This pandemic has shifted what a regular “work day” looks like almost across the board for every career. I, personally, have shifted to a part-time in-clinic basis and am working virtually behind the computer to treat patients. This has changed my outlook on the importance of having structure while WFH looks like entirely— especially during a pandemic.

The first few days were great! I had all this “time” and I could and work on my computer from whatever room I wanted to! From someone who used to be on their feet from 7 am to 7 pm, this was welcomed.

Then the two-month mark hit. Almost 60 days. The start of new habits I did not know had been brewing. Decreased physical activity, less standing time, more time to scroll Twitter and keep checking the fluid COVID-19 news, and reflecting on the social oppression going on in our world. I found myself feeling stressed about the uncertainty, worried about things out of my control, and I was unproductive! My mind was busy and my body was not, which only affected my mood and well-being. That is when I realized I needed structure. It was time to kick the new habits that were creeping up on me without knowing.

I made absolute non-negotiable time for exercise, set a limit on my Twitter/news scrolling, made an active effort to do what was in my power to help social justice, and focused on doing ONE thing towards a new career goal per day. My mood improved, my energy increased, and I felt regained control of my well-being. After two months of dedication to my routine, I felt myself again.

So how long to form a healthy habit?

Humans are creatures of habit. We form healthy ones, and we may unintentionally form unhealthy ones. Vagueness of goals mixed with low energy can be detrimental in creating healthy efforts. Since the 1950s, it’s been said it takes roughly 21 days to form a habit. This is partially true, but also is a bit inaccurate.

Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher in London performed a study that looked at how long it takes to form a healthy habit, like drinking a glass of water or going for a daily walk. Her team found it took an average of 66 days for a group of 96 people. They also found:

  • Those who missed a day did not fall off track
  • Some participants took longer, being a little more “habit resistant”
  • Some habits just take longer (i.e. drinking a daily cup of water vs doing 50 push ups a day)

Takeaways: it takes time and effort. It is different for everyone. If you miss a day, don’t fret.

Healthy Habits: Mental & Physical

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults get 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity (i.e. brisk walk) a week. They also found that just 10 to 15 minutes of a casual walk (with a face cover these days), three times a week can positively impact mental well-being!

So, How to Form a Habit

  1. Make small goals: maybe you stand on the hour, every hour, for 5 minutes throughout your work day.
  2. Make larger goals: maybe you go on two 20-minute walks per week, and aim for eight walks per month.
  3. If you miss, it’s OKAY: Understand ONE missed day does not mean you have to start over.
  4. Set reminders: post-it notes, block off time in your calendar, or set a reminder with Alexa or your phone.
  5. Make non-negotiable time: For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-5:30 are your new walk time time. No but’s or if’s, it is now IN your schedule.
  6. Reward yourself: You deserve it! If you love an episode of a show and have a habit of watching for three episodes straight, keep one episode for after your walk. If you want a cookie, then eat a cookie! You can even keep it for only on the weekend or moderate how you like.

Mental Coping Strategies

First off, recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and if you feel sick, call your doctor. Be prepared and know where to go if you need treatment. Look up testing sites and know where the closest doctor’s office is.

  1. Take breaks: Especially from watching the news and reading stories.
  2. Stay connected with friends and family: Talk about things other than the news.
  3. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals: Fun fact, nutrition impacts mood and energy levels!
  4. Make time to unwind: me time. Make it essential.
  5. Get enough sleep: It’s just as important how much you get as when you get it for your body.
  6. Practice breathing & meditate: Deep, slow, lower rib-expanding breathes help the nervous system settle and help you feel more calm.

Above all, understand forming habits take time and diligence. If you miss a day, it’s OKAY. Just pick up where you left off. You will create healthier habits. Your efforts will pay off, and your body and mind will thank you. You got this.