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Unhealthy habits developed during quarantine

As most of us stay home and quarantine ourselves to avoid further spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is not surprising that we pick a little or too many bad habits that can lead to damaging both our mental and physical health. You might be gorging on a bag of chips or have woken up from a 12-hour slumber whilst reading this, there is surely no in-between.

Here are some (undoubtedly very relatable) unhealthy habits during quarantine that both physically and mentally affect the body and how you should approach them, with advice provided by experts.

Binge eating

You know it. With a whopping increase in Instagram food accounts and new ‘quarantine’ recipes on the internet that allow us to whip up instant meals straight out of the pantry, we all might be consuming more food than we do in an entire week. I am very guilty, don’t worry — one of the writers of this very article is a big fan of mug cakes, so we empathise with you on this.

Before you order another burger from your local cafeteria, stop and think. Image credits: Unsplash

Tina Chagoury, Clinical Dietician and Founder of Tina Nutrition and Wellness Consultancy DMCC, is a regular TV guest expert on MBC1, Sabah El Kheir Arab, an Arabic TV programme. She’s aware of how students and everyone in general working from home tend to binge eat easily during quarantine.

Tina Chagoury is a clinical dietician and the founder of Tina Nutrition and Wellness Consultancy DMCC.

It certainly is easier to reach for unhealthy snacks as you work within the comforts of your home, not to mention the delightful convenience of delivery services in the UAE, primarily Zomato and Talabat — monitoring one’s eating habits at this time can prove very difficult.

What could be the main reason behind binge-eating whilst in quarantine?

“The main reason behind overeating during lockdown is the change in routine (in addition to the anxiety, the boredom and maybe the lack of space to de-stress of course); structured routine is what makes eating healthy, working out and being productive seem like second nature to us. Once this is disrupted — be it in lockdown, while travelling, when we are on a break, when we have guests over, or when we change schools, cities or houses — once the routine is disrupted we find it more challenging to be on the right track,” she said.

How can one battle this unhealthy habit?

Chagoury’s number one advice is to ‘create a new routine’. She said: “Once our old one [routine] is disrupted, developing a new routine that includes healthy habits will take time. But don’t try habits or diets that do not fit your lifestyle just because it’s trendy or because you saw it on social media.

Experiment with healthy eating by cooking your own meals in the kitchen — doing it with a family member is a bonus in terms of fun. Image credits: Unsplash

Pick the little habits that make you feel good about yourself and improve your health. For instance, instead of deciding to bake or cook and follow a strict plan all at once, do it by steps. If you have never cooked before, give yourself time to explore the kitchen and the recipes you enjoy. Once you are in control, start venturing into healthier recipes and before you know it, you will be eating healthy 80 per cent of your time; and that is just perfect.”

Tina Chagoury’s top three tips to defeating binge-eating

  • Follow the 80-20 rule; 80 per cent of the time, follow healthy guidelines, stay active, put extra effort into choosing your ingredients, and then give yourself flexibility 20 per cent of the time. 
  • Try to include activities in your routine that don’t revolve around eating, baking, cooking or watching cooking shows, such as painting, reading, watching movies, or any other activity you find pleasure in doing. This will allow for your adrenaline to rise and for your appetite to be better-controlled. 
  • Stack your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks and don’t buy food that tempts you. It’s that simple: if you open your fridge to an array of washed and cut fruits and veggies, and little jars of raw nuts, chances are you will grab some and be satisfied (and do yourself some good); and if the first thing that pops out of your cupboard is a bag of chips, there is an unlikely chance you will avoid it and instead, will probably finish it.

Lack of physical activity, binge-watching and dieting

These three things often correlate with each other on a deep, spiritual level. Binge-watching Netflix and YouTube for several hours (or entire days…you heard me) at a time can be very damaging to one’s health. As you may be sitting in one place the entire time, this causes one to be lethargic and eventually not incorporate any form of exercise every day, which in turn can lead to unusual weight gain, tiredness, fatigue, among other problems.

Binge-watching whilst snacking at 3 am is a common habit, especially among students. Image credits: Unsplash

Is there a shortcut to fixing these unhealthy physical habits all at once?

Due to being unable to stay active, individuals, especially youngsters, take onto starvation diets (read: anything and everything nonsensical on social media), thinking it will bring about long term changes. This is a dangerous cycle leading to health problems, and Chagoury makes it clear that ‘there is no one formula for all’. She warned: “ I would really want the young men and women reading this to take it easy on themselves during these times; it is neither the time to lose weight or the time to make big changes in your lives, especially ones that could compromise your immunity.”

What else can you do that can make a change to your routine?

Chagoury believes that this period is a good opportunity to put one’s habits in perspective. “Journal and decide what are the things that you would like to change; what are the things that would make you feel better, do you need any supplements, are you feeling good, energetic or more lethargic and tired, do you have any vitamin deficiency, are you being outdoors for at least 15 minutes every day getting sunshine, are you drinking enough water and of course, are you sleeping well and enough.”

Journaling can help organise your thoughts and put things into perspective. Image credits: Unsplash

Tina Chagoury’s top three tips to stay active, productive and healthy

  • Perform afternoon workout or yoga, or bike riding to pump your blood and increase your ‘happy’ hormones.
  • Do some journaling. Contemplate an online consultation with a health professional. Considering you have more time on your hands, it’s good to invest in your wellbeing!
  • As long as you eat mindfully, follow your body cues and do not deprive yourselves, you will always be at ease and comfort with your body.

Not only do the “quarantine bad habits” affect one’s physical health, but one’s mental health too. There is psychological reasoning behind habits of overeating or under eating; oversleeping or sleep deprivation.

The reason behind why these unhealthy habits are cultivated is because we as individuals are undergoing something psychologists call “collective trauma”. In light of the current circumstances, the average population share a global sense of panic and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is only natural that the body loses touch with its biological cycle while social distancing, hence leading to an imbalanced mental equilibrium which further accumulates unhealthy coping behaviour.

Sleep pattern disturbances

Oversleeping is a common unhealthy trait, especially when confined at home. Image credits: Unsplash

Don’t worry about it, we’re all in the same boat. The other writer of the same article would guiltily accept that oversleeping is her weakness. However, there is a scientific explanation for it all.

Dr Magdalena Mosanya, a psychology lecturer at Middlesex University Dubai and therapist at the Blue Light Wellness centre, DMCC Dubai, was kind enough to share her professional expertise on the matter.  At times like this, when there is a disruption in one’s regular routine, it is natural for sleep schedules to be hindered. This can be evident in the form of oversleeping or sleep deprivation.

Dr Magdalena Mosanya, a psychologist, lecturer and therapist.

So why does a person tend to oversleep whilst quarantined?

Dr Magdalena explains that “excessive sleep might be a reaction to a novel, stressful situation of the pandemic. It might reflect an inability to cope and a temporary lack of motivation”.  She also explains what contributes to one’s sleep cycle: “Under physiological conditions, sleep is regulated by two main mechanisms – homeostatic sleep demand and circadian sleep rhythm. The homeostatic need for sleep is higher; the longer the period of activity during the day, and the shorter the rest periods in the day.

Additionally, the quality of sleep is also influenced by the ability to achieve mental relaxation before bedtime.” Therefore, it is these sleep components that are disturbed amidst a lockdown. Additionally, she further explains that due severe restrictions on social and physical interaction among people during the pandemic, it results in the growth of feeling extremely vulnerable, thus sparking up a sense of anxiety which can hinder one’s ability to sleep.

Why is oversleeping considered unhealthy?

After all, sleeping means having quality rest, and giving your body ample amount of time to reset its energy levels, right? But here’s a fun fact!

“Excessive sleep and daytime sleepiness are usually more disruptive to daily life than sleep deficiency,” Dr Magdalena states. This is because the act of oversleeping on a regular basis affects one’s intellect and daily enthusiasm. Furthermore, oversleeping acts as an activator for an individual to reach out to ‘external stimulants such as smoking, caffeine and energy drinks’ which have adverse effects on one’s physical health. Often, oversleeping can be caused by underlying mood disorders such as depression.

What can you do if you find yourself or someone you know to be oversleeping regularly?

According to Dr Magdalena, “Diagnosing and treating patients with excessive drowsiness is one of the main tasks of sleep medicine centres. Sleep hygiene and specialist help might be essential in dealing with this condition.” She also mentions that oversleeping may be connected to a clinical diagnosis of sleep disorders, such as hypersomnia or narcolepsy.

Here are some sleep centres in the United Arab Emirates:

  • Dubai Sleep Center By Dr.Hassan Alhariri
  • The Saudi German Hospital, Dubai
  • Priory, Dubai
  • Harley Street Sleep Clinic, Abu Dhabi

What happens when one does not get the required amount of sleep?

Dr Magdalena says that “the importance of sleep for the body is extensive as it impacts numerous physiological processes affecting metabolic balance, immunity, cell regeneration, and the work of the nervous system”. With the lack of sleep, these fundamental processes are negatively affected and thus, she states that “the cells’ regenerative capacity is decreased, immunity drops, and the nervous system is more prone to pathologies. As a result of sleep deprivation, the body more slowly recovers from inflammations or infections.”

Apart from one’s physical health, sleep deprivation may cause mental health issues, such as slower information processing, problems with concentration and memory, as well as a decreased mood. Sleep deprivation, if let out of hand, can cause additional, serious implications, such as sleep paralysis and hallucinations.

Yoga, among other exercises, prove beneficial in regulating sleep patterns. Image credits: Unsplash

Dr Magdalena’s simple tips to help with sleep deprivation

  • Practice a simple physical exercise routine
  • Avoid napping during the daytime so that the body regains its need for sleep
  • Wake up at the same time every day in order to rebalance your body clock
  • Deep breathing exercises performed before and after bed helps to a great extent
  • Finally, maintaining a journal to reflect and scan through one’s day, makes the mind feel at ease, hence enabling a person to get a good quality sleep.

Substance abuse

Along with severe discrepancies in one’s sleep schedule, another dangerous habit developed during circumstances; reaching out to harmful substances, such as smokes and psychoactive spirits or compounds. This in simple terms is called substance abuse.

Anxiety, stress, the feeling of loneliness among other factors can heavily contribute to reasons why some students resort to substance abuse. Image credits: Unsplash

Dr Magdalena states that dramatic external events, such as this national hibernation we’re in may lead to a sense of loneliness and a lack of self-control. It is a known fact through the results of studies that external stressors or traumatic events give rise to the overconsumption of these psychoactive substances.

What is the reason behind one reaching out to these external stimulants during the lockdown?

The answer to this is very meticulously explained by Dr Magdalena: “It is natural that in the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic we feel vulnerable and afraid of the unknown. Social support is helpful in such moments as it allows individuals to discuss fears and receive consolation. In the case of social isolation, this natural buffer is removed, leaving vulnerable persons in search of other ways to cope with worries. Most people involve constructive coping mechanisms in dealing with anxiety. However, some individuals would engage in maladaptive behaviours like substance use to alleviate the effects of stress”.

What happens to the body when one is heavily influenced by a substance abusive lifestyle?

Over-consumption of these substances may have severe consequences on one’s mental, social and physical health. Dr Magdalena says: “Every dose result in a decrease in the efficiency of the nervous system and prolonged substance use can lead to mental health disorders like psychosis and physiological deterioration like anaemia, diabetes or even cancer. Substance abuse also negatively affects professional functioning, and above all, social relationships and family life.”

Dr Magdalena’s professional advice on what to do when trapped within the vicious cycle of substance abuse

  • The best idea is to contact the addiction treatment clinic. There, one would get help in dealing with this challenging situation and tips on how to stay motivated throughout the treatment. In dealing with a substance abuse problem, prevention plays an essential role.
  • Education on the adverse effects of substance use is one way to address the increasing use of them during recent times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Hobbies and interests, including sports activities, can lessen experienced stress and represent alternatives to maladaptive behaviours.

During times like these, filled with the fear of the unknown and a sense of uncertainty, it is natural to have a sudden disturbance in one’s lifestyle and habits. Be it unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, disruptions in sleep patterns and substance abuse.

But as important as it is to accept one’s circumstances, it is just as important to keep a close and mindful eye to our habits and behaviour. It is equally important to be kind to one another and to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves also includes letting go of habits that have severe adverse effects on our mental, physical and social peace.

As progressive human beings, it is important to wake up to the realities of today and further make the right decisions mindfully.

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