We are habitual creatures which is obvious considering the current health advice to practice good hand hygiene. How many times during the day do you catch yourself touching your face?
Now, that we have made aware of this habit, we can understand how the many other habits we have, can influence our wellbeing. The ones that I usually talk about are posture related, such as slouching or text neck.
However, today I would like to explain important habits that we have and that we have been asked to avoid from one day to the other. I’m talking about our social habits. Yes, humans are not only habitual creatures, but also social beings.
This even applies to introverts just in case you were wondering. Although introverts may not mind being at home and reading books, the current scenario is different. We should stay at home, not go out and get something whenever we feel like it. We are also encouraged not to visit others, meet with our friends or extended family. There’s no gym, yoga classes, playing or watching sports. Clubs, pubs, theatres, cafés, and restaurants etc. had to close. We can’t travel anywhere, go to picknicks, BBQs, just stay at home.
All this is against our nature as social beings and our habits of doing whatever we want when we want it. Through my work as a massage therapist and life coach, I was very aware of this habit of getting an immediate fix for any problem or challenge we may face long before this pandemic. On one hand, it used to frustrate me, when people were expecting me to solve their problems at once or take away their pain. On the other hand, I understand this urge, because I experience it too.
A lot of the things we like to do in our modern society provide a distraction. We tend to busy ourselves and internally run away from the real issues that beg to be addressed. These things won’t go away though, they tend to fester deep down, get bigger over time, and influence our wellbeing a lot more that we think. It’s important to eventually explore this either on your own or with help (remember my offer and book an online session with me). This time could be a perfect time to look at this. However, now, that we can’t busy ourselves as much, we still look for distractions such as food, alcohol, Netflix or social media.
Habits are learned and automated. What has been learned, can also be unlearned!
High dopamine release and what it does to our brains
Please understand that this is a habit. We have trained our brains to run on high dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in addictions. Our brains like to get more of the stimulus that releases dopamine. This motivates us to get this stimulus as often as we can. After a while, more dopamine is needed for us to feel good just like a drug addict needs a higher dose of the drug.
Unfortunately, our brain does not care if the behaviour or stimulus is not good for us, it just wants more dopamine. Even though we may not be addicted to illicit drugs, some of our day to day behaviour releases high amounts of dopamine, and we start to crave more of this behaviour. Examples are scrolling through social media, watching cute cat or dog videos, checking every notification on our mobile phones, binge watching Netflix, or playing video games. Examples of other stimuli are having to eat sweets after dinner, having to have that drink, or having to chew chewing gum, smoking, excessive exercise, etc., etc.
Tasks, stimuli, or behaviours that don’t release a lot of dopamine become increasingly difficult to do. Just think of cleaning, eating healthily all the time, exercising (if you are not a gym junkie), doing your bookkeeping, finishing that course, meditating, practicing your posture exercises etc. Even though, we know that these activities are good for us, we’re just not motivated to do these things, because there is no reward for the brain in form of a big dopamine release.
So, how can we break this unhealthy cycle?
We can break this cycle by getting very bored. Yes, by getting bored, we are detoxing our brains from too much dopamine. Now is the perfect time to do this. Since, many of us are at home, we may already feel bored. This is good. It’s important not to start new habits that release a lot of dopamine, instead do things that do not give you a high dopamine release. For example, you could stand at the window and look outside. Do nothing else, don’t check your phone, don’t have the radio or TV on in the background, just stand there and look outside.
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
You can also switch off your phone for some time during the day. Make a rule to only watch the news about the Corona virus once per day for half an hour. Read a book. Go for a walk without having music playing on your headphones. If you need to do any learning tasks for a course or something like that, commit to doing it without interruptions for 20 minutes. Take a short break where you stretch and have some water and continue for another 20 minutes. This rhythm is also suitable if you work from home.
If you do work from home and have no online meetings scheduled, make a rule to only check your emails twice a day, for example at 11 am and 3 pm. I’m sure you will be surprised how strong the urge is to check emails, your phone, the news etc.
Let me know how you go with this challenge. If a whole day to detox is too much, you could do it for a few hours. For example, I did not look at my phone, watch the news or listened to music for a few hours this morning. I felt calmer as a result and could easily catch up on the news (because there are not that many news anyway, TV, news sites on the internet and radio just milk any piece of it as much as they can).
No structure in your day
Another issue that many people now face is the loss of structure in their day. This also relates to the fact that we are habitual creatures. We’re so used to get up in the morning, rush around, leave for work, do whatever we need to do there, rush back home, do stuff with the kids, pets or whatever, collapse on the couch, go to bed and do it all over again the next day. Now, we are at home (of course many people are still out and about working under more stressful conditions, thank you for this), and I mean, everyone is at home, the kids, the pets, maybe even the grandparents. All of a sudden, a new structure needs to be established. Maybe you have to home school the kids and never done this before or you have to work from home while the kids should do their schoolwork but instead are fighting with each other. There are many possible scenarios and you will have to find a new structure to adapt to the current circumstances.
This is when resilience kicks in. Many people don’t even know how much resilience is in them and they might be positively surprised. I think, it’s possible to strive under this challenge, but we need to be aware what the pitfalls are. I already mentioned the dopamine trap, finding structure is another opportunity to either become resilient or to give up and sink into an anxious and depressive state.
If you find yourself in downward facing spiral, where you feel anxious, please take the opportunity to book an online session with me. Together we can work through this challenge and come out on the other side stronger than ever before.
P.S. If you are interest about changing your habits, and not sure where to start. I do offer online consultations. Consultations include both body health sessions, such as help with relieving exercises and stretches for your body as well as mental and emotional health sessions to support you during this challenging time.
If you are affected by the Corona virus financially, please know I currently offer these consultations on a donation basis as I want to make sure that everybody can get help when they need it.