The year 2020 may finally be history, but some of the not-so-healthy habits we collectively picked up during quarantine may still be holding fast. Yet if this past year taught us anything, it’s that we can’t control our external circumstances—we can only control what we do about them. To help kick-start your goals for 2021, Dr. Connie Zajicek, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist for Memorial Hermann Behavioral Health Services, compiled a list of the top 10 bad habits of 2020—and tips for breaking them for good.
- Lack of Structure: We spent a lot more time at home last year than ever before, but as a result, we lost some of our normal routines and habits, such as waking with an alarm clock or showering at a certain time (or at all!). Humans thrive on routine and predictability, which most of us have not had much of in the last year. My recommendation: implement a routine into your schedule, even if it’s self-imposed. This will help with productivity as well as a sense of stability, and it’s especially important for children who need routines and schedules. Try to maintain pre-pandemic expectations and chores for youngsters to help them preserve a sense of normalcy and predictability.
- Decline in Self-Care: Many people have been at home with their family all day, every day. We’ve experienced a major lack of “alone time,” which is when we process events from the day as well as our emotions. It’s important when planning your daily routine to schedule some “me time,” and I’d encourage everyone to include meditation and reflection during this time. Check in with your body and your health. Are you getting adequate sleep, hydration, exercise and nutrition?
- Excessive Screen Time: While a binge-worthy Netflix show or a new game on your phone can be a good coping skill to distract oneself from stress, it can also lead to more isolation. Make a pact to limit screen time for yourself and your family.
- Excessive Snacking: Boredom often leads to in-between meals snacking, which affects our weight, health and immune system. And for anyone whose office is currently set up in their home kitchen, the temptation to snack may be impossible to overcome. Try to take steps to cut out or reduce snacking, and stock your house with healthy options for when the cravings hit.
- Excessive Alcohol: Too much drinking is also bad for your health. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which can perpetuate underlying depression over time. If you notice you’re drinking more, it may be a sign that you have some underlying anxiety and/or depression that needs attention. I recommend limiting alcohol use and paying close attention to your underlying mood and emotions. If necessary, seek help from your doctor, who can refer you to an appropriate therapist or psychiatrist.
- Lack of Exercise: We all know that exercise has many health benefits, and it’s an excellent stress reliever. But between gym closures and social distancing, many of us neglected our exercise routines last year. I encourage everyone to incorporate exercise into their day—even a 20-minute walk can do wonders if done on a consistent basis. Be sure to mix up the type of exercise to keep it interesting!
- Lack of Social Interaction: While this was unavoidable in 2020, there are still ways to improve safe, social connectedness. Although we do still need to maintain physical distance, we also need this social connectedness. Plan Zoom or phone chats with friends and family to check in and unwind—it may not be quite the same as a long, leisurely dinner, but these interactions will still bring joy and feelings of community and kinship.
- Negative Self-Reflection: Everyone is trying to maintain their workload, family happiness, and health during a stressful time—and we’re all being too hard on ourselves. It’s OK to not always have everything together. As a society, we are trying to cope with very stressful and, at times, devastating losses. Grieving and processing takes time and energy. My advice: give yourself a break!
- Excessive News and Social Media Exposure: While social media can be a stress reliever, it can also present a constant influx of news, which can often be anxiety-producing. Set limits on how much news information you take in daily, and ensure the information you are hearing is reputable—remember, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is more reliable than Twitter!
- Politics Overload: 2020 has been a year of political turmoil, unpredictability and change. Not everyone enjoys daily political discussions, but we all find ourselves faced with these topics daily from the news, co-workers and family. Most of us can better cope with this kind of stress when we are exposed to it in smaller and less frequent doses. My advice is to limit exposure to daily political conversations if they are causing stress or anxiety.
Remember, as we enter this New Year, stick to a routine that includes self-care and safe social connectedness, pay attention to your health and mood, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.