We have all experienced a great deal of change over the past year. And as a result, many of us look, feel, and perhaps even act different than before.
While everyone has absorbed the Pandemic in different ways, a majority of us have suffered in at least one fashion. Experts around the world have suggested that mental health issues spiked in 2020, and this observation runs the demographical gamut: kids, teens, adults, males and females alike are suffering. Even those virtually immune to the threat of COVID-19 itself have been damaged in the wake of counter-measures.
The Pandemic’s effect on well-being has been “devastating to the individual,” according to Dr. David Dozois, a professor of psychology at Western University. Dozois, who is also member of Mental Health Research Canada’s board of directors, believes economic uncertainty combined with social isolation creates “a recipe for mental health issues.” He predicts rising depression rates and expects the negative impacts to linger for some time.
With minds frayed, our physical selves appear to be faring little better. Pre-Pandemic, the fitness industry was gaining major momentum; people were waking up in large numbers to the incredible benefits of regular physical exercise. However, much of that energy is sapped.
People were trapped indoors for months at a time—some still are—with no means or equipment to perform sufficient exercise at home. Those who sought a simple pair of dumbbells in an effort to stay fit saw inventory plunge and prices surge. In many areas, gyms have been closed down for extended periods. And where they’re open, severe restrictions mean that for some, working out is less appealing than ever.
It’s no surprise, then, to learn that overweight and obesity populations increased in Canada and the US in 2020. That’s a problem, as multiple studies have now shown that obesity significantly increases the risk of COVID-19. That is in addition to other serious and well-known health risks associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and more.
We can ensure well-being of body and mind by eating a healthy and balanced diet, limiting stress factors at work, and performing regular physical activity. On these fronts technology can harm us or it can help us. Here’s how to build powerful habits as we move on from the Pandemic.
Tech as a Tool, Not Master
Too many of us have become dependent, or even addicted to, one or more aspects of technology: from video games to social media to Netflix and porn, a culture has emerged that makes it hard to feel in control of how we spend our time. Attention spans shorten as we bounce between apps more frequently and scroll through content more rapidly. Lockdowns during the Pandemic spurred extreme physical isolation, serving to magnify this trend.
Many of us are no longer working efficiently either. It’s more tempting than ever to juggle several tasks at once, but studies show that we are easily distracted. A 2009 study from Stanford University found that “heavy multi-taskers”—which likely describes a majority of today’s knowledge workers—were not only abysmal at multi-tasking, they were worse at focusing on single tasks, too.
“They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing,” the study’s lead author, Eyal Ohpir, said of the chronic multi-taskers, a group which underperformed its peers and the expectations of those heading the study.
Later research conducted by neuroscientists at French medical research agency Inserm suggested humans can only effectively handle up to two tasks at a time, but even that may be generous; focus on a single task appears optimal most of the time. Beyond that, our error rate soars, and productivity plummets—by up to 40%, according to yet another study, this one by Bergman.
Higher stress was another consequence of multi-tasking noted by Bergman, and that is something we commonly experience from hyper-consuming content online, too, especially with so many negative slants from media today. The last thing we need from our work time or downtime is the creation of more stress.
Tech does not have to be the enemy, however. It can be leveraged to great benefit.
One method is to use technology only when necessary and in a way that improves your state. Take whichever communication app your workplace demands usage of, for example. Modify user settings for minimal distraction and maximal focus; the simpler your interface and fewer the notifications, the better. There is productivity software everywhere now, but avoid one-size-fits-all: seek a solution specific to the weak link in your personal workflow.
The idea here is that all of your apps and services function strictly on your terms. Not only will you be able to work with singular focus, you will establish a sense of control over your tools which can reduce stress and boost performance.
Apply this tactic to your downtime as well. Instead of endless doom-scrolling on social media from your couch, walk to a nearby park and read a book on your Kindle. Over news channels droning endlessly on television, watch a documentary about a topic which interests you.
On the fitness front, trackers like Apple Watch and Fitbit help us stay motivated when it comes to getting in sufficient functional movement throughout the day. These tech toys pair seamlessly with a wide range of mobile apps such as Strava and Whoop, which catalog vast datasets for us to analyze. All in all, we really have no excuse for not exercising enough.
Over time these small changes allow you to forge a healthier relationship with the technology in your life. Form habits which ensure that technology is helping you, not the opposite. For tech is the tool, not the master.
The Fix on Food
Food is easier to access then ever, and that presents an issue for many. Our brains simply aren’t wired for constant access to food; it’s hard to say no, especially when the flavour dial is cranked up on everything nowadays.
Technology has amplified temptation with apps like SkipTheDishes and UberEats, which allow anyone to enjoy authentic restaurant meals—or filthy fast food—delivered to their front door within minutes. This makes over-eating dangerously easy.
Restaurant meals often contain upward of 2,000 calories, which for some may approach an entire day’s ration. The cost of food via delivery apps is also exceedingly high, and on top of that we have no meaningful connection to the meal, which can disrupt our natural relationship with food and eating.
Thankfully there are better alternatives, even for those still wary of grocery shopping among the masses. Technology has advanced meal preparation services, which also deliver fresh food to your door—only these services do so with healthier choices and the opportunity to engage in the process of preparing meals yourself.
BC startups are innovating this space. One such example is Fresh Prep, which recently launched an industry-first “Zero Waste Kit.” It is a reusable meal kit container that reduces waste from single-use plastic and allows for a more organized cooking experience.
“People are cooking from home more than ever before,” explains Becky Brauer, cofounder of Vancouver-based Fresh Prep. “They are making conscious efforts to not only understand where their food is coming from but also the impact their dining choices have on the environment.”
Meanwhile, Vegano recently became Canada’s first plant-based meal-kit delivery service.
“Adopting a more plant-based lifestyle made me realize that making vegan meals at home can be tricky,” notes Conor Power, CEO of the Vancouver company.
Other popular options in this arena include HelloFresh and Chefs Plate. It is also becoming increasingly common for local supermarkets to deliver fresh food to residences, so check in with them too. And apps like MyFitnessPal allow us to monitor our diet with surprising ease and impressive precision, so we can remain in control of our caloric balance.
Progress is Winning
Personally, I emerged from the Pandemic better than ever before. Physically, I am at my strongest. Mentally I am sharp and resilient. My stress levels are low and in control. And I am more equipped to handle future adversity, whether a Pandemic or obstacle of entirely different shape. To this I owe a consistent application of good habits, a new and improved relationship with the technology in my life, and an unbeatable mindset.
Was it easy? No.
Was it worthwhile? Absolutely.
Understand that habits do not form upon the first repetition. Your lifestyle will not transform overnight. And ultimately, such changes are not apt to feel dramatic, immediate, or pronounced. The act of self-improvement is gradual, its effects nuanced. Patience is required but rewarded.
Victory in this arena is not reaching a destination, but rather heading in the right direction. It is not defeating an old enemy, but becoming a tougher foe for future enemies. Winning is simply making progress: more efficient work, more relaxing downtime, more effective habits.
Now get after it.