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Coronavirus: Adapting to our new normal

Over the past six months, we’ve all learned to adapt to change. For a while, it seemed as though schools, universities, and some jobs were starting to return to normal and the UK was gearing up for a transition period.

However, with the recent increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and restrictions, the threat of a ‘second wave’ seems imminent.

That means that our ‘new normal’ isn’t a familiar state but rather learning how to be resilient and adaptable. Adapting to this new normal can be incredibly challenging. Between job security, worrying about our loved ones, and general anxiety, many of us might be feeling unsettled in the current environment.

Working from home for long periods, combined with child care and anxieties around coronavirus (COVID-19), has understandably led to some of us developing unhealthy habits, or returning to unhealthy habits that we had before.

For example, stats show that alcohol consumption in the UK was up 41%, and biscuit sales in supermarkets were up by £19 million in the past few months.

Some of us might feel demotivated to make healthy changes because of the pressures and judgement that come from society. The recent government obesity strategy, which aimed at improving obesity prevention due to the link to poorer outcomes from coronavirus (COVID-19), has been questioned because of this.

Adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of uncertainty can be challenging, and there’s plenty of factors that we can’t control right now. However, considering what is in our control and trying to make small changes to our daily routine can help us protect our physical and mental health. Here are our top tips:

1) Stick to a routine

We mentioned the importance of a routine in our first blog post at the beginning of the pandemic outbreak back in March, but we think it’s so important that it’s worth repeating.

We might be back into a slightly more ‘normal’ routine right now, if our children have returned to school or our offices are open, but as this could change at any point, it’s important to prioritise a healthy, regular routine.

How?

Aim to wake up and go to bed at similar times each day. This helps your circadian rhythm (internal body clock) stay regular and will help you sleep better and feel more energised in the day.

Sticking to set meal times three times a day also helps your body clock stay constant and prevents snacking and cravings between meals. The Second Nature meal planner tool can help you plan your meals ahead and increase the chances of you sticking to it.

Similarly, exercising at the same times each week helps the behaviour become more automatic as part of your daily routine, meaning you’re more likely to continue exercising.

Unless you’re in isolation, consider going for a quick walk to start your day and replicate your usual routine or commute.

2) Live in the present

It’s natural to be concerned about the near future and thinking about potential outcomes of a second lockdown, but focusing on the future or past can put a strain on our mental health.

Particularly now, when restrictions change weekly and there’s little warning, it’s important that we try our best to focus on the present.

How?

Receiving constant notifications about the virus makes it difficult to remain present, which can lead us to panic and lose control of our thoughts. It’s important to stay informed right now, but consider checking reliable sources (e.g. BBC or WHO websites) for information once each day and turning off notifications in between.

Practices that help us focus on our body and current surroundings can also help us remain present. Consider practising yoga, or meditation. It doesn’t need to be time-consuming to be effective. If you’re new to yoga, try a short video practise.

For meditation support, there’s a number of free options, such as ‘Simple Habit’ or ‘Smiling Mind’.
If you’re new to meditation, consider a deep breathing exercise for just 2 minutes each day.

The best way to form a habit like yoga or deep breathing is to tie it to a ‘trigger’. For example, when we wake up, the first thing we do could be finding a quiet space to practise our breathing or meditation in. Here, the trigger is waking up.

3) Keep moving

Exercise of any kind releases dopamine, the ‘happy’ hormone. Interestingly, evidence suggests that exercise might also help us cope with emotions in the longer term by positively impacting our brain.

Studies have demonstrated that chronic stress can shrink the section of our brain responsible for stress control (the hippocampus). This means that our ability to absorb and process new information will be limited and our capacity to deal with stress will decrease. This effect? Even more stress!

However, regular exercise has been shown to increase the size of this section of our brain. One study showed that moderate-intensity exercise three times a week increases the size of this part of our brain by 2%, compared with those who didn’t exercise and demonstrated a decrease of 1.4%.

This suggests that if we exercise regularly, we’ll be able to cope better during stressful situations, which is particularly important at this point in time.

How?

Exercise doesn’t have to be high-intensity for a long period of time to be effective. ‘Snacking’ on exercise has shown health benefits. This means doing just 1-2 minutes of exercise as often as possible, whether that be press-ups, star jumps, squats, lunges, running on the spot, or going up and down the stairs a few times.

You can try and snack on exercise around your daily routine. For example, doing squats while we wait for the kettle to boil, or jogging on the spot while our food heats up in the microwave.

Most of us are spending a lot of time at home right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t gain the benefits of exercise. It’s possible without a fully equipped gym! Read our in-depth guide around home exercises for ideas and guidance around exercising at home.

4) Prioritise sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep is important for a number of reasons, including our immune system, mental wellbeing, and food choices.

How?

In the current environment, many of us might be struggling to sleep or wind down at the end of the day. However, there are some small changes we can make to give ourselves the best chance of waking up feeling rested.

Our general guide on how to sleep better provides detailed advice around improving our sleep.

We’ve also created a specific sleep guide tailored to the current environment. We suggest choosing one small change at a time and trying it for 1-2 weeks before adding another. If we try to change too much of our routine in one go, it might be too overwhelming.

5) Manage alcohol intake

With social restrictions and more time spent at home, it’s not surprising that the UK has increased its alcohol consumption.

Eliminating alcohol isn’t necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle and feel good. However, it can be helpful to get into the habit of enjoying it occasionally and, when we do have it, making sure that we’re enjoying it mindfully and without distractions (e.g. not in front of the television).

It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a glass of red wine with a meal, for example. The negative impact on our health arises when we regularly binge drink, i.e. having 3-4+ glasses of wine or pints of beer at once.

How?

Although pubs, bars, and restaurants are closed after 10pm, there’s still potential to drink more than we intended in social situations. Consider alternating between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Some good non-alcoholic drinks include sparkling water with lemon or lime, herbal teas, and alcohol-free cocktails.

For those of us who prefer enjoying alcohol at home right now, our detailed guide around managing alcohol in lockdown can provide some helpful tips.

Take home message

  • Our ‘new normal’ feels incredibly abnormal, however, there are some small changes we can make to try and protect our mental and physical health
  • If you’re in a position to prioritise your mental and physical wellbeing, we suggest trying one of the above tips at a time rather than trying them all at once, to reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed
  • Sticking to a routine, thinking about staying present, moving our bodies, prioritising our sleep, and managing our alcohol intake can all contribute to better mental and physical health
  • Our mental and physical health are important to help us constantly adjust to a changing environment.

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