For a lot of us, what was initially stay-at-home “self-care” has gradually turned into an Everest of White Claw cans, more than a few pounds, and a languishing list of workouts you were going to do tomorrow. We all let our games slip. But now that months have passed, all those temporary coping measures are in danger of becoming permanent.
Now’s the time to check in with your physician, derm, and other docs to make sure that you’re really still “mostly healthy.” And then nip your nascent vices in the bud to get yourself the rest of the way there. It doesn’t take much: Improve some health behaviors by a mere 10 percent and it can mean a big difference to your body. Here’s how to make that happen.
1) The quarantine habit: You’ve added a final to your final-final nightcap.
Fix it: When COVID-19 hit, sales of alcohol—many guys’ go-to anxiety quencher— surged. Exceeding two drinks a day/14 a week can weaken your immunity and cause a cascade of other trouble, from poor sleep to a raised cancer risk. To dial back escalated drinking, “try to avoid all-or-nothing approaches,” says Aaron White, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. One way to go at it gradually is to disrupt the automaticity of your routine. Instead of your usual beer-or-bourbon ritual, stir up an interesting new low- or no-alcohol cocktail each night. The effort and fun of making something new should help you drink a little less.
2) The quarantine habit: You snack all day long.
Fix it: The “quarantine 15” is legit, and snacking probably had a lot to do with that. One way to cut back: Limit eating to a certain setting, like your kitchen table, says psychologist Wendy Wood, Ph.D., author of Good Habits, Bad Habits. This helps you associate the table with eating and be less likely to habitually do it elsewhere. Another way: Figure out ahead of time what you’re going to do instead of grabbing a chip, even when your hand is halfway in the bag. Jot it down (really)— whether it’s scrolling through vacation pics or doing pushups, says Deborah Beck Busis, L.C.S.W., director of Beck Diet Programs. “If you could whisper something to yourself in that situation, what would you want to hear?” That’s what to put down and pull out when that snack is calling you.
3) The quarantine habit: You put off workouts until “later.”
Fix it: The more time you have, the more time you have to waste. That’s the takeaway from a lot of research on procrastination, which has found that people often struggle to finish a task when given extra time to complete it. This helps explain why you keep missing workouts even though your new schedule (theoretically) allows you more time for them. Whether you’re back at work or still home, the antidote is the same: Commit to a time and place for exercise, says Piers Steel, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Calgary and author of The Procrastination Equation. He says routines are procrastination kryptonite because, once formed, they mostly remove the temptation to bail. “They’re like highways without off-ramps,” he adds. Schedule the week’s workouts on Sunday and try a social workout tracker like Strava to stay accountable.
4) The quarantine habit: You’ve become a night owl.
Fix it: Late bedtimes and wake-ups won’t fly if you have to be at a desk most mornings or want to be productive from home. If going to bed earlier is a struggle—you toss and turn forever—use this hack: Do nothing. “But it’s the hardest nothing you’ll ever do,” says Michael Perlis, Ph.D., director of behavioral sleep medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. After a bad night’s sleep, “doing nothing” means no napping, no sleeping in, no early bedtimes. Set a schedule and stick to it. Build up enough sleep debt and “the ship will right itself”—usually within three to five days, he says.
5) The quarantine habit: You check Instagram while you “attend” meetings.
Fix it: Back when meetings took place around a conference table, you couldn’t scroll your Insta feeds. But work-from-home life has torn down most of the barriers between you and this sort of unhelpful multitasking.
“I’ve been hearing that people feel like they’re busier but getting less done, and I think it’s in part because their bad multitasking habits are amplified,” says Cal Newport, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Multitasking is a misnomer, Newport says; people can do only one task at a time. “Switching decreases your cognitive capacity for whatever you’re trying to do,” he says. You lose time attempting to refocus your attention, and you’re less able to grasp complex material and more prone to mistakes. You might have to call in more tech to break your tech habit: A program called Freedom (freedom .to) lets you temporarily block your computer’s or phone’s access to web pages and apps. Start by blocking access for 15 minutes at a time, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and coauthor of The Distracted Mind. “You’ll know it’s working when those 15 minutes go by and you don’t want to stop what you’re doing.”
This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Men's Health.
Markham Heid is an experienced health reporter and writer, has contributed to outlets like TIME, Men’s Health, and Everyday Health, and has received reporting awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C.