Own Your Time – How to maintain your healthy new habits as we return to ‘normal’ life

The pandemic presented immense challenges for many people, but it also had positive benefits for those freed from lengthy commutes and workplace stresses. Dr Lisa Hynes says now is the time to reflect on the lessons of lockdown. 

Dr Lisa Hynes is a health psychologist and Head of Health Programmes at the Croi, heart and stroke centre in Galway. Visit croi.ie for more. 

It’s not that we have more of it, it’s just that we are spending it better. One of the defining features of the past 18 months for so many has been the transition to working from home, and the enjoyment of a commodity that we are able to appreciate now more than ever. That commodity is time. Gone are the hours spent commuting from A to B, and in its place are the seconds taken to slip out of bed and clock in at the kitchen table. Of course, juggling home working with home schooling, and everything else in between, has not been without its challenges. But there have undoubtedly been benefits for our physical health. Thanks to having more time than ever to spend on ourselves, we now have time for morning sea swims. Time for lunchtime walks in the park. Time for evening runs on the streets.

But before the world opens up again and employers start to reopen workplaces, perhaps we need to take some time out. Time out to think about what we might have learned about life under Covid-19 and what we might like to hold on to as we return to our workplace habitats.

Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a group of cardiovascular patients. During our discussion, one woman described how working from home had provided a huge relief from long, exhausting days. Thanks to the extra time at home, and the mental and emotional space this brought, she had been able to adopt healthy new routines, such as preparing nutritious meals and getting some exercise in.

But now she was experiencing that ‘Sunday night fear’ every day as she worried about what’s on the horizon. She has a very real fear that these new routines will no longer be possible when she’s back commuting to the office and enduring a 12-hour working day.

She was afraid, angry, and frustrated at the prospect of losing all of the ground she has gained and the hugely positive impact she has experienced for her heart health.

Dr. Lisa Hynes - Head of Health Programmes & Health Psychologist

So, how to help her? It is useful to reflect that there are three key factors that drive health related behaviours capability, opportunity and motivation. Whether it is changing our diet, starting an exercise routine, or quitting smoking, a number of thing need to line up. And we wonder why it is so difficult a make a change?

But there is help in ensuring our stars align. We are creatures of habit and the strongest predictor of what we do today, is what we did yesterday. Everyone knows what it is like to want to make a change, whether it’s drinking less coffee or going to bed earlier, and how difficult that can be. The truth is, we find it hard to make changes – because it is hard. We tend to approach change with the belief that it should be easy and, if we don’t succeed, it’s our fault. We just didn’t have the “will power”.

We know that up to 90% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented. So why is this information not enough to have us all eating salad and running marathons? It’s because knowledge is just not enough remember, we need to have the “stars” of capability, opportunity and motivation aligned for action.

Covid-19 and its associated restrictions have impacted every aspect of our lives. We all have a story about things we are doing differently. Times of transition, like now as we begin to re-open, are highly stressful. When things get messy, we seek familiarity, comfort and control. If you are finding things a bit confusing and difficult at the moment, you are not alone.

Yet times when the chessboard gets flipped also present opportunities and the chance to reflect and decide how we want things to be. One of the key issues that we need to plan for is how we will deal with the barriers that may stop us from maintaining those healthy changes the pandemic has brought about in our lives.

We now have an ideal opportunity to look ahead and identify those challenges. Once done, we can then put action plans in place to deal with them and, even more importantly, plan how to get back on that horse should we fall off. We know what’s coming, even if we don’t know when. A return to the commute and being bumper to bumper. A return to the office and the constantly ringing phone. A return to the sandwich shop and queues out the door at lunchtime. A slow and gradual return to life as we knew it.

Think about giving yourself time out now to reflect on ways you might approach these changes to best support your heart health and overall wellbeing.

There really is no time to lose.

TAKE 5 – Lockdown lessons and adjusting to post-pandemic life

 

  1. Be a pleasure seeker: Reflect on the things that you really enjoyed during lockdown and think of ways to carry them forward into your new reality.
  2. Break those barriers: If you managed to create a healthy lunch routine while working from home, why not make it the evening before so it doesn’t fall victim to the snooze button? If you’ve been loving your morning walk and slow cup of coffee, why not jump into bed ahead of your usual time so you can have an earlier start?
  3. Be real: Don’t put yourself under such pressure that you‘re setting yourself up for a fall. We can make a real difference to our heart health through simple actions completed every day. Pick one or two achievable goals and celebrate your successes.
  4. A problem shared: If you are worried about the changes ahead, talk to friends and family to see if they also have concerns. It helps to share our worries and we can also uncover opportunities to support each other.
  5. Be sociable: It may take a bit of time to dust off those social skills, but social interaction is so important for wellbeing and can really support healthy routines. Why not start a lunchtime walking group with your colleagues? You’ll be able to keep up your current exercise routine and give the afternoon slump the hump.

Niall’s Croí Cycle to show thanks for support his parent’s received

Niall Folan and his wife Catriona are living in Knocknacarra, Galway, with their 7 month old daughter, Roisin. On Sunday, July 11th, Niall took on the challenge and cycled an incredible 110km at the 27th Annual Croí Corrib Cycle in Connemara in aid of Croí!

When Niall saw the Croí Corrib Cycle advertised on Facebook, he instantly recognised Croí as both his parents are living with heart disease and have attended some of Croí’s lifestyle courses and exercise classes. His father, Enda, is living with diabetes and has had stents in his heart. In addition to using Croí’s services, Enda has worked with the National Institute for Preventive Cardiology (NIPC), providing patient information and interviews about living with diabetes.

Niall enjoys his lunch after a long 110km cycle

Niall comes from a family of rowers and he says that they have a ‘get going’ and competitive mentality. His brother, Cormac, competed in rowing at the 2008 Olympics! Back in September, Niall says, “I got a stark warning from my doctor, and my wife who is a doctor, that I needed to make some lifestyle changes. I was eating a lot of rubbish and it was all down to laziness. I was aware of the heart history in my family as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. I began my journey in losing weight and improving my overall health.”

Niall is new to cycling, having got a new bike in March and began pushing himself to reach his goals. He always enjoyed cycling, be it individually or with his brothers, but when he saw the Croí Corrib Cycle coming up, he decided to set himself a goal to complete the 110km route and his first-ever Croí Corrib Cycle. He is extremely happy he did the cycle, and did better than he expected! This was his first big outing with a cycling crew and he loved being able to join groups on the road, as well as cycling on his own at some parts. Niall’s friends and family were also a great support, helping him go beyond his fundraising target and raising over €800 for Croí!

Niall really enjoyed the 27th Annual Croí Corrib Cycle and says, “It was a brilliant event and so well-organised. It’s definitely worth doing, especially when you know it’s for a good cause and Croí is helping so many people.”

Thank you again to everyone who participated in the Croí Corrib Cycle on Sunday, July 11th. To view our photos from the day, check out our Facebook photo album here.

Patients Voice Concerns over COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritisation

Croí joins Patient Organisations to Urge Government to Prioritise People with Chronic and Rare Diseases, of All Ages, in Rollout of COVID-19 Vaccines

A coalition of patient organisations, including Croí, has today written to An Taoiseach and to the Chair of the High-Level Task Force on Vaccination and Immunisation to urge that people with chronic and/or rare diseases, of all ages, be treated as the highest priority in determining early vaccine recipients. Already, many countries around the globe are including this group as a top priority and it is vital that Ireland likewise recognises the importance of doing so.

The coalition is also calling for representatives from the public to be allowed join the membership of the Task Force and for patient organisations and vulnerable group leaders to be urgently engaged in dialogue.

The coalition of fifteen patient organisations comprises: Alone, Alpha 1 Foundation, Asthma Society of Ireland, COPD Support Ireland, Diabetes Ireland, Disability Federation of Ireland, Family Carers Ireland, Irish Cancer Society, Irish Heart Foundation, IPPOSI, Mental Health Ireland, The Neurological Alliance of Ireland, Rare Diseases Ireland, Sage Advocacy, and The West of Ireland Cardiac and Stroke Foundation.

Vaccination Priority

Derick Mitchell, Chief Executive of IPPOSI (the Irish Platform for Patients’ Organisations, Science and Industry), comments:

“Many chronic and/or rare disease patients manage one or more life-threatening and/or life-limiting conditions. Many have been cocooning since news of the pandemic broke in early 2020. This has had devasting effects for patients and their families – emotional, physical, and financial.

“These are patients who cannot participate in the ‘new normal’ in any way, they cannot ‘risk it’. They cannot rely on social distancing, on mask wearing, or on hand sanitising. To protect their physical health, they must cocoon or self-isolate – completely, indefinitely, and some alone.

“Patients have endured this level of isolation for ten months now and it is critical that they not endure this for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. We strongly urge the Government and the High-Level Task Force to consider the needs of some of the most vulnerable in society, of all ages, when making its final decisions as to what groups will receive immediate vaccination priority.”

Task Force Membership

Vicky McGrath, Chief Executive of Rare Diseases Ireland, comments:

“The welcome developments announced in recent weeks by several COVID-19 vaccine candidates are forcing us as a society to address some difficult questions.

“As things stand, dialogue and decisions around the priority groups in line for future COVID-19 vaccines are being taken by a select number of departmental and public authority officials. The 15-member task force includes the Department of Health, the HSE, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Health Regulatory Authority, the IDA, the Dublin Airport Authority, but not a single representative from the public, or from patient or vulnerable groups. We are therefore calling for the appointment of two representatives from the public to join the membership of the Task Force and for patient organisations and vulnerable group leaders to be included in an ongoing dialogue.”

Kieran O’Leary, Chief Executive of Diabetes Ireland, adds:

“We all recognise that, at least initially, there may not be enough vaccines for a widespread immunisation programme. Demand between countries, and within countries, will outstrip supply. Nationally, we will have to prioritise who receives the first allocation of vaccines.

“Allocation must be made on the basis of agreed ethical values and clinical evidence, in a transparent and accountable environment, where public, patient and vulnerable group representatives are able to voice the perspectives of the most at risk in our society.”

Distressing Time

Benat Broderick, Cystic Fibrosis patient advocate, shares:

“As a person living with Cystic Fibrosis, the pandemic has left me with no other choice but to cocoon since early February, due to the risk posed to my personal health. As others have benefitted from an easing of restrictions or a return to a new normal, I however, continue to endure a very worrying and draining set of circumstances. My only hope of re-joining society in any meaningful way, is access to a vaccine. I therefore fully support the call for patients and vulnerable people to be placed among those in the highest category for vaccination.”