Yes, there are those stay-at-home habits many of us have picked up throughout 2020 that might not be the healthiest, like eating frozen pizzas every other night or staying on the couch until we’ve binged all three seasons of Selling Sunset (no, just me?). You might have given up on a workout routine the second your gym closed and stopped prioritizing healthy eating because you’ve been dealing with a dangerous combination of high-stress, lack of normalcy, and the Doritos bag on top of the fridge staring at you 24/7. You probably picked up the mentality way back in March that normal life is on pause, so who cares if you forego healthy habits?
But the reality is that life is not “on pause.” It’s happening right now, every day and every minute, pandemic or not. We can either adopt healthy habits to help us work through the stress of this time, or use it as an excuse to be unhealthy. The good news is that becoming healthier might be easier than you realize. Personally, I’ve recently learned how many stay-at-home habits are actually good for me. I realized a lot about my body, habits, and overall health that I wouldn’t have learned had I not been stuck in my studio apartment for months on end. Here are eight habits I’ve picked up in 2020 that I’ll keep up even long after the pandemic is over.
1. Prioritizing sleep over everything else
What I thought was “healthiest” for me always came first. Back during the office days (anyone remember what was that like?) I would wake up extra early to go to a workout class beforehand. Even after I switched to working remote full-time over a year ago (before the rest of the world went work-from-home), I would stay up late getting work done instead of calling it quits by 10pm to get in a full eight hours of sleep before my early start time. When the pandemic did hit, workout classes were no longer an option, and I had enough time to check every item off my to-do list and still go through a leisurely nighttime routine.
After months of sleeping more than I have since I was an infant (if only we could have multiple naps a day as adults), I realized how much better I felt. My work was higher quality, exercise felt more enjoyable, and, most importantly, I just felt so much better. I’m not going to lie to you: getting enough sleep is still tough when I have such an early start time to my day. But these days, if I have to choose between a workout or checking items off my to-do list and getting 7-8 hours of sleep, you know what I choose? Sleep. Every time.
2. Getting outside more
Although I live in Southern California, I am not a beach person. In fact, I notoriously avoid going outside at all costs (I burn instead of tan, and there’s nothing I despise more than feeling hot and sweaty); an air-conditioned indoor space has always been more enticing. Looking back, I didn’t see the outdoors as the crucial part of wellness that it is, and was lazy about getting fresh air and sunshine. Like, check-my-phone-to-find-out-the-weather-instead-of-walking-the-five-steps-to-my-balcony kind of lazy.
I humbly acknowledge what an idiot I was not to take advantage of the outside world while I had full access to it. After being stuck indoors 24/7, I crave the outdoors and nature. I started going on more hikes, fitting in walks around the block when I have a 10-minute work break, and having more meals out on the balcony instead of at the kitchen table. Getting outside more often (SPF-protected, of course) has been life-changing for me. Even just small changes like drinking your morning coffee on the patio or taking a walk instead of running on the treadmill can have a wide variety of health benefits.
3. Spending free time wisely
If you work a 9-5 job and sleep for the recommended eight hours, that means you still have eight hours of free time a day. You’ll have 40 hours of free time by the end of this work week, and don’t even get me started on the free time you have on weekends. Before the stay-at-home order, I didn’t think about that free time very much. I relaxed on the couch, went to workout classes, hung out with friends, and took naps more often than I’d like to admit. After staying at home all day every day, I had so much free time that I was forced to think about it.
Not to get all deep on you, but having extra hours that I didn’t know what to do with made me reconsider what truly makes me feel fulfilled. Now, I don’t look at free time as something to spend; I think of it as something to invest. And yes, somedays that does mean that aforementioned nap or bingeing Gossip Girl with my boyfriend (I’m very proud to say I got him into it recently), because my wellbeing is worth an investment too (see #1).
4. Leaving my laptop out of the bedroom
To preface, I live in a studio apartment. My “bedroom” is basically my workspace, eating space, and sleep space. So I never thought the “no-tech-in-the-bedroom” rule could apply to me. Without thinking about it, I charged my laptop in an outlet next to my bedside table and would do work sitting in bed at night. My laptop even lived next to my bed when I slept (don’t ask me why I mindlessly started that habit).
Without any escape from my home at all, my studio apartment was no longer just my workspace, eating space, and sleep space. It also became my 24/7 reality, and I knew I had to make some changes with how technology was a part of every minute of my day. Since I didn’t have a separate room for work, I planned to keep technology away from my sleeping space. Now, my laptop charges overnight across the apartment instead of next to my bed, and I can’t climb under the covers in the evening until work is finished. Call it the placebo effect, but I swear I sleep better, wake up easier, and am less burned out overall.
5. Examining my relationship with food
Yes, I’m obsessed with wellness and eat mostly plant-based. But I can also lick a plate of Fettuccine Alfredo clean and never say no to sushi takeout or cheeseboards. I love food and will always let myself enjoy it (food should never be “off-limits”), but staying at home helped me see where I was mindlessly eating and not even enjoying it. When I’m craving, sometimes it’s my body telling me that it needs nourishment in the form of laughter, a break, or stress-relief, not food. I also identified where I had unconscious food rules that kept me from having a positive relationship with food and with my body.
To rewrite your food narrative, you must first identify what it is. If you find yourself saying, “I can’t have this pasta dish because I’m on a diet,” or “I can’t eat this cookie because there are too many calories,” your food narrative is one of deprivation. No matter what weight you reach or what diet you perfect, you will never feel satisfied. Instead, change your thoughts to feeling excited about trying a new plant-based recipe or how leafy greens will nourish, energize, and revitalize your body. Healthy eating will become a reward.
6. Exercising at home (and outside of a routine)
Pre-global crisis, my workout routine went like this: sign up in advance for trendy studio classes with expensive cancellation fees, so I had to debate whether the $20 cancellation fee was worth it to lay in bed a while longer (it never was). On the days I didn’t have time to make it to a 60-minute class, I didn’t exercise at all since anything less didn’t feel worth it. But as soon as my studio closed down, I had to rely on pure motivation to get my butt to move after a long workday, and if I didn’t fit in smaller movements (like a walk around the block and 15-minute Pilates video), I knew I wouldn’t exercise at all.
Even just a few weeks into my new workout norm, I realized something. For the first time, I was listening to my body–not only about when to workout, but how (does my body need to burn some energy and dance around the living room, or does it need a relaxing yoga session?). While I’m still counting down the days until my trendy LA studios can open (what can I say, I’m a sucker for dim lighting and lavender towels), I will never forget to listen to my body instead of mindlessly signing up for a class to check another thing off my to-do list. Plus, I changed what exercise means to me. Instead of fitting in a 60-minute class, I focus on living less sedentary in whatever way that looks like each day.
7. Regularly breaking out of my wellness routines
I’m a creature of habit: I like to have the same thing for breakfast every morning (berries, tahini, and cacao nibs, please!), do the same workout every day, and do not like trying new things (just ask my mom how I refused to go to sleepaway camp every summer). But it wasn’t until I broke out of some of my wellness routines that I truly felt healthy. Don’t get me wrong: routine is crucial because it helps build beneficial habits. Because of routine, I crave fruit in the morning instead of sugary cereal, and I don’t even have to think about regularly exercising because it’s already a part of my daily schedule.
But here’s another important factor of wellness that I learned when my beloved workout studios and juice bars closed: while routine is important for building habits, breaking out of routine is also important for enjoying your healthy habits. Trying new things can not only introduce you to new practices to add to your routine, but breaking out of the norm can build confidence and feel exciting (instead of feeling bored or complacent). Take a different route on your walk, cook with a vegetable you’ve never tried before, and take an online Zumba class if you’ve always sworn you have no rhythm.
8. Socializing more (and smarter)
Pre-pandemic Josie thought she had her shit together. I wouldn’t stay out too late on Friday nights so I could wake up well-rested for a Saturday morning workout, and I could not be tempted by even the most persuasive friend to come to Wine Wednesday if I had a lot to get done that day. Sounds like a very adult thing to do, right? I’ll give myself an A+ for responsibility, but you know what I’m thinking now that my favorite bars are closed and I’m quarantining away from many of my friends? I would give anything for more Wine Wednesdays and late Friday nights.
Perhaps the biggest lesson we can all take from 2020 is that humans don’t just want to be social; we need it. Since March, a weekly Zoom date with my college best friends is non-negotiable. I call my mom more often, say yes to plans on weeknights, and prioritize seeing people I love over checking items off my to-do list. We can work out every day and eat only the healthiest foods on the planet, but we can’t truly be healthy if we’re not surrounded by a strong support system of people who make us happy. After all, what’s the point of wellness? Being healthy is not the end goal; it’s simply the tool that gives us more time (and better time) with the people we love.