October 5, 2022

Kicking unhealthy pandemic habits

Explore fresh ways to get motivated and incorporate wellness into your daily life.

We are creatures of habit, and during the pandemic many of us may have picked up some unhealthy ones. Data from the National Library of Medicine shows that alcohol consumption has increased substantially during the pandemic for men and women. People may be unmotivated to exercise, may eat mindlessly more often, or might regularly miss out on sleep.

Bad habits can exacerbate our anxiety, stress, and depression yet they are difficult to break. Here are some fresh ways to incorporate wellness into your daily life.

Recognizing unfavorable thoughts helps us see the bigger picture of the situation. We often get caught up in small details, but we should ask ourselves, ‘Will I care about this in a week? A month?’ If the answer is no, it allows us to not dwell.


The bookend method

For long-term stress management and a simple way to incorporate healthy habits into your day, try the bookend method. Every morning and night practice a form of meditation you like — breathing techniques, journaling, stretching, or a guided meditation — for 15 minutes.

“Beginning and ending our day with a healthy routine can make our day go better,” said Pranav Shah, MD, a psychiatrist and wellness educator for Kaiser Permanente employees in California. It allows us to be in touch with our mind and the stress we are experiencing.”

Embrace negative emotions

Commonly people manage stress by avoiding it. Dr. Shah said this doesn’t work. Instead, embrace negative, sad, or stressful thoughts. Recognize them, feel them, and cry if you need to. This makes it easier to let go of these feelings, Dr. Shah said. Thoughts last only 90 seconds if you can move on from them.

“Recognizing unfavorable thoughts helps us see the bigger picture of the situation,” he said. “We often get caught up in small details, but we should ask ourselves, ‘Will I care about this in a week? A month?’ If the answer is no, it allows us to not dwell.”

Journaling and self-reflection are also good exercises to practice this, Dr. Shah said.

Make specific goals

Dr. Shah recommends creating goals that are S.M.A.R.T., meaning specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

“Realistic goals are sustainable goals,” Dr. Shah said. “If you want to exercise more, choose a specific time to do it and make your objectives small at first, such as a 10-minute walk 4 times a week.”

Dr. Shah also suggested writing down goals and posting them to the refrigerator, or partnering with a friend to do them to increase accountability. Additionally, it’s good to recognize and process your fears around your ambitions.

Connect with your mind when eating

A way to help with unhealthy eating habits is to have a stronger connection between body and self.

“When you eat, don’t watch TV, be on your phone, or be distracted,” said Anna Leszczynska, a registered dietitian for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. “Enjoy eating and treat it like a break.”

This allows us to recognize fullness and avoid mindless eating. Leszczynska also suggested to put your fork down between bites and connect with the flavor and texture of the food.

Don’t buy highly processed or sugary foods

It seems like common sense, but it’s easy to grab chips, cookies, or premade meals. If we have less of these at home, we won’t snack on them as much.

Some great choices are raw nuts, fruit, dried fruit, farmer cheese, cottage cheese with probiotics, veggies and hummus, and Greek or Scandinavian yogurt. Another tip: Never go shopping hungry and do bring a grocery list.

Stick to whole foods

A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, fibrous fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats helps with cravings, stress management, mood, and alcohol consumption.

“Whole foods such as eggs, salmon, and edamame are the building blocks of serotonin,” said Leszczynska. “If you don’t eat enough nutritious foods and protein, you will have more cravings for sweets and alcohol, and will have difficulty breaking that cycle.”

Don’t wait longer than 5 hours between meals, eat at least 3 high-protein meals daily (at least 20 grams per meal), and drink lots of water.

Kaiser Permanente offers wellness tools and resources to support your total health. 

Healthy food ideas

Contributed by Anna Leszczynska, RD.

Breakfast ideas:

  • Steel cut oats with berries or dates and sprinkled with hemp or chia seeds
  • Omelet with peppers, spinach, mushrooms, and cheese
  • Shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce); try this recipe from Food for Health

Snack ideas:

  • Plain Greek yogurt with blueberries, honey, and flaxseed
  • Bananas with almond butter
  • Hummus and bell peppers

Lunch ideas:

  • Leafy green salad with salmon
  • Greek salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese
  • Buddha bowl with chicken or eggs, rice, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, greens, and tahini dressing

Dinner ideas:

  • Grilled chicken and veggies with cooked grains
  • Petrale sole, baked potato, cooked greens
  • Coconut, turmeric, red lentil stew with potatoes
  • Bell peppers stuffed with purple rice, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, shallots, and ground turkey