Bad Habits During the Pandemic: Psychotherapist Warns of Long-Term Damage Caused By Covid-19 Lifestyle Changes by Noel McDermott
Disordered eating, binge drinking, impulse buying, screen exhaustion. Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you are one of many people whose habits have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe the nation needs to keep a close eye on these lifestyle changes before they spiral out of control. Habits formed can be difficult to break and can lead to longer-term lifestyle problems.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
We’ve seen increased alcohol consumption from the beginning of the pandemic, as people turned to unhelpful coping strategies to deal with fear and anxiety and the disruption to life. Although alcohol can seem like an immediate relief from stress, it actually increases the incidence of both anxiety and depression if used regularly. Tragically, we have seen a significant increase in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic due to the increased levels of consumption. During the first nine months of 2020, deaths caused by alcohol hit a new high with a peak of 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
As a nation we have had to turn to online shopping for many non-essential items that we can no longer buy, such as clothes, consumer goods, etc. For most people during normal times this use of online shopping wouldn’t be a significant issue, and we all know the humorous comment about "retail therapy." What we have seen during the pandemic, however, is the increased ability and justification to impulse buy in response to stress and anxiety triggers. Many of us are receiving deliveries of goods on a daily basis, so problematic shopping can be hidden.
The UK had already seen a rise in eating disorder admissions to hospital prior to the pandemic and this has increased. Serious eating disorders, such as anorexia, have the highest mortality rate of any mental health problem. But for most of us that isn’t the problem. Across the board we have turned to comfort eating habits for a quick mood boost. It’s understandable and, for the most part, would not be a long-term problem, except that the trigger for this type of eating is a long-term problem.
The UK was already in an obesity crisis, and it looks like this is going to be significantly increased as we come out of the pandemic. There are a number of factors leading to this:
- Comfort/emotional eating.
- The tendency to put on weight in the winter months.
- Sedentary lifestyle imposed by work-from-home orders.
The strategies we had in place to encourage everyday exercise (walk a few stops before getting on public transport on your way to work, use the stairs not the elevator at work, etc.) are just not going to be available with many businesses still operating from home.
How to Stay in Control of Lifestyle Changes
- Accept the New Norm: Understand this is not short term. We have to make heathy adaptations to this pandemic, not invest in short-term coping strategies. There is no going back to normality; there is only going forward into healthy or unhealthy adaption to this new and evolving normal.
- Alcohol Consumption: Stop drinking. The rise in deaths should tell you how dangerous it is. If you can’t manage that, then don’t drink regularly and when you do drink stay well within the drinking limit set by the NHS and CDC, or use non-alcoholic alternatives. If you can’t manage to cut down or you notice a loved one that can’t, get help. The sooner you ask for help the better.
- Get Outdoors: Parks are vital, and they have been heavily invested in within urban areas in the UK as they are known to have proven health benefits. Parks help us regulate our moods. If you are feeling angry, sad, lonely or anxious go for a walk in your local park.
- Food and Drink: Ensure you stay hydrated. Plan your food, eat at set times and be mindful. Allow yourself snacks, but be thoughtful. Practice mindful eating where you notice what you are eating. Eat with others if you can. If you live alone arrange Zoom dinner parties with friends.
- Budget: Make shopping lists of what you need and stick to the list. Again, allow yourself treats, but budget and stick to it. Try to keep your budget the same as pre-pandemic.
- Exercise: Get outdoors! Get into your local parks, walk, jog, run, whatever works for you. Just do it!
- Sleep: Sleep well and nap. Regular sleep routines backed up with naps are vital.
- Social Contact: Increase your outreach to family and friends. Use the phone or any communication you can. A phone call, Zoom or Skype with a loved one has additional hormonal benefits in producing loving feelings, which are the natural way we are designed to emotionally regulate. We get the same from close friends.
- Kindness: Be kind to yourself and others. Get hugs from people in your bubble. Let go of what you can’t control, practice being present in the moment, trust the future will be OK.
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