The air and water have never been cleaner and clearer, the greens of spring have never seemed greener, but many beaches, parks and hiking trails have been closed to public use during the social distancing ordnance. Forced to stay home, boredom and stress combine to create the perfect opportunity for bad habits to be revived.
I’ve heard alcohol sales are up and I remember very well how waiting until 5pm for that first glass of wine became waiting for 3pm; it’s very easy to slip into overdrinking on long, boring days. I’m certain there are a lot of former smokers who’ve lit up again. I keep a pack of Camel cigarettes on my home altar in honor of Tom Robbins’ book Still Life with Woodpecker and although I’ve never smoked, I was tempted to open the pack and sample some (extremely stale by now) “Choice Quality” just to pass some time and rebel a little bit.
Bad habits can sneak up on you poco a poco or strike like lightening and hook you hard. During a crisis, it’s easy to rationalize a bad habit like sitting down to a bowl of macaroni and cheese or a bag of kettle corn every afternoon with the idea that you are treating or comforting yourself. Binge watching old tv shows because you’ve run out of new ones, not brushing your teeth, not getting out of bed until noon or staying in your pajamas all day are behaviors that aren’t going to ruin your life like a heroin addiction might, but allowing these behaviors to become habits is likely to make you feel guilty and miserable. Plus, it will be so much harder to get back into a productive work mode when the shelter in place is over and you can’t button your pants.
Social media can either help or hurt your desire to steer clear of bad habits. I’m not a fan of social media and detest the whole FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality, but seeing some of the creative responses to sheltering in place has been really engaging. It can back fire though: when folks in your Facebook or Instagram feed are posting overly challenging activities or super posh shelters, the comparisons with your own can cause a shut down and make you want to crawl back into your shell (ter) with the mac and cheese. My advice is to delete those people from your feed and just follow those who inspire action, not envy.
Make a list of habits you want to avoid and another of habits you’d like to strengthen or develop. Perhaps there are a few things you want to treat yourself with and don’t want to cut out altogether, like watching Netflix two hours, not twelve, per day, or having one doughnut hole each evening, not a whole box. If you list a bunch of habits you’d like to have, such as drinking eight glasses of water each day, or reading classic literature, you might put off a bad habit by saying, “If I still feel like watching Project Runway episodes from 2010 after I drink two glasses of water and read one act of Hamlet, I will allow myself to do so.”
Make it convenient to embrace the good habit and difficult to engage in the bad. If you want to journal every day, make sure paper and pen are always handy. If you want to avoid sweets, don’t buy them in the first place or at least freeze them and only thaw out a small portion each day. If you want to handle household chores, gather your tools and make sure everything you need is ready to go.
Add a little ritual to your good habits to make them more attractive than the bad ones. For example, if you get dressed and put on button pants each morning, I guarantee you will be less likely to reach for the fattening food. Once you are dressed, take it further; make a ritual of putting on scent, jewelry and makeup for women or giving yourself an exfoliating facial and fresh shave for men. You might find taking time with your health and appearance more comforting than a bowl of ice cream, and the good vibes will last longer with no emotional crash landing.