5 pandemic habits to recycle

Starting a new habit can be difficult. Make it easier by recycling an old one

ILLUSTRATION: NYTIMES

Looking back at the last year, lockdowns and pandemic restrictions forced many people to start new routines. Work commutes disappeared. Fitness classes were cancelled. Homes became classrooms and workplaces. Some people thrived with the changes, while others struggled.

"The experience of 2020, as hard as it was, held many lessons," said Gretchen Rubin, author of the book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making And Breaking Habits.

"Some people's habits improved - often when they used the time they usually spend on work travel or commuting on exercising, cooking, reading or other healthy habits. Other people's habits worsened because they were under stress or shaken out of their usual helpful routines."

By reflecting on the changes and challenges of last year, you have an opportunity to recycle your best pandemic routines and build on them in the new year. Here are five habits you can keep.

1 DOUBLE DOWN ON SELF-CARE

During this crisis, we learnt that we are all connected and that taking care of ourselves - staying safe and well - is a way to care for our community.

Keep making self-care a priority once the pandemic has passed. If you think you have no time for self-care or that it seems selfish and self-indulgent, you are not alone.

"One of the things you come across all the time is the idea that 'I can't invest in things that are good for me because it's taking away from my ability to be a good parent or do what I need to do at work'," said Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct.

"Wouldn't it be great if we learn to lean into our interdependence and that we can actually take some kind of joy in knowing that when I take care of myself, I am also taking care of others?"

Self-care is not just a nap or hot bath to escape the family. It is about setting priorities, setting boundaries and finding purpose.

Start by mapping out a typical day from morning until bedtime. You probably spend about eight hours sleeping - but how do you spend the other 16?

Write down the time you spend preparing meals, doing your job, shopping, watching television, doing laundry, helping children with homework, caring for an ageing parent or catching up on e-mails.

2 CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY

To avoid spreading the virus, everyone learnt to be accountable to one another by wearing a mask, limiting contact and keeping one's distance.

While you still need to take pandemic precautions, you can build on your accountability habit.

Find a buddy to help you achieve your health goals. You can create public accountability by declaring your goals on social media.

If you prefer to stay accountable only to yourself, you can create accountability by using an app which sends you daily reminders, such as Headspace or Calm for meditation, Noom for tracking what you eat or Fitbit to track your exercise habits.

You can even hold yourself accountable through a daily journal entry.

3 MAKE ACTIVITY PART OF YOUR DAY

When gyms closed and fitness classes were cancelled, many people had to figure out how to exercise at home.

Instead of trying to schedule one long exercise session, take small exercise breaks throughout the day.

After a long meeting, take a walk. If you have spent all day on a deadline, take a break and do some yoga stretches. Do jumping jacks or wall push-ups while you listen to the news or a podcast.

Several studies show that short bursts of exercise result in meaningful changes to your fitness and metabolic health.

Start with 20-second exercise breaks three times a day. If you want to do more, take a few one-minute breaks.

4 FORM A HEALTH POD

According to a poll by Axios, nearly half of Americans surveyed said they had formed a pod or social bubble last summer - a select group of friends to help them cope with pandemic life.

Do not disband your pod when pandemic restrictions end. Keep it to support your health goals.

Even if you did not have a quarantine pod, you can form a health-conscious bubble in the new year.

Create a walking pod and meet a few times a week for group walks.

Or talk to your podmates about their healthy-eating goals.

You can share recipes and tips, and when social restrictions end, you can plan healthy-eating potlucks.

5 KEEP A CRISIS NOTEBOOK

In the early days of the pandemic, people panicked, hoarded toilet paper and packed their pantries to deal with the uncertainty.

Plan for uncertainty and create a collection of legal documents that will make sure everyone is prepared for an emergency.

While you should create a digital copy of all your important documents, it is good to have a physical binder that your loved ones can grab in a crisis.

The first few pages should be a "where to find it" list of your important documents - banking information, insurance papers and key contacts.

But the most important document will be your advance directive. An advance directive should designate someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so and offer specific guidance about your wishes if you become critically ill.

When you sit down to imagine a serious health crisis and the guidance you want to offer a surviving family member, it does not have to be depressing.

Use it as an opportunity to think about your values, your hopes for ageing well and what makes life worth living.

It can be like travelling to the future and helping loved ones through what may be one of the most difficult moments of their lives.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline '5 pandemic habits to recycle'. Print Edition | Subscribe