Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How to come out of the pandemic as your best self ever

8 ways that COVID-19 can help point the way to wellness

It’s strange how something so disruptive, so novel, was so widely labelled with a cliché. As we’re constantly reminded, the pandemic is our “new normal.” That is, our old way of life has been replaced with another one – one that’s getting old fast.

But maybe that label fits the paradox that Personal Fitness Trainer chair Kate Andrews has hit upon.

COVID-19 has been devastating, a wildfire of a disease without a cure. But for the majority of people who haven’t been directly affected, the pandemic has been like an unwelcome staycation.

Andrews, who ended up teaching from home after staff and students were told in mid-March to vacate NAIT campuses, looks back on that time as having “a weird honeymoon phase.”

Working from home can be an unsettling mix of freedom and captivity, a door closed to the world but open to excess. One more late-night episode of that great TV show! Beer or wine daily! Bacon and eggs every morning! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we don’t actually have to turn on the camera at those video meetings.

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we don’t actually have to turn on the camera at those video meetings.

“Our routine was totally thrown on its head,” says Andrews. “I think everybody now is starting to feel like, ‘I can't maintain this. What do I need to do to actually feel good?’”

How often do we pause to think through that question? Andrews doesn’t take the pandemic lightly, but “I really think it's an opportunity for us to educate ourselves on our bodies and on food, on mental wellness,” she says.

Here, she breaks “What do I need?” into an exploration of a clearer understanding of ourselves based on eight other questions. She raises the prospect of a better self when we might least expect it. “This is the perfect time to start looking into habits and how they're created and how they're broken,” says Andrews.

1. How can we work smarter?

weights for break time

Working from home (where employees tend to take fewer breaks) has reminded Andrews that staring at a computer screen for hours does nothing for our mental, let alone physical, health. But it has also shown her that she can break that gaze without losing productivity.

“Mid-day, I've been trying to either go for a run or do a CrossFit workout,” she says, noting that it’s not something she’d typically have done at the office. You don’t have to do break-time quite like a personal trainer to bring new energy to tasks at hand, but now no one’s stopping you from exploring other ways to briefly step away, and from boosting productivity in the process.

2. How can we be more mindful?

Like exercise, yoga and meditation are other ways for Andrews to reset and re-energize. They’re also tools she uses to identify stressors and why they bother her. She’ll slip these tools into the work-at-home routine as well. They help her keep minor irritants from becoming major.

Yoga and meditation are other ways for Andrews to reset and re-energize.

“That self-awareness piece is a big one – just asking yourself, ‘What's going on in me right now?’”

3. How do we eat healthier?

avocado

The COVID 15 – those housebound pounds we might be packing on – is the outcome of a simple formula of less movement plus more snacking.

“Home is [where] we tend to have our comfort foods,” says Andrews. If you can’t avoid the kitchen, avoid the comfort zone of the snack cupboard. “Put an avocado on the counter. When you feel hungry, you're going to have that avocado. It's just creating different habits.”

4. How do we keep moving (if we don’t want CrossFit for lunch)?

If you have a backyard, turn it into a body-weight boot camp, suggests Andrews. Or, she adds, just play.

“Try doing a handstand. Do cartwheels again – warm up first.”

"Do cartwheels again – warm up first.”

If you've saved money on childcare or gasoline, consider a personal trainer. You’d expect the chair of a personal trainer program to say that but, “I've even thought about it,” says Andrews. She has the skills to know what to do, but no one to check in to see that she’s doing it.

“There are trainers that are virtually training groups, like you and a few friends. It's fun because you get to hang out with your friends that you don't see very often. And you're accountable.”

5. How do we sleep more soundly?

pillow

For its restorative power, “we still really have to monitor sleep,” says Andrews.

Cool and dark is best. A smartphone in bed may rev up your nervous system, like caffeine too late in the day. Late-night alcohol tends to do the same, disrupting sleep, likely due to a wake-up for the washroom.

“Nobody wants to hear that,” Andrews concedes. At the very least, she says, put some time between that last indulgence and hitting the sack.

6. How do we develop stronger relationships?

relationships

In a world where being overly gregarious is virtually outlawed, we can only spend time with so many people. So, asks Andrews, who do you want?

“Whether it's your virtual community or small cohorts, I think it's important to be wise about who you align with. If my value is school, or health and fitness, and I have goals, I can only do so much on my own. I have to position myself in [a] community that's going to help me out.”

7. How do we keep from reverting to bad habits?

Greater self-awareness comes in handy here. “I noticed one of my habits when I get lonely is that I want to drink some wine and eat some chips,” says Andrews.

She’s learned to anticipate days that will be worse than others by zeroing in on cause and effect. “I have to make sure I have a really good exercise routine on those days so that I build up good hormones and don't feel as down.”

8. How do we know if we’re succeeding?

If you’re trying, Andrews suggests, you’re succeeding.

Roll the things that make you feel good in the time of COVID-19 into a routine, she says. Go to bed on time and get up early for yoga. Have coffee and a healthy breakfast with your spouse. Work for a bit, break for a bit. Set no goals. “It's really about just trying stuff out.”

If you’re trying, you’re succeeding.

Most importantly, stop often to revisit that question: What do I need? “Maybe you try it out for a couple of days,” says Andrews, “and you're like, ‘That was fun. I want to try something else out now. I want to learn something new.’”


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