enjoyment of life, do seek help."

A GP may be able to treat the issue or refer a patient to a specialist.