Lockdowns are lifting, domestic and international borders are opening, and a promising future lies ahead for Australia’s economic recovery. As the country moves towards a new normal and begins restoring its economic health, what we now need to be focusing on is our own health — in particular, shedding any bad habits we developed while living with restrictions.
“For much of the population, most of our time for the last nearly two years has been spent inside the home and it can be easy to fall into an unhealthy lifestyle, whether it be foregoing the routines and diets you used to follow or feeling a sense of disconnection from others,” says Dr Thompson, a registered doctor at InstantScripts, an Australian online prescription and telehealth service.
“All these factors will impact how we emerge from lockdown and many of us will need to actively focus on certain areas to get back to pre-lockdown life.”
So, what are these bad habits we may have fallen into during lockdown and how can we return to a healthier routine?
Avoiding Social Interactions
The isolation of lockdown has likely caused many of us to feel disconnected from others and become comfortable staying home. After lockdown, many will remain cautious about the health risks and be hesitant to return to face-to-face interactions. Dr Thompson recommends starting slowly.
“Start with simple meet-ups with a friend or family member, perhaps in your home,” he says. “Share your feelings or any struggles you might have with social interactions or connections. See a doctor, who can help implement strategies to overcome social anxiety through talking therapies. Being open and transparent with loved ones to establish boundaries or asserting yourself in situations that cause discomfort or stress, can help.”
Delaying Our Health Checks
Many of us were hesitant to see a doctor or health professional during lockdown, which meant delaying vital health checks. But Dr Thompson says it is important for us to resume health checks.
“It is vital for Australians with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, to continue the health checks they may have delayed in lockdown,” he says. “HBA1C tests to check glycaemic levels are important. Meanwhile, cancer checks, faecal blood tests to check for bowel cancer, skin cancer checks, mammograms and cervical screening and PSA level tests to check for prostate cancer, should be resumed.”
Avoiding Visits to the GP
Some of us may not have seen our regular doctor for several months. A catch-up visit to the doctor will help them get up to speed on your health during lockdown. This can include discussing any diet changes, mental health symptoms, sleep problems, or vitamin deficiencies, along with the management of any chronic conditions.
“From there, doctors can determine if further tests are needed as well as develop and implement a plan to address any problems and get their patient’s health back on track,” says Dr Thompson.
Relying on Alcohol
Some of us might have increased our alcohol intake in lockdown and in some cases, an unhealthy dependency might have formed.
“Start to become conscious of how much you are drinking and limit your alcohol intake,” says Dr Thompson. “It’s recommended that women and men limit their alcohol to 10 standard drinks per week. I also recommend reserving at least two days per week where alcohol isn’t consumed. If you are finding it difficult to cut back on alcohol or are concerned about the amount you’re consuming, consult with your doctor to help address any issues.”
Drastically Increasing Our Screen Time
With many of us depending on devices for work and entertainment during lockdown, not to mention having to check-in and show proof of vaccination at venues, our screen time has increased considerably. To combat this, Dr Thompson suggests limiting screen use in areas that you can control.
“A good start is to switch mobile phones off when with people, and to find a replacement for social media scrolling such as reading a book or doing a crossword,” he says. “Leave your phone out of your bedroom, so that it’s not a cause for late nights.”
Adopting a Bad Sleep Schedule
With work just a few steps from our bedrooms in lockdown, many of us will have fallen out of a consistent sleep schedule and might be used to later nights and, consequently, later mornings.
“If you were waking up to an early morning alarm and going to sleep at the same time each night pre-lockdown, try to implement this schedule again,” Dr Thompson says. “This will make the transition back to the workplace easier. You’ll also notice a vast improvement in your energy, motivation and cognition when you’re stricter with your sleep again.”
Not Moving Enough
And finally, during lockdown, many of us may have fallen out of our normal exercise routines. If that’s the case, to get back into your routine quickly, Dr Thompson recommends picking back up your pre-lockdown activities.
“Even if you are working from home, schedule in a break for a daily fitness class,” he says. “Have a friend join you to make it more enjoyable. Being thoughtful about how much you’re moving is important, as exercise will help improve both your physical and mental wellbeing.”