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.
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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.